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    10 Clever Tactics Retailers Use To Get You To Spend That Money

    When retailers figure out how your mind works to get you to spend more.

    You work hard. Maybe you toil all day at one job — or maybe you juggle three. Then when payday rolls around, it seems harder than ever to hold on to that money. I get it. The temptation to spend might feel intense — a trip to Target is an escape from feeling pent up during the pandemic, or checking out deals from your favorite online retailer provides a welcome respite from doom scrolling on Twitter.

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    A year and a half into the pandemic, consumer spending is on the rise. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), consumer spending shot up nearly 12% (11.8% to be exact) in Q2 of 2021. Plus, according to analysis by DigitalCommerce, American households spent $861.12 billion with US retailers online in 2020, an increase of 44% from 2019.

    Here’s the thing: Retailers use tried-and-true psychological tactics to get you to hand over more of those dollars. So, how can you avoid not going overboard with your spending?

    Let’s take a look at behavioral economics (which is the study of why our spending and saving decisions might be less-than-rational) to uncover the sneaky ways retailers get you to part with your cash and what you can do to beat the system and spend less:

    1. Anchoring

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    Anchoring is the classic trick of creating an illusion of savings by putting the sale price next to the suggested retail price. You often see this on price tags at discount retailers. For instance, the full price tag of a cashmere sweater is $200, so marked down to $100, it seems like a deal. Right? Not so much.

    It’s called anchoring because you’re “anchoring” your spending decisions based on the full price. In turn, anything lower than that makes you feel like you’re getting a bargain. The truth is it might not be that good of a deal, and you might be shelling out more than you can afford to.

    How to really save: Ignore the original retail price. Instead, focus on the sale price, and ask yourself: Is it worth it? Can I afford it? Is it something I’ll use? And look at your budget. 

    2. Goldilocks Pricing

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    Goldilocks pricing is a clever marketing tactic retailers use to make it seem like the middle price is the best choice. Peruse the aisles of any store or search for different bundles or tiers and you might see three choices for roughly the same product or service: a variation that's low cost, one that's middle range, and one that is higher priced. The option that's high exists to make the middle option look more reasonable. The low cost is there to make the middle option seem like better quality for a better value, and in turn is "just right." 

    Goldilocks pricing is a form of anchoring (see #1) to get you to pick the middle variation. But in turn, you could end up spending more than you might've otherwise. 

    How to really save: If met with three choices with different pricing, figure out which one is actually best suited for your budget and needs. While the middle one might seem like the better deal because it comes with more bells and whistles, the low-cost version might do the trick. 

    3. Loss Leaders

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    Offering a loss leader is a strategy retailers might use to get you to step foot inside the store. These are items that are sold at a super-low price. It’s so low that the store doesn’t turn a profit on these products. So, once these “too good to believe” sale items get you inside, the expectation is that you’ll fill your cart with regular-priced products. At the end of the day, you’re spending more than you expected, and the retailer gets more of your business than if they didn’t offer a loss leader.

    How to really save: If you’re stepping foot inside, say, a grocery store for those amazing deals, stick to a list. Buy only what you need. Or, if you think you’d save more by shopping via Instacart, then opt for delivery of groceries instead. Remember: there will be fees, and you’ll need to add a tip. But if you fear going hog wild shopping in person, opting for delivery might save you money in the long run. 

    4. BOGO

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    Buy one get one free (BOGO) deals, $10 for 10 deals, or any “super amazing” deal, really, is designed to get you to shell out more clams. Because c’mon, do you really need 10 bottles of organic honey? You could end up having more of said item than you could really use, and chances are you end up throwing it away. That so-called deal could easily turn into a royal waste.

    How to really save: If you are going to cave in to a BOGO special or "buy x to save y" sorta deals, consider doing so on items you typically stock up on. For instance: toilet paper, dental floss, toothpaste, and other household supplies that you know you'll use and won't go bad. Otherwise, just skip it. 

