7 Secret Tricks Retailers Use Against You

7 Secret Tricks Retailers Use Against You

When was the last time you went shopping and came home with only what you set out to buy?

It’s rare.

More likely, you went shopping and ended up with a few other things not on your list or you ended up spending a little more than you budgeted. How does this happen so regularly?

A retailer’s job is to squeeze every penny out of you once you walk through the door. It sounds cutthroat, but really some are just better at it than others.

From the way stores are laid out, to price tags, to even how staff talk to you, good retailers are well oiled money-making machines.

If you want to keep your shirt next time you walk into a department store, pay attention to these common tactics.

Once you see these, you won’t be able to unsee them.

Tactic 1 – Count Syllables in Price Tags

Consumer behavior research finds that when you remove commas from large price tags, consumers perceive the price as being less expensive.

For example, a TV priced at $2999 is perceived as less expensive than a TV priced at $2,999. Huh? The only difference is $2,999 sounds longer:

Two-thou-sand-nine-hun-dred-and-nine-ty-nine (10 syllables)


Twen-ty-nine-nine-ty-nine (6 syllables).

To override this natural impulse to misperceive that actual cost, make it a habit of calculating the final price (with commas) after tax. Pull out your phone and add the tax.

Look at that number, commas included, and you’ll see the real damage.

Tactic 2 – Stay Ahead in Conversations if You’re Talking to a Salesman

What does “stay ahead” mean? On-floor sales staff are trained to pace and lead you. They want you to admit to them what you want and then control your responses thereafter.

How this plays out:

You go into a store intending to buy speakers. You decide you’re not going to spend more than $300. After some smooth talking, the salesman has you nodding your head, agreeing that $500 is better value for the speakers originally marked for $1,100 – notice the comma – at this point he has you beat. Most people can’t recover and end up paying the sales upgrade.

To avoid this, you need to take the lead and keep it throughout the entire interaction.

When you start leading by asking questions the salesman is now on his heels constantly trying to regain position.

Tactic 3 – Don’t Mind Snobby Staff

Have you ever walked into a high-end retailer and felt like the staff were being rude?

A study out of Canada revealed that shoppers looking at high-end items might actually be more likely to buy when staff play hard to get.

Marketing Professor Darren Dahl found that rude or “snobby” salespeople made people want to share in their exclusivity by purchasing luxury goods.

The flip side of this coin is befriending sales staff. “Clienteling” is industry speak for getting the VIP treatment. If you become friends with sales staff at high-end stores, often you’ll be invited to come to pre-sales up to 30-40% off the week before the actual sale starts.

Most sales staff work on commission in higher-end shops so it’s win-win for everyone if you shop more regularly.

Tactic 4 – Pay Attention to Colors

Good in-store marketing engages all five senses.

And your sight is probably the easiest to hijack.

When you see a sales sign that’s red it wasn’t by accident. The color red is typically associated with a sense of urgency – buy now!

The color blue is associated with more reasonable prices.

Where you typically find blue signs are beside “New Arrivals.” This lulls you into thinking you can afford what’s new when really if you just waited a few weeks, the new arrivals would be marked down.

Black signs make you think of luxury.

You won’t make quick decisions choosing items with black signs but the perception that the product is more luxurious will build in your mind and help you justify paying the expensive price tag.

Tactic 5 – Don’t Feel Bad About Touching Clothes

Stores need you to make a mess: Touching items is a key component of making the move from contemplation to purchase.

Research out of Colorado finds that consumers need to touch items to connect with a brand. This is also why so many clothing stores display shirts and sweaters on flat tables: It makes it easier for you to set stuff down so you have two hands to touch the clothes.

Tactic 6 – Watch Out for Carnival Mirrors

This one sounds pretty unethical but I promise you it happens. Some retailers use mirrors that distort your appearance, making you look longer and thinner.

If this sounds far fetched, think about fitting room lighting. Most fitting rooms use dim lighting to make you look tanner and thus more defined.

It’s the same reason why dim lighting in the bedroom makes your partner look sexier.

To avoid these tricks, shop with a friend or step outside the fitting room into brighter light.

Tactic 7 – Always Assume the Store Can Price Match

Price matching used to be a unique selling proposition for only a few select retailers.

Today, price matching is more common than not. When in doubt, Google whether a store has price matching, but it’s fair to assume they do.

There are sites that offer updated lists of stores with price-match guarantees or you can use Amazon to find the lowest price. Amazon automatically price matches all other .com retailers selling the same item. So the price you see on Amazon is typically the lowest price for that item.

Bonus: Use This “Magic” Question to Secure a Better Price

“Under what circumstances could I secure a discount for this item?”

This one powerful question has saved me a lot of money.

Why it works: It’s open-ended and can’t be dismissed with a yes or no, and it’s a hypothetical which comes off less assuming.

So, the next time you find yourself shopping, keep my tactics in mind.

Hopefully, they’ll give you a better (cheaper) shopping experience.

To a richer life,

Nilus Mattive

— Nilus Mattive
Editor, The Rich Life Roadmap

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Nilus Mattive

Nilus is