Why we buy: The science of shopping

Ready or not, the holidays are here and the shopping season is upon us. Although I wish I could convince you not to shop during November and December — I’m a fan of Buy Nothing Day myself — I realize I’m in the minority. It’s Black Friday. It’s Christmas. People are going to shop.

If you do choose to shop this time of year, be smart about it. Make no mistake: It’s a war out there, my friends, and the merchants aren’t on your side. They want your hard-earned money just as much as you do, and they’ve got all sorts of tricks to separate you from your cash.

Shopping season is upon us! You see, merchants are smart. They spend billions of dollars every year conducting research into what makes people like you and me buy things. And so they put the sweetened cereal at your 6-year-old’s eye level. They block the aisles with displays to create traffic jams in front of the things they want to sell. They’ll even use scent to encourage spending!

In his 2000 book Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, Paco Underhill — an environmental psychologist — described what he’d learn through years of research into consumer behavior and retail marketing. Some of this stuff is very subtle.

The Science of Selling

Underhill’s company, Envirosell, sends trained observers into stores to follow shoppers, making detailed notes about how they interact with the products, fixtures, and employees. This information is then used to help the store make changes to encourage more spending.

For example, Envirosell’s research has demonstrated repeatedly that “women especially, though it was also true of men to a lesser extent, don’t like to be brushed or touched from behind.” Because of this, Underhill recommends that the space around makeup counters be large and uncluttered, allowing women to shop undisturbed. If they don’t feel crowded, they’re going to spend more time and more money on makeup.

The best sections of the book are those in which Underhill provides real-life examples of shoppers interacting with their retail environment: little old ladies down on their hands and knees, crawling around looking for the right bottle of aspirin; grocery-shopping fathers who buy whatever their children put in the basket; people, with carts loaded full of electronics equipment, who leave the store because the checkout line is too long.

The longer anecdotes are especially revealing:

I once heard a talk given by the vice president of merchandising from a national chain of young women’s clothing stores in which she deconstructed a particular display of T-shirts. “We buy them in Sri Lanka for $3 each,” she began.

“Then we bring them over here and sew in washing instructions, which are in French and English. Notice we don’t say the shirts are made in France. But you can infer that if you like. Then we merchandise the hell out of them — we fold them just right on a tasteful tabletop display, and on the wall behind it we hang a huge, gorgeous photograph of a beautiful woman in an exotic locale wearing the shirt. We shoot it so it looks like a million bucks. Then we call it an Expedition T-shirt, and we sell it for $37. And we sell a lot of them, too.”

It was the most depressing valuable lesson I’ve ever had.

Like it or not, you’re manipulated all of the time while you’re shopping, and in ways you don’t even suspect. But by taking Underhill’s lessons for marketers and flipping them around, you can make yourself immune to marketers’ manipulations. (Well, maybe not immune, but less likely to succumb to their ploys, anyhow.)

How to Spend Less

By taking Underhill’s lessons for marketers and flipping them around, we can gain some insights into how consumers can win the retail battle. Here are some easy changes you can make to spend less at the store:

  • Spend less time in stores. Underhill writes, “The amount of time a shopper spends in a store (assuming he or she is shopping, not waiting in line) is perhaps the single most important factor in determining how much he or she will buy.” Do not browse. Shop with a purpose.
  • Don’t use a basket. Only use a basket (or shopping cart) if it’s absolutely necessary. If you’re dashing into the supermarket to pick up milk and bread, carry things in your hands. Baskets induce people to buy more.
  • Only seek employee contact if you need help. Employee interaction also induces people to buy more. Underhill notes that “the more shopper-employee contacts that take place, the greater the average sale.”
  • Don’t try samples. Research indicates that people are more likely to buy something if they can sample it first. Don’t try the samples as you wheel around the giant warehouse store — they’re likely to make you want the product.
  • Don’t examine or handle things you don’t need. The more you interact with something, the more likely you are to buy it. “Virtually all unplanned purchases — and many planned ones, too — come as a result of the shopper seeing, touching, smelling, or tasting something that promises pleasure, if not total fulfillment.”
  • Don’t try on clothes you don’t need. “Shopper conversion rates increase by half when there is a staff-initiated contact, and it jumps to 100 percent when there is staff-initiated contact and use of the dressing room. In other words, a shopper who talks to a salesperson and tries something on is twice as likely to buy as a shopper who does neither.”
  • Avoid advertising. Advertising exists for one purpose: to get you to buy things. If you don’t want a closet full of Zizzer-Zoof Seeds and Thneeds, reduce your exposure to advertising.
  • Make a list and stick to it. The majority of supermarket purchases are unplanned. Underhill writes: “In one supermarket study, we counted how many shoppers came armed with lists. Almost all of the women had them. Less than a quarter of the men did. Any wife who’s watching the family budget knows better than to send her to the supermarket unchaperoned.”
  • Ignore the racks of impulse items. These are high-margin products designed to make the retailer profit while parting you from your money. These are not things that you need.
  • Don’t go shopping. The number one way not to buy anything is not to go shopping. It’s obvious, but true.

