As the holiday gift-giving season inches closer, it’s a good time to prepare yourself to not buy into what advertisers want you to buy. Before you run that credit or debit card through the slot, take a moment to ask if you’re sure you’re getting what you want, and not what you’ve been manipulated into wanting.
When it comes to shopping, often what you think is your own decision, really isn’t. In fact, there exists a whole industry devoted to tricking you into doing what they want, but making you feel it’s your own decision. Ever walk through a mall and get the feeling you’re being watched? You’re not imagining things.
From the moment you walk into a mall, the retail industry is stalking you, your travel patterns, buying habits, even your eye moments as you scan a directory or kiosk. You know about surveillance cameras tracking your moves. You’ve heard about how shopper’s club cards record your buying habits so stores can target you with specific designed-for-you coupons and sales notices to get you to come back and buy more, or sell your information to companies whose products you might be inclined to buy. Well, how about large-scale innocent looking digital directories with facial scanners tracking where your eyes go to gauge what you’re looking for, say shoes? Then, the information is transmitted to ads in other parts of the mall so when you pass by, the ads you see change to feature the stores and products in that area that you might want to buy. The targeted ads are texted to your smart phone, too, as if you’re part of some special network of savvy shoppers! Great expense is being invested into high-technology to provide stores with clues on how to “enhance your shopping experience,” but the real truth is that it’s designed to help “enhance” your spending.
Stores use all manner of ploys to subconsciously seduce you into buying things you weren’t even considering. Let’s start with the huge impact colors have. The use of red is associated with “sale” or a great deal. It’s eye catching and stimulating, giving you the urge to act and act quickly. A store can carry the same items for months, but if you see it advertised in red, you’re far more likely to buy it right then and there, giving in to a vague sense of urgency, as if it’s now or never. This is especially true for men. Studies show that red ink on a price tag tends to give men the feeling that they’re getting a better deal, even if the actual price hasn’t changed. On the other hand, black ink suggests a sense of luxury and exclusivity. A retail store with a black color-scheme suggests that the items sold are more sophisticated, and subconsciously, you think so are you if you buy them.
Smell is another crafty manipulator. Drift into the bathing suit, cruise wear or summer clothes section, and notice if you smell the scent of coconuts or suntan lotion teasing your nose. Scents often evoke images of fond memories or inspire your imagination to conjure up wishful fantasies. As you begin dreaming of your next cruise to the Carribean, you just happen to notice the line up of bikinis, shorts, or Hawaiian shirts right there at your finger tips. Or maybe you enter the baby department and think, gee, someone must have spilled a canister of baby power, whew! Yet, without realizing it you start to become all warm and fuzzy about babies and find yourself wanting to spend a bit more. An accident, or did the store deliberately hook up their HVAC air ventilation system with that scent to put you in the mood to buy?
The next time you get frustrated trying to make your way through a store with displays blocking your path in a layout that has you craving cheese by the time you get to the end of their shopping maze, you have highly skilled psychological experts to thank. Ikea stores are the masters at this type of logistical manipulation. This Swedish furniture store is actually designed to confuse you and get you lost, so that you end up seeing (and maybe buying) things you never would have as you wander around trying to find your way back. They’re not alone. What store today doesn’t have a display blocking your path to make you stop and notice merchandise you would have never thought to buy? And those messy tables of sweaters, shirts, or jeans? Don’t think you’re doing the store a favor by neatening it up. You’re more likely to pick up an item off of a messy table than disturb a perfectly-placed display–and if a store can get you to touch and pick up an item, you’re more likely to buy it.
Even your ears are not safe from seduction. Music has a direct impact on your emotions, and stores use it to manipulate you like a character in a computer game. Smooth, melodious music makes you want to linger, a tactic used by retailers selling expensive items too costly to buy on impulse, such as jewelry and designer fashion, encouraging you to stay and spend time talking yourself into buying. Loud music makes you travel through a space faster. It’s not an accident that malls blast ear-splitting music that actually pushes you into the different stores, where the sounds are more soothing, you can hear yourself think, have an easier time talking to your companions, and want to linger there–as you shop more. Big discount box stores or fast food courts, however, prefer loud blasting music to get you to speed up and move through, so they can keep the constant turnover of crowds flowing.
Shopping can be fun, but don’t let it turn you into a retailer’s lab rat. You may be momentarily psyched to feel good about that purchase, but will it last through having to pay the bill? Think before you buy. When you find yourself straying from the shopping list in your hand, sort through all the reasons–and emotions–for why you’re about to buy something you never intended to buy before you entered the store. Are you buying what you need or want, or are you buying into the idea, the style, the emotion you’ve been manipulated into feeling?