    5. Spaving

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    You start by adding an item to your cart to save a buck, but end up $50 poorer. A likely scenario, right? Along the same lines of getting lured in by a deal, “spaving” is the concept of spending to save, but at the end of the day, you’re spending more than you normally would. You might feel the endorphins kick in from a “thrill of a deal.” But you’re really just spending more.


    How to really save: Deal seekers can attest: scooping up bargains can be fun. But if it’s hurting your finances, it’s best to not load up your cart with deal items. If you can afford to, let yourself indulge in a spaving spree. But see it for what it’s worth, set a spending limit, and stick to it. 

    6. Free Shipping

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    We’ve all fallen for a free shipping deal. Once you’ve hit $50, $100, or what have you, you won’t have to dole out dollars for shipping. Sometimes, you might pile items into your cart just to meet that threshold, only to later realize you just needed one $10 item. 


    How to really save: Wait until you have enough items in your cart of things you really need and/or want before hitting the “purchase” button. Otherwise, consider buying fewer items and eating the shipping costs. 

    7. Limited Time Offers

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    Limited time offers create this sense of urgency. And when something is urgent, we’re worried about missing out on that seemingly sweet deal. Limited time offers do two things: prompt you to act quickly, and they also might lead you to buy a bunch of items that are on sale that you otherwise wouldn’t have wanted. 

    How to really save: Ignore these sorts of offers. Seriously. But if you really want to take advantage of a limited-time offer, ideally they should be items you’ve had your eye on for some time.

    8. Removing Friction

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    Friction is any sort of barrier that gets in the way of you making that purchase. In turn, retailers try to make it as easy as possible to get you to hit buy. This might include ponying up for a free shipping subscription — think Amazon Prime or Sephora Flash — bookmarking your favorite items, creating wish lists, saving your shopping cart, and checking out using a preloaded card. All these are cleverly devised strategies retailers use to urge you to spend in the here and now.


    How to really save: Well, you can add friction on your end. Add more steps to the shopping process by clearing your shopping cart before closing out the browser window, or — yes —make it hard for you to pay. Input your credit card info manually instead of using, say, a digital wallet, PayPal, or Google Pay. 

    Hit "pause" and ask yourself if you can really afford something or if you really need it. A popular tactic is a 30-day challenge. If it’s something you don’t need or can wait a little longer before buying, see if you can wait 30 days.

    If that seems a bit too intense, shorten that waiting period to 14 days or a week. Chances are you might have second thoughts. And that “me want now” feeling will pass. 

    9. Pricing psychology

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    So, why would something be priced at $19.95 or $19.99 instead of just $20? Seems silly, doesn't it? Would a difference in a few cents really urge someone to buy something? Pricing psychology says "yes." 

    There are a few reasons why this is. For one, when shopping, we often don't want to go over a certain threshold or limit. For instance, maybe you don't want to spend more than $20. So buying something that's, say, $19.95 makes you feel like you're honoring that limit. Also, a $19.95-priced item puts it in the $10.00 to $19.99 bracket instead of the $20.00 to $29.99 bracket. Seems arbitrary, but this tactic works. 

    How to really save: Next time you see a price that that ends in ".95" or ".99," round up to the nearest dollar. Then, if sales tax will apply, tack on a few more bucks to the price. Would you still want to buy it? Would you be able to afford it? 

    10. Layout of the store

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    The "spend more now" devil can be found in the details of a store's layout. Check this out: All the new, pricey goods are put up front and on display, sale items are jammed into a closet or bargain bin in the back or in a darkened corner, and tempting little "impulse buy" goodies are next to the register. 

    Plus, end cap displays (aka the displays on the ends of each aisle that you don't have to walk down the aisle to reach) are sought-out spots for manufacturers to place their goods. Because they're highly visible and easy to grab and throw into a shopping cart, items on the end caps sell better than if they were in the aisle. 

    How to really save: Just having the awareness that certain items are strategically placed in a store can help you ward off temptation. Plus, stick to your shopping list and allow for a bit of a buffer if you know you like to indulge in an impulse buy. 

    Is there anything we missed? In the comments, share a retail tactic that's gotten you to spend more than you planned!

    And for more money-saving tips and tricks, check out the rest of our personal finance posts.