All in the Family

Why We Buy notes another way your family can save money at the grocery store: have mom do the shopping.

Supermarkets are places of high impulse buying for both sexes — fully 60 to 70 percent of purchase there were unplanned, grocery industry studies have shown us. But men are especially suggestible to the entreaties of children as well as eye-catching displays.

Underhill notes that in many other ways, men and women shop differently. Most men don’t enjoy shopping. “As a result, the entire shopping experience is generally geared toward the female shopper.” Specific differences read like a list of gender stereotypes:

  • Men move faster through stores.
  • Men spend less time looking at things.
  • Men don’t ask where things are.
  • If a man can’t find what he wants, he’ll just leave.
  • When a man finds something he likes, he’s more likely to buy. “In one study, we found that 65 percent of male shoppers who tried something on bought it, as opposed to 25 percent of females shoppers.”

Men may shop quickly, but because they don’t often shop from lists, they’re just as likely to overspend as women who spend more time in stores. In fact, the combination most likely to splurge is a father with his children.

In fact, the book is full of “man with children” anecdotes, repeatedly demonstrating that families should either not allow fathers to take their children shopping, or that men should be trained to tell their children, “No!”

Many of you have probably read Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. That book, too, points out the power of marketing, emphasizing how shoppers are manipulated in lots of tiny ways. Even when we think we’re immune to marketing, we’re not.

Here’s how Underhill sums up his own research:

Good stores perform a kind of retailing judo — they use the shopper’s own momentum, her largely unspoken inclinations and desires, to get her to move in a direction unplanned, and often unaware. In the end, it’s not enough that goods be within reach of the shopper — she must want to reach them. And having reached them, she must then wish to own them, or all this effort goes to naught. Amid so much science, we discover in the end it’s love that makes the world of retailing go round.

So, be careful out there, folks. If you’re going to shop on Black Friday — or at any other point during the holiday season — be smart about it. Go prepared. Stick to your budget. And, most of all, watch for the tricks that merchants use to lure you to buy.

(Source: Savings.com)

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There are 80 comments to "Why we buy: The science of shopping".

  1. Cat Connor says 18 May 2006 at 11:59

    Being car-free gives us a definite advantage when it comes to the grocery store: we never set foot in it. It costs a little bit to have our groceries delivered (though it’s nothing compared to owning a car), but buying online makes it extremely easy to stick to the list.

  2. Brendan says 06 September 2006 at 04:25

    I think many points you make are only valid to some extent, in that it is more a case of correlation than cause and effect. Sure, people who use a basket buy more, and probably buy things on impulse more than those without. But people who use a basket go into the store intending or needing to buy more than those who dont.

    Similarly, Im sure those who try on clothes, test samples, or interact with salespeople do buy more than those who don’t. But those who don’t are those less inclined to buy, and less interested in buying. It isn’t that trying on clothes is a cause of buying clothes, but that trying on clothes is a good indicator of those who have strong intentions or interest in making a purchase.

    • Charlie says 04 April 2012 at 10:17


      In general, these tips are for people who need help with their spending. Those less inclined to spend money don’t need tips like not using a basket. The idea is that people who are more inclined to spend can incorporate these tips in order to help themselves spend less. Someone who is naturally more inclined to spend can change their habits by tempting themselves less, and putting other good practices into place.

  3. Eric says 30 March 2008 at 23:54

    Regarding the free-standing display blockades, I find an effective tactic to combat these is to simply ram them over with my cart and then trample over them maniacally as I power through the shambles of the once-proud display.

    Use of these displays in the aisles has decreased 62% in my local supermarket since I started employing these tactics. >:)

  4. Caleb Nelson says 21 October 2008 at 05:17

    That’s a very interesting topic. As a man, I feel invincible to the constant marketing onslaught that we are exposed to, but allot of those points hit home. I just recently started taking a list to the grocery store. Prior to that, I winged it. It didn’t matter if I was shopping for the next few weeks, I would still just wing it. Another agreed point: If I am going to try something on, I’m going to take it home. If I get to the point of trying something on, I’ve already decided to buy it, I just simply need to check a size. Women, on the other hand, don’t decide to buy something until the see and like it on themselves. This sounds like a very eye-opening book.


  5. MattA says 21 October 2008 at 05:45

    Feel better, JD!

  6. Diatryma says 21 October 2008 at 06:06

    I do a lot of impulse-buying at the grocery store– not the majority of what I buy unless I decide it’s Spontaneous Pantrystock Day– but almost all of it is stuff I eat anyway. Do two cans of cream of potato soup count as an impulse buy if I buy them normally?

    I’m sometimes surprised by what makes me not buy things. I went into Best Buy a few months ago, hoping to look at digital cameras, and dove right back out when I realized that the place was threatening– loud music, lots of people, loud music again. When I was traveling, a lot of senoras lost sales by asking me if I was looking for anything in particular; I retreated because I don’t like interacting with people hugely and haggling freaks me out.
    Secret to saving money: build up anxiety about consumer situations.

