Don't Get Taken In: How to Avoid 10 of the Sketchiest Sales Techniques

Learning about the sneaky tactics retailers use can help you avoid being ripped off

Don't Get Taken In: How to Avoid 10 of the Sketchiest Sales Techniques
Image: NCCC
March 27, 2017

Have you ever gone to the store with a carefully-crafted plan to make a purchase for a certain price and come out again feeling overcharged, cheated, or even scammed?

This has happened to even the most well-prepared consumer. Fortunately, there is a way we can keep it from happening again. Learning about the sneaky tactics that retailers use can help us avoid being ripped off on future purchases.

  1. Decoys
  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. They're hoping you'll focus on the fact that the price is lower, not the actual amount involved. This is known as the decoy effect.

    Remember, that $500 laptop still costs $500, even when it's sitting beside a $700 laptop.

  3. Exclusive or Special Offers
  4. Who hasn't wanted to be part of a small, exclusive group at some point? Retailers may try to get you to join a special club or frequent shoppers' group by offering products limited only to members of that group. Make sure it's in your best interest before you agree.

  5. Flattery
  6. We all like to think that we can see through the sweet talk we receive from sales associates, and often maybe we can. But don't get too cocky: according to a report published in the Journal of Marketing Research, even when we do realize the motive behind such flattery, we still have a more positive impression of the salesperson, which can leave us more likely to fall for his or her pitch anyway.

  7. FREE—After Rebate
  8. Mail-in rebates can get you great deals on high-priced items…as long as you remember to follow the instructions completely and main them in on time. If you don't, you may not actually save anything at all. You may even want to make copies and take photos, just in case.

    If you have trouble remembering to do things, you might want to avoid deals that depend on rebates.

  9. Guilt Trips
  10. This is a particularly shady tactic. Guilt provides powerful motivation, and salespeople know it. Some will claim to you that they're having trouble making ends meet or ask you to test drive the car you're looking at just so their boss won't get mad. Make sure your compassion doesn't come with a price tag.

  11. Payments versus Total Price
  12. It's easy to focus on a monthly payment amount instead of the total price of an item when we really want something. Smaller amounts seem more manageable for tight budgets. Don't let a salesperson gloss over the total when you're considering a purchase; remember, you'll pay the full amount in the end one way or the other.

  13. Fake Discounts
  14. Retailers of all sizes, from small independents to major operations, have been caught misleading consumers 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 to suggest the idea of a discount. Always make sure a sale or discount is real before you buy.

  15. 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 a customer's choices, leading the customer to buy something more expensive so he or she won't be thought uncultured or poor.

  17. Scarcity
  18. It creates a sense of urgency when a retailer acts like it's running out of a certain product or a sale is almost over. This is a psychological trick used to convince consumers that their time is running out if they want to make a purchase.

  19. Pricing Tricks
  20. Retailers don't price products randomly. They use different tricks to try to influence your purchases. For example, prices that fall just under a round number—$9.99 instead of $10.00—fool us into thinking it's a better deal, even when the difference is a single cent. They may also mark items in ways like "10 for $10," even if you don't need 10 of the item in question.

Knowing in advance how salespeople might try to take advantage of you will help you stay on your toes and ready to fend off any attack. Before you go to the store, know exactly what you want, write it down, and figure out your budget. This will make it less likely that shady sales tricks will work on you.