Knowing About the Sneaky Sales Techniques Used by Most Retailers Can Help You Save Money
Image: NCCC

Knowing About the Sneaky Sales Techniques Used by Most Retailers Can Help You Save Money

retailers a wide variety of sneaky tactics to get you to spend more money than you want to spend

August 14, 2019

Have you ever gone to the store with a careful plan to make a purchase for a certain price and leave feeling overcharged, cheated, or even scammed? This has happened to even the most savvy shoppers. Retailers use sneaky tactics to lure you to the store and to get you to spend more money than you expected. But knowing about how they do it can help you keep your hard-earned money in your pocket.

  1. Using Decoys for Comparison
  2. Have you ever noticed how retailers place comparable items with lower prices beside similar, more expensive products? They want you to think you're getting a better deal by focusing on the lower price. This is known as the decoy effect. You may not be planning to buy a new laptop computer, but you might suddenly become interested if you see a $300 laptop sitting next to a $1300 laptop. The lower price by comparison makes you think that it's a wonderful deal when in fact both products are at their normal prices.

  3. Exclusive or Special Offers to Members Only
  4. Would you like to be part of a small, exclusive club? Of course! Retailers know this and try to get you to join special clubs or frequent shopper groups by offering products or special pricing that is available only to those members. But there is always some kind of catch, so make sure it is in your best interest to join before you agree to do so. You might be paying a membership fee for those special prices, but you may not buy enough to make the membership worth it.

  5. Flattery
  6. Flattery will get you almost anywhere, and retailers know it. You think you can spot sweet talk from sales associates. But don't get too comfortable in your skills. Even if you are able to spot the careful flattery and think you're immune to it, you will most of the time have a more favorable impression of the sales associate. And that can leave you more apt to fall for the sales pitch anyway. Even if there isn't an overt sales pitch, you will be more likely to accept what the sales associate is saying as fact without question, such as whether other deals are not available when in fact they are. Be careful and stick to your brain and not your emotions.

  7. FREE, But Only After Rebate
  8. Rebates can be a great thing, giving you good deals on high-priced items. But they can backfire on you. Rebates sometimes apply to a limited selection of items. So it might apply to the highest-priced laptop, even if they all look the same. But most people forget to file the rebate on-time or don't complete the rebate form correctly. Depending upon when you buy, you may only have a few days to file. So filing for the rebate should be the first thing you do when you get home. If you have trouble remembering to do things, you may want to steer clear of rebates.

    Make copies or take photos of the completed rebate form, receipts, and product packaging. For high-dollar rebates, consider sending your rebate form via certified mail to show it was delivered. If you don't want to do that but want to show you sent the form, record yourself placing the completed form into the envelope and then dropping it into the mail slot. Don't forget to set a reminder to check on the status of the rebate in case the company fails to send your check.

  9. Guilt Trips
  10. You've gotten guilted into doing things before. You've probably even guilted other people into doing something. So you know how effective a guilt trip can be at getting a certain response. Using guilt is a particularly shady tactic in the retail industry, but it can and does happen. Guilt provides a very powerful motivation, and sales associates know it. Some might drop subtle hints that they are having trouble making ends meet at home while you are passing on a more expensive product. They might even be more direct. A car sales person might say he or she will be fired because the month has been so slow and then ask you to test drive a particular car so the boss won't get mad. Make sure that any compassion you show doesn't come with a price tag. Remember that any 'issues' a sales associate may have is beyond your control.

  11. Payments Versus Total Cost
  12. When you are making a large purchase, it's tempting to finance the item to spread out payments. This could be great if cash flow is an issue but a particular purchase is necessary. But it can also end up costing you more than you anticipated. Sales associates want you to focus on the payments, not the total cos, since it's easy to inflate the total cost with unnecessary add-ons and extra interest charges while making the payment amounts appear low. Remember that you'll pay the total cost in the end regardless of how the payments are structured.

  13. Fake Discounts
  14. Retailers of all sizes, from small independents to major operations, have been caught misleading shoppers with phony discounts. Some raise the original price of an item and then mark it down again so that it seems like a good deal. Others use brightly colored tags that suggest the item is discounted when in fact it is still at the original price. Always make sure a sale or discount is real before you buy. Take out your phone in the store and check the typical price of an item. If you use apps to do shopping, check to see what an item would cost to buy online. Some apps, such as Amazon, give you the ability to scan a product's barcode to find the item quickly. Use it to compare prices.

  15. Dismissive Attitude
  16. This approach might seem counterintuitive at first glance, but it frequently works. Salespeople at upscale retailers might act indifferent or even look down on your choices, leading you to buy something more expensive so you won't be thought of as uncultured or poor. It's very similar to how you might change your actions if your significant other is questioning your choices. "You're not wearing that. Are you?" And then you change your clothes!

  17. Implied or Artificial Scarcity
  18. If something is rare, people seem to want it more. Scarcity causes prices to go up and demand to follow. Retailers create a feeling of scarcity and urgency to psychologically manipulate shoppers into thinking they have to act now and to pay more. In some cases, scarcity is legitimate. But in most cases, it's a sales ploy to get you running in the door. You may also see this as "Limit Two Per Customer." If a retailer is acting like time is running out or pushing that a sale is almost over, you're probably being hit with this trick.

  19. Pricing Isn't Random
  20. Retailers don't price products randomly. Retailers, especially larger ones, research the psychology behind how pricing affects purchasing. Most of the time you'll see prices that aren't whole numbers. When, for example, did you last see something priced for exactly $10.00? It's usually $9.99, which seems like a much better deal.

    Other pricing tricks involve perceived deals for buying more than one of the item. If an item is regularly just $1, you might see the item listed as "10 for $10." A small discount may even be offered to make it seem like a much better deal. If that item is discounted to 90 cents, that "10 for $10" deal can look really good, especially if the pricing tag also says "Save $1.00." It's really a tactic to get you to buy much more of an item. Watch out for items where you buy a certain number of an item and get several others free. When you buy one and get one free, the items are typically 50% off each. But some store have prices marked as "Buy 2 Get 3 Free." In these cases, you must buy five of the item to get the discount. If you only buy four, you are paying full price for all four.

  21. The Pesky Dollar Sign and Those Cents
  22. Prices without dollar signs and any cents get you to spend more. You see this a lot at restaurants, such as "American Burger - 9" or similar. Some menus may even have the prices written out as words, such as "American Burger - Nine Dollars," in an effort to get you to spend more. If you see this tactic, be careful to pay attention to the prices.

  23. Eye Level is Expensive
  24. Retailers place the more expensive items at eye level because that is where you will most likely look first when grabbing an item. To save money, look up and down to see if there is a cheaper item available.

  25. Bigger Isn't Always Better
  26. Didn't mom always tell you to buy in bulk sizes when doing your grocery shopping? Retailers know that you are more likely to buy a larger package in order to get a better deal. But it's important to pay attention to the price per unit, price per ounce, price per pound or similar. You can get better deals now on many items by buying the smaller packages.