  7. Ryan McLean says 21 October 2008 at 06:28

    Thats great advice. I seem to always buy things I don’t need if I stay in the store longer then 20 min. So I’ll try and stick to buying what I need and getting the heck out of there.

  8. LM says 21 October 2008 at 07:32

    I recently read this book. I too was hoping it would be a more psychological/sociological study, and was disappointed to find it was more about marketing, and only anecdotal stories at that. It was still interesting, but completely not why I bought the book (bought used, of course). I also felt it was outdated, as it was written in the 90s. I’d like to see a revision written in 2009. I wonder if the gender differences will be as wide now?

    Even from the seller perspective I still don’t think this book went deep enough. And for a consumer trying to be more frugal (but am I *really*?) it was not a good read.

  9. Eric says 21 October 2008 at 07:52

    So what is a good book to read from the consumer perspective? Any recommendations to arm yourself with the proper knowledge against the constant marketing onslaught we face every day?

  10. RenaissanceTrophyWife says 21 October 2008 at 08:02

    Sorry you’re sick! feel better soon.

    I wonder what the author’s perspective would be on larger purchases. Does the same shopper mentality apply, or are people less susceptible since more planning is (or should be) involved?

    “Amid so much science, we discover in the end it’s love that makes the world of retailing go round.”

    There was a NYT article recently about a family who bought a $55k boat as the economy spirals downward. After reading the article, I could see why the purchase was considered an investment…


    What’s your take on it?

  11. lidia says 21 October 2008 at 08:04

    I mentioned this before but I really think that the book Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely is worth a read (if you haven’t already). I promise I’m not working for the publisher – I just think about it a lot when I read this blog.

    Ariely talks about similar concepts – like when something is priced low we will care about differences in price. Driving across town for a $5 item to avoid paying $7 at the local expensive store. But when a big ticket item varies by a few dollars…or even more…we tend to overlook the difference because we’re already paying so much.

    My shopping is under control enough for me, but there are times I catch myself thinking about that book and how I’m acting irrationally about a purchase.

  12. Lily says 21 October 2008 at 08:14

    Lidia-That book is very interesting. It’s so true that we care less about saving dollars on expensive items. How can one defeat this attitude?

  13. J.D. says 21 October 2008 at 08:27

    I’ve had Predictably Irrational on my “to-read” list for a long time, but it always gets bumped down. Maybe I should bump it up to the top, instead. 🙂

  14. Kristen at The Frugal Girl says 21 October 2008 at 09:08

    Ok, that is sort of funny, given that Trent from TSD just said that he spends less when shopping with his children. lol According to this article, that’s when he would spend the most!

    Lidia, that is a huge weak point for me. I’m VERY good about small purchases, but I tend to be more more careless about the larger ones.

  15. JW says 21 October 2008 at 09:14

    Take care of yourself, J.D. We out here in the working world still get the luxury of the occasional sick day, so should you!

    I enjoyed the list of ideas for “How to spend less.” It reminded that a new Kroger grocery store recently opened in our town and the shopping carts were much larger than the old carts. It was billed as a “convenience” for large families to stock up on their sale prices, but I knew what they were really up to…sneaky, sneaky!

  16. Kim says 21 October 2008 at 09:30

    I’ve noticed that I am much more likely to buy a second item once I have the first one in my cart/bag/hands. I’ve never seen any research on this but I’m sure studies would show that some sort of mental barrier to purchasing is broken with the selection of the first item.

    Thanks for the review, J.D. Get well soon!

  17. Tyler @ Dividend Money says 21 October 2008 at 09:56

    My wife is the worst when it comes to samples. I don’t think she’s ever sampled something without subsequently buying it.
    Costco on Saturday is sample heavan.

  18. TheMightyQuinn says 21 October 2008 at 10:04

    This reminds me of a conversation my wife and I had in a grocery store:

    Wife: Oreos are 2 for the price of 1. Should we get it?
    Me: No.
    Wife: Are you sure? It’s a great deal!
    Me: Yes, I’m sure.
    We continue shopping and pass by the display again.
    Wife: Honey, I think we should get oreos.
    Me: Why?
    Wife: They’re so cheap! We’ll never see them this cheap again.
    Me: Fine get them.

    So we bought them. Here’s the kicker: I was avoiding sweets, and my wife doesn’t like oreos! We bought two packages of cookies for our 3 year old? I assumed my wife really wanted them because she kept pestering me. But the fact it, my wife cannot pass up a deal even if she doesn’t want the product. To me this is insanity. Of course I’m acurmudgeon that hates shopping.

