Retailers’ Dirty Tricks – Exposed

Consumer experts share store secrets that trick you into staying longer and spending more.

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Kyle James
Retailers have a few dirty little secrets up their sleeves – secrets which try to get you to overspend and buy stuff you had no idea existed but clearly can't live without.

So I figured it was time to help bring these secrets to the light of day so you don't fall victim in the future. Several experts including people who work in advertising, a certified financial planner and a New York Times best-selling author have shared their shopping tips so stores don't trick you into staying longer and spending more.

1. Don't let the store layout fool you.

Be conscious of how national retailers set up their floor plan. "Nothing is done by accident," says John Schmoll, who works in the advertising field and is the founder of FrugalRules.com. "Why else, for example, would Costco put the toilet paper and bottled water in the very back corner of the warehouse if not to force me to walk by everything else I want, but don't necessarily need?"

Another store layout trick has to do with the clearance racks located in clothing stores. "Retailers push their clearance sales all the way in the back of the store – knowing full well I'm going to be tempted to buy any of the 1,001 items along the way," says finance guru J. Money of BudgetsAreSexy.com. His solution? Put your blinders on and head straight to the clearance deals.

2. Make a shopping list.

Never make purchase decisions in the store, says Will Chen, co-founder of the frugal living website WiseBread.com. "Retailers have spent millions of dollars researching the best way to get you to overspend," he says. "Everything in stores, from the music to the height of the shelves, have been calibrated to trigger your spending instinct." The solution? Do all your research at home and make a shopping list. Then when you get to the store, stick to your list and stay focused on the task at hand.

3. Avoid the "I deserve it" mentality.

Retailers are experts when it comes to understanding consumer behavior and are always trying to elicit the "I deserve it" mentality in shoppers. Whether it be through commercials or social media buzz, they attempt to create the feeling that if shoppers don't buy right now, they will miss out. The truth of the matter is stores have new sales almost every weekend. "As consumers, we need to slow down and take a deep breath," says Shannon Ryan, a certified financial planner and founder of TheHeavyPurse.com. "When we align how we use our money with our values, rather than feeding our emotions, we make smart money decisions, which is a powerful lesson to teach our kids."

4. Be wary of coupons.

Retailers are keenly aware that coupons encourage shoppers to enter stores they might not otherwise visit. Denise Davis, editor of GoCheapGoHome.com, recommends doing ample research before making larger purchases and finding the store with the best price, regardless of a coupon offering. "Chances are, the store you would visit without coupons will offer some sort of special holiday deal at the last minute," Davis says. "You don't want to be at the store you didn't choose, then the one you prefer announces their special pricing."

5. Resist Black Friday deals.

More than 139 million shoppers hit the streets looking for deals during Black Friday weekend last year, according to the National Retail Federation. But once the great deals and door-busters are snatched up, resist the need to buy just because it’s Black Friday. "Don’t get caught up in the frenzy of Black Friday and overbuy, which would negate any possible savings," says Stephanie Nelson, best-selling author and founder of CouponMom.com. Instead, she recommends shopping closer to Christmas since she says retailers are likely to offer clearance prices as the holiday gets closer.

Kyle James is the founder RatherBeShopping.com, which covers frugal living and creative ways to save money.

Corrected on 10/16/2013: A previous version of this story misrepresented Stephanie Nelson’s opinion about Black Friday deals.