You are currently being analyzed. Someone, somewhere is looking at the patterns you exhibit and trying their best to manipulate you. They’re using cutting edge research and groundbreaking techniques. They’re trying to get your money. They want to trick you.

Well, not you specifically, but people like you—consumers.

It’s a game as old as money itself—retailers trying to find ways to convince and coerce their customers into shopping more frequently and spending more money. There’s nothing malicious about it, but it’s hard not to feel slimy when you think about the tactics big companies employ. When it comes down to it, these corporations exist to make money for their shareholders.

There’s only one way to avoid this kind of trickery: Learn the methods retailers use to trick you and be aware while shopping. When you start to pay attention, it’s shocking just how much of a retail space is designed to compel and mislead.

Read ahead for the nitty gritty on how retailers try to trick you, and how you can rise above the deception.

Have you ever found an item on sale, only to notice that the regular tag listed the same price or a penny more? Stores will often label something as on sale even when it’s almost the same, so check the regular price tag before you pick up that jar of salsa you don’t really need.

In general, don’t buy anything on sale if you don’t know its regular cost. The same goes for thrift stores. I’ve seen items at fancy Goodwills priced for more than they originally sold for. Don’t get dazzled by a sale if you don’t have an idea of how much something should cost.

One time in college, my neighborhood grocery chain was having a $10-for-10 sale on croutons. I frequently ate salads, so I bought up 10 boxes of croutons that took months to get rid of. A few even went bad before I could use them.

I fell for one of the oldest retail tricks—making people think they have to buy more to score the full discount. If you see a deal like this, read the fine print or ask a cashier. Usually, you don’t need to get all 10 to get the bargain.

Playing music you like

It might not seem significant, but pleasant music can have a big impact on how much you spend. Research found that classical music encouraged restaurant patrons to spend more because they felt like they were part of an affluent experience.

Another study done in a wine store discovered shoppers bought more expensive wine when classical music was playing compared to top 40 songs. Christmas songs also encourage people to linger and buy more goods, so be wary around the holidays.

You don’t have any control over the type of music a store plays, so try tuning out the music as best you can or even bringing your own headphones. Shoppers spent less money when they listened to high-paced music, so put on your favorite techno playlist if you’re trying to cut spending.

Ever see a soft fleece blanket that you just had to touch? Did you wonder why it ended up in your shopping cart even though you have a linen closet full of blankets?

Research from Ohio State University found that touching an object made you more likely to buy it. Feeling the item created a sense of ownership that was hard to break, and the longer you held the item, the more you were willing to pay for it. Even 10 seconds of holding was enough to form a personal and emotional attachment.

So next time you see a pair of heels or a decorative salad bowl, keep your hands to yourself. If you have to touch the item to measure quality, try to stay as detached as possible so you can make an objective decision.

Offering larger carts

Between 2009 and 2011, Whole Foods doubled the size of its shopping carts. A big cart might seem like a considerate move on a store’s part, but it’s actually a ploy to encourage shoppers to fill the cart up.

The bigger the cart, the more you’ll be tempted to shop. People feel tempted to fill a cart, delaying checkout until the cart is full.

Stick to a basket if possible, or a small cart for heavy items. If your kid is with you, don’t let them get their own cart or you’ll be tempted to buy what they pick too.

Using vanity sizing

People have known for years that stores use vanity sizing to make shoppers feel better about themselves. What they don’t realize is how vanity sizing also encourages shoppers to buy clothes, even if they don’t want or need them.

A person who normally wears a size six will be more tempted to buy a dress from a store where she’s a size four than a store where she’s a size eight. The size four dress makes her feel better about herself, so she’s more inclined to buy it. Even if the size eight dress fits better, she’s more likely to pick the smaller size.

If you try on a pair of pants that are a size smaller than what you normally wear, don’t automatically ring them up. Consider the cost, if you actually need them and if they work with the rest of your wardrobe. Don’t let vanity pick your pocket.

Slowing you down

Stores know the more time you spend, the more you’ll buy. That’s why many of their tactics include ways to slow you down, like offering samples, placing essentials at the back of the store and building large aisles.

If you want to spend less, bring a shopping list with you and organize it by aisle. Try to shop as quickly as possible to avoid making spontaneous purchases. If possible, shop alone. Having someone else with you will inevitably slow you down and encourage more spending.


Retailers are all about making money. So they employ tactics that intend to trick you into spending more money than you need to. Knowing these tricks can help you avoid buying things you never planned to.

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