  19. magicBC says 21 October 2008 at 10:34

    I gave up shopping on Saturday afternoon- I had to save my sanity! I’m suspicious when I hear the words “value added” and “price point” from salespeople. I wish retailers would respect that I don’t want my personal information given to third party businesses who care/love me so much they’re going to help me decided what I need to buy.
    I use a “global payment” card- a chequing account with credit card priviledges. Doubles my warrenty, roadside assistance, etc., but the money must be in the account at the time of purchase.
    This being said, my past has been littered with impulse buys that today I would never pay money for, at any price. I had to learn the hard way.

  20. Miranda says 21 October 2008 at 11:23

    Very interesting. I noticed after starting to track our spending a lot of what I spend at the grocery store was impluse buys, so now I make a meal plan, then make a list, and then only shop on Friday’s on my lunch hour, so I have to be quick, get it, take it home, put away and grab something quick to eat all in one hour. This also allows me to go without the kids, who I have a hard time saying no to when it comes to food.

    Also I just recently started using Sam’s Club click and pull feature, where you order what you want online and they do your shopping, then you just have to walk in grab your cart and check out through customer service. This is saving me TONS in impluse buys!

  21. Christine Groth says 21 October 2008 at 11:41

    Yes, marketers are saavy people-. But as well you need to be a saavy shopper, consumer, thinker, and…. be creative in making money. Think Big, and bigger opportunities will come to you.

    Christine Groth

  22. Shara says 21 October 2008 at 12:38

    The longer I stay in a general/grocery the more I buy.

    But the longer I spend in a clothing/specialty/household item shop the LESS likely. I start to look at my selections and second guess. If I spend long enough I will put everything back on the rack, even if it’s stuff I really do need (like new work clothes/shoes).

    So if I need something I order it online (better anyway because at 6′ most clothing shops don’t carry much that fits).

  23. Martacus says 21 October 2008 at 12:45

    I nearly ALWAYS bring along a shopping list, and stick to it. The only exceptions are if I know an item was supposed to be on the list (my wife or I mentioned while planning out the menu & list) and was accidentally left off. Desserts/snacks are normally planned out ahead of time, so no runs out to the market in the middle of the week for a pint of Haagen-Dazs.

    I made an exception this past weekend, buying a bunch of apples for a pie I made for a church potluck, and a few other things we actually needed.

    By the way, has anybody else noticed that grocery stores no longer seem to have any scales around, in the produce section or bulk foods? I know they often weren’t accurate, but it certainly seems to me that they are trying to get us to buy more quantity, and then charge by the pound. It can be tough to estimate sometimes.

  24. [email protected] says 21 October 2008 at 13:26

    A couple of rules I use

    Only go in stores with concrete floors.
    Shop less every 3-4 weeks
    No kids!
    Carry cash
    Bring a list and get those items first


  25. mb says 21 October 2008 at 14:12

    I walk to the store with a list and cash. If I can’t carry it 1/2 mile home through traffic, I’m not buying it. So the only impulse buys are on the once a month stock up trips.

    I hope you have some nice soup to make you feel better.

  26. Pat with SPI says 21 October 2008 at 15:55

    Hi J.D. I hope you feel better soon. We need your wisdom and expertise!

    I’m really down too, actually. Why? I just got laid off today.

    I wrote a little bit about it on my blog:


    Tough times, but we’ll get through it!

  27. leigh says 21 October 2008 at 16:12

    perhaps it’s time for a cost-benefit analysis of a flu shot? 😉
    hope you’re feeling better soon.

  28. Margot says 21 October 2008 at 19:33

    When a man finds something he likes, he’s more likely to buy. “In one study, we found that 65 percent of male shoppers who tried something on bought it, as opposed to 25 percent of females shoppers.”

    I don’t agree with this conclusion. I’m more inclined to believe that a higher proportion of men purchase clothes after trying them on because the men’s off-the-rack clothes are more likely to fit them than are women’s.

    Good gourd, I’d love to fit into just half of the clothes that I try on that are my size.

  29. Mike says 21 October 2008 at 20:43

    Long time lurker, first time commenter. 🙂

    I read this book a few years ago [I work for the giant chain bookstore] and loved it. If you’re into that sort of thing, pick up “The Call of the Mall” by the same author. Underhill also wrote the forward to a book called “Buyology” that was just released today–it looks to be about the same topics and I’m itching to give it a read.

    It’s really fascinating stuff and I promise you won’t look at the grocery store or the mall the same way! I recommend it to my customers. Both of Underhill’s books are in paperback now if I remember correctly.

  30. Todd Eddy says 22 October 2008 at 15:01

    As a guy I can say most of that is pretty true. As an example just yesterday I went to get me a hat for the coming cold months. I walked in, made a beeline straight to where I THOUGHT the mens clothes were. Once I got there I found where the hats were. Actually spent a little bit of time over the style of hat I wanted and ultimately I was faced with a $10 hat that I kinda liked, and a $3 hat I kinda liked. So I got the $3 one, made a beeline straight to the register and out I went.

    That said, I CONSTANTLY linger around at best buys, sometimes spending an hour or longer in there. I could only imagine these ‘followers’ trying to figure out what I’m doing because I’m all over the place 🙂

  31. Grace says 26 October 2008 at 09:10

    A great list of tips and great reminders. I especially like the idea of carrying things in your hands not a basket when shopping. And, what I am hearing over and over is not expose yourself to advertising. I guess we are still back in the stone-age on that one. Me see honey comb. Me want honey comb. 🙂 G.

  32. Nick says 27 October 2008 at 14:42

    The thing that helps me the most has been not to ever get a basket/cart. I’ve done this more out of laziness than consciously trying to spend less, but it surely works. If I can’t carry it, I can’t have it.

  33. Ana says 29 October 2008 at 12:56

    I have not read this book but in a text book that i have to read for college it dicusses stuff like this. How retailers move the store around so that it is easier to draw in costumers. And how people whenever they walk into a store tend to go to the right side first, so retailers put the goood stuff to the right side. It also talksabout a study that went on awhile ago, where store hired this guy to watch the shoppers and their movements to better understand how they shop so that they can sell better. It is stated above that some stores have people follow shoppers around for the same purpose. T me this feels like an invasion of privavcy. I don’t want someone following me around in the store and watching where i go and what i buy that is just creepy. With the fact that men spend less time in stores i agree with sort of. I think that it depends on the store that they go into wether they spend a lot of time or no time in it. If it is a grocery store i think they spend less time, but if it is a technology store or a outdoor sotre i think they will spend more time.

    With the topic of how to spend less money i think they are really good ideas that i wish will work. I hate when you go shopping and some employee is also bothering you asking you if you need help finding anything and it gets on my nerves. I just wna to be left alone to enjoy my shopping alone.

  34. Jen says 25 August 2009 at 22:01

    I HATE shopping in general, but most especially for clothes. When I get desperate, once or twice a year, I go to my favorite clothing store with the intention of trying on everything in the store that interests me, and purchasing everything I need that fits well and looks nice on me. So yes, I interact with a salesperson, usually telling them I’m fine when they approach, so they will leave me alone to complete my mission. I also, obviously, try things on.

    It’s amusing to think that if I were observed, a marketing person might conclude I made large purchases due to the interaction and trying things on. They’d be wrong. 🙂

    Thankfully, I can send my wonderful husband to the grocery store with a list, and he is in and out without any extra purchases. He hates grocery stores as much as I hate shopping for clothes.

  35. Tara says 18 July 2012 at 09:50

    Oh great. Another excuse for men to skive off taking responsibility for home-making work. What’s wrong with making lists during the month(post a piece of paper on the fridge and anyone who uses up the last of something writes it on the list – grab the list before going to the store) and learning to compare prices? When it comes to comparing tech specs of the latest gadget that has absolutely zero functionality men are perfectly capable of “finding a great deal!”

  36. Electode Supply says 23 November 2012 at 13:16

    Greetings! Very helpful advice within this article! It’s the little changes that make the largest changes. Many thanks for sharing!

  37. Rusty Williams says 24 November 2012 at 06:04

    My wife used to work for a company that imported furniture from India. The company would use old doors (off old houses) and put them on a box to make a curio. Sold it in the states for $1,000+. The t-shirts reminded me of that. The store was it was “old furniture” from India; which I guess is technically true…

  38. Pauline says 24 November 2012 at 07:15

    I like buy nothing day, but sometimes fall in the trap of advertisers. They are everywhere, even in movies with product placement you feel that you need the actor’s watch, drink or tech gadget. Rationalizing a purchase will generally lead to the conclusion that you don’t need the item.

  39. Lance @ Money Life and More says 24 November 2012 at 08:08

    Making a list and sticking to it is key when we go grocery shopping. We occasionally give in and buy something not on the list but we know we shouldn’t. We’ll need to try even harder during the holidays because there are crazy advertisements everywhere.

  40. James @ Free in Ten Years says 24 November 2012 at 08:25

    I love the idea of buy nothing day. I recently went a week without buying anything such is my anti-consumerism attitude these days.

    Watching little or no TV makes a huge difference because you’re automatically exposed to about 80% less advertising than the average person.

    Nice post!

    • Holly@ClubThrifty says 24 November 2012 at 16:56

      I totally agree with that. We don’t have cable and I never have any idea what new products are coming out.

  41. fjpoblam says 24 November 2012 at 08:46

    Our answer is simply in two practices. As for Xmas gifts, buy them throughout the year, and save them up in the closet. As for other “stuff”, consider a thing an “investment”: stick to just “a few good things” and when you buy one thing, consider getting rid of the old thing it replaces. Collections of seldom-used toys just gather dust and require cleaning once a year. (What tedium here in the desert southwest!)

    • Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies says 24 November 2012 at 19:31

      That’s totally Mr. PoP’s philosophy – he actually wrote about it on Friday on our site – Buy It For Life. Buy fewer high quality goods that will last for decades or longer. Repair rather than replace.

      We joke that we buy “heirloom quality” goods even though we don’t have any heirs yet!

      • Elizabeth says 25 November 2012 at 14:52

        Totally agree. It may sound funny, but there are a lot of memories in my kitchen. I think of my grandmother every time I use her soup spoons, or smile when I use my grandfather’s casserole dish. The things they “bought for life” are now some of my “for life” stuff.

        Some things aren’t going to last forever, but I try to buy with “cost per use” in mind.

  42. OneEC says 24 November 2012 at 09:07

    Why in heaven’s name would anyone think that having directions printed in French would make someone think the product was made in France? I can’t imagine anyone “inferring” that. I think the person doing the presentation was joking about that.

    I do always check the “made in” label on clothing and food and cooking products, because there are a host of countries I do not purchase things from for a wide variety of reasons.

    • mike says 24 November 2012 at 09:21

      Your kidding me right, young kids are highly susceptible to marketing and peer pressure and when It comes to clothes girls moreso than boys, not being gender biased but I see the importance of clothes with my daughters and their friends, where as the boys don’t care as much, they have other interests.

      • OneEC says 24 November 2012 at 10:07

        I’m not saying the kids aren’t interested in clothing…I’m saying that having the laundry directions in French are not going to make anyone think the product is French. Especially since, as Marla and Sue state, French makes it appear that the product is going to be sold in Canada.

        • Allison says 27 November 2012 at 07:16

          I can tell you OneEC that you are definitely wrong! A couple months ago my Mom brought a stuffed animal for my son. She said it was $45 and she bought it at the fancy french boutique at the mall. I checked the back of the tag and it was made in China! I can guarantee that she wouldn’t have paid 45 bucks for it if she had seen it at Wal-mart, and yet it was probably no better quality than a stuffed toy you’d find there. Stores know this kind of stuff works, and it does!

    • Marla says 24 November 2012 at 09:26

      Especially with any Canadian – we expect bilingualism. Pretty funny.

      • Sue says 24 November 2012 at 09:49

        I’m American and when I see bilingual labels in English and French I think Canada, not France. I remember when sewing patterns started to be printed in both languages. Makes sense to me if the manufacturer wants to sell in Canada and not make special packaging, or in the case of the actual patterns and instructions, product.

        Just like it makes sense that many merchants where I live have signs and advertising in English and Spanish because we have a growing population of people whose native language is Spanish.

        • katherine says 24 November 2012 at 14:32

          Funny, when I see French, I think African.

      • DanM53 says 27 November 2012 at 11:13

        Never underestimate the stupidity of the buying public. When my Canadian wife once mentioned to a person she met that she was from Canada, that person (an Iowan) said “That’s north of Iowa, right?” A lot of Americans are not tuned into the rest of the world!

  43. graduateliving says 24 November 2012 at 09:14

    I went out on Black Friday (after 12 PM) to procure the following things:

    1) an oil change at Sears, which was not crowded by the time I got there
    2) while my oil was being changed, I walked to Staples to pick up ink for the printer my parents are gifting me (rather than getting a new one for Christmas, I’ll just take the old one they were getting ready to throw out)
    3) Barnes and Nobles for a specific book for a Christmas gift

    I had previously made my Christmas gift list and done all my shopping online, so there were no lines, no in-store browsing, and no hassle. I make lists for the grocery store too, and that’s allowed me to stay within a pretty strict grocery budget.

    Finally, when I worked retail, our motto was “smile and say hi” to every customer you see. Not only does it deter theft, it encourages legit shoppers to stay in the store, approach you for help, and buy more.

  44. El Nerdo says 24 November 2012 at 09:27

    Costco has a $150 food processor down to $100 this weekend. I could go in/out to get it, but there will be crowds to elbow….

    Or I could stay here watching Bundesliga games. Hmmm…. oh here’s the whistle!

    • clara says 24 November 2012 at 09:51

      Really nice to read something from J.D.again. And glad to see the new blog. Count me as a fan.

  45. Jenzer says 24 November 2012 at 10:54

    Why We Buy was a huge eye-opener for me. Somewhere in the book Underhill shares a calculation that those in the grocery industry had made: for every additional minute a shopper spends in the store, s/he will spend an additional X number of dollars (I don’t remember the exact figure — JD, maybe you recall what the dollar amount was?).

    One of our local grocery chains offers free coffee to all its customers. The coffee station is just inside the entrance of the store. That piping hot cup of coffee in your hand will certainly slow down your pace as you walk more carefully to keep it from sloshing out the cup’s opening and onto your skin. I’m sure those “free” cups of coffee more than pay for themselves as they increase each partaker’s transit time through the store.

    • Ivy says 24 November 2012 at 12:40

      This may interfere with another principle Underhill highlighted – if you have 2 free hands, you are more likely to browse, touch and therefore buy. If you are holding the coffee and pushing a cart (or holding a basket) you’ll need a third hand to grab what you need

      • Dave says 25 November 2012 at 20:07

        not if the carts have cupholders!

    • SweetCoffee says 25 November 2012 at 07:27

      Years ago, I learned in my “Consumer Behavior” graduate business class that, psychologically, when consumers take free samples at a store, they naturally feel an obligation to give something back. We’re polite, so we buy a little something to even things up. It’s a little like using the bathroom at a gas station when you don’t need to fill up, and then you buy an expensive drink so you don’t feel like you are taking something(stealing?).

    • CathyG says 26 November 2012 at 14:10

      I wonder if that calculation is a little bit backwards, or at least doesn’t show causation. If I only need 2 things, it doesn’t take much time in the store for me to get them. If I need 2 pages of stuff to make Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas cookies and 3 other meals that week, then it will take me a long time to gather all those items. So, yes, the longer I am in the store the more I will spend, but I think it’s because I had more on my list, not because I am distracted by sipping coffee while walking near all the shiny things.

  46. Bc says 24 November 2012 at 13:31

    I minimize shopping by finding a single gift that everyone will like and ordering them in a catalog or online. This year many on my list are getting a utility tote for their car or home. half my list was done in ten minutes.

  47. TEB says 24 November 2012 at 15:42

    i got hooked last week at trader joe’s. one of the crew was walking around with a bag of pretzels dipped in white chocolate and sprinkled with bits of peppermint. they were heavenly and i bought only one bag-which of course i wouldn’t have done if she hadn’t asked if i wanted to try them.
    the upside is that i will be making my own to give to a few folks at christmas.
    i did buy on friday, but only from local merchants. i spent less than $8 on 2 items.

  48. Peach says 24 November 2012 at 18:02

    I liked this post, and I found a lot of the points made to be absolutely true; the manipulations used to get us to spend more( I also believe stores play subliminal messages along with the music they pipe in, urging shoppers to buy, buy, buy) the tricks to make us feel all warm and cozy and trusting, the pricing gimmicks–yep, I think they do all that and more. But I’ve been a thrifty chick for most of my life and I’ve found that going shopping “with a purpose” and a made-up mind, trumps almost all the tricks. If I shop knowing my bottom line and aware of all the subtle cues being used to get me to spend more, it gives me strength to resist temptation.
    A couple of things: I’ve found (for me) that spending more time in the store causes me to spend LESS, not more. Weird, but true. I go in with a list, a budget, and a few coupons, and when I take time to price check and think long and hard about what I’m buying, I often decide that an item is not really worth it even on sale and with a coupon. Plus I could find a better way to get the same result without buying it, which is fantastic.
    Also, before I check out, I go over everything I’m buying, to make sure I have no second thoughts. It really helps. I have a lot of buy-nothing days, and it’s important to have them. But on the days I have to shop, and I don’t mean the run-into-the-store-and-pick-up-one-thing trips, I mean the full scale grocery buying trip or even Black Friday shopping–if I go into the store fully prepared to spend less and aware of all the little seductions :o) going on to get me to spend more of my hard-earned cash, I end up truly spending less. The last paragraph of JD’s post summed it up perfectly.

  49. Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies says 24 November 2012 at 19:36

    “the more shopper-employee contacts that take place, the greater the average sale.”

    Is this really true? I walked out of a store just a week ago because the sales people wouldn’t leave me alone to browse the Christmas ornaments in peace.

  50. Meghan says 24 November 2012 at 23:00

    I’m over shopping. I once had a roommate who frequented discount stores and bought lots of under $10 shirts, purses, etc. Problem was, she wasn’t in love with any of them and always had to buy more. I’m the type to buy two pairs of nice expensive jeans than 10 cheap ones. I even dry clean my dark jeans so the color lasts. Today instead of shopping, I re-dyed 5 articles of clothing black and they all look fabulous! I was able to add a skirt, cardigan, pair of skinny pants and leggings, and a summer top back in to the top tier of clothes in the closet for $2! 🙂

  51. Vaclav says 25 November 2012 at 00:48

    Hi, I also like Buy nothing day. And what about this idea? “Buy Nothing Until 2013”, from Leo Babauta

  52. SAHMama says 25 November 2012 at 01:10

    I do shop Black Friday, with a plan in mind.

    It’s when I stock up on fabric for the year, as that is when the craft store has it at rock bottom prices.

    I also did the shopping for my kids on my parents’ behalf. I live in a city of 1 million people and my parents live in a town of 2,000. They would have to drive a 120 mile round trip to go to Target, for example. They don’t shop online, either. In the past, they’ve gotten my kids total junk that was never played with or that broke or that drove us all nuts (furreal friend. a crying baby doll. novelty hats out of the claw machine game). They asked me to do the shopping for them because they had to work through the weekend.

    So, I did a combination of online and bricks & mortar shopping. I was able to purchase quite a few high quality items for a very reasonable amount- less than $100 per child. The gifts I found included a lamp for my daughter’s bedroom, sterling silver earrings for my daughter that were originally $45, down to $8, a baby book and play mat for my baby, and solid wooden jigsaw puzzles and wooden toy cars for my toddler son. Much better than plastic junk or clothes that won’t fit. And I saved my parents $30+ in gas.

    At the same time as doing the shopping for my parents, I combined purchases I was already going to make so I could take advantage of certain deals. Target, for example, had spend $50 in apparel/shoes/accessories/home, get a $10 giftcard on Friday morning. I needed to buy pajama pants and an LED lantern for my husband so I combined that with the lamp and got the giftcard, which was a nice bonus.

    At Kohls, I needed to buy my husband a couple of henley shirts that he’s wanted for a long time and hasn’t been able to find. I combined that with a few items for my kids and got the Kohls cash that I otherwise wouldn’t have qualified for.

    The extra $10 at Target and $15 at Kohl’s will buy another two gifts or some things we need, like dress socks for my husband.

    I had a budget to work from ($100 for my husband, $100 for each kid for my parents behalf) and stuck to it. I only went to 4 stores in person and two online.

  53. Wm says 25 November 2012 at 07:50

    One of the ploys that stores use is to give stuff off with a discount. Anybody who isn’t financially smart will fall into this trap and buy stuff they don’t need thinking they are getting a good deal. Most of such discounted products tend to be of poor quality too. Nowadays, I would much rather buy something I love even if the cost is a bit high, so that I would get a lot more use out of it.

  54. Mike T. says 25 November 2012 at 13:59

    Avoid advertising = Mute button on the remote.

    I don’t watch much Television. But when I do, I am usually working on something as I watch. One habit I have formed is to mute the audio during commercials. It helps a lot!

  55. Kelly@Financial-Lessons says 26 November 2012 at 07:21

    Really interesting and informative post. Its so weird to think about the mind tricks that marketers and advertisers use on us; its almost as if they know more about what we want than we do. Having a purpose and figuring out exactly what you want to buy before you head out to shop is the number one thing to remember if you don’t want to spend extra money.

  56. getagrip says 26 November 2012 at 11:47

    I will never forget a time many years ago when I happened to be in a Sachs store and saw some tennis balls of a brand I had just purchased the day before for under $2 on sale for $5. I looked over the can and it looked exactly the same. I went to the clerk and asked him:

    “Not to be off putting, but is there something special about these I can’t see because I swear I bought the same ones the other day for $2?”
    He smiled, looked me up and down and apparently satisfied I wasn’t a regular, nor likely to become one, lost some of his formal stance.
    “Nothing special about them,” he said. “We tried selling them for $2 a while back. People complained, asking what was wrong with them or saying we were selling defective tennis balls or last years left overs and they didn’t move. So we priced them at $7 and they started selling. We “sale” them at $5 periodically and they fly off the shelves. People who shop here seem to expect to pay more, and seem to get upset if they aren’t.”
    He noted my look of bafflement.
    “I guess it’s more about status than price,” he said with a shrug. “It’s got to be expensive if its worth buying here.”

    I’ve noticed this with lots of “things” involving status. The perception of things, it’s status and how others perceive it, is more important than the thing itself. That’s what marketing is constantly trying to sell and manipulate in us, be it the latest “green” product, a sexy foriegn woman being a frumpy little car, or overpaying for a t-shirt that implies it’s from France (like the French make better T-shirts?).

  57. Grayson @ Debt RoundUp says 26 November 2012 at 12:47

    I make sure to have many days that are “Buy Nothing” days. I am a very strict list shopper. I make one and stick to it. I try not to buy things that I don’t “need”. I just wish my wife would follow me.

  58. Brian Fourman says 26 November 2012 at 16:55

    For me lists are invaluable. In a way, a list serves as its own task I need to complete. The process of checking off the list keeps me focused on completing my goal of purchasing all the items. This process keeps me from noticing things I don’t really need.

  59. ILS says 27 November 2012 at 02:23

    I used to take JD’s opinions seriously. And then I learned that he took his feline to a shelter where it was likely put to death. Who does that, especially when one has a blog on animal intelligence??

    • Peach says 27 November 2012 at 13:02

      You know, this is the second or third time you’ve posted something like that here, and I can’t understand WHY you are here. If you don’t have anything positive or helpful to say about GRS topics, please go away. Try the FoxNews forum.

  60. Xaia says 03 December 2012 at 18:57

    I have learned my lesson for target. Thank you article!!:)

  61. Tony says 23 April 2013 at 15:18

    I shall never visit Target again! Useful post, thanks.

  62. Maurice says 23 July 2013 at 19:45

    Thank you for the useful tips. I have been really trying to tighten up my wallet and save some money for my retirement. Little steps and tips like this help a lot.

  63. Shweta Rai @ OnlineBusiness.org says 14 August 2015 at 02:32

    Selling is indeed a science. It is funny how people come to a decision on whether or not to buy an item. I also chuckled a bit when I came across the line “eave the store because the checkout line is too long” because I’m one of those people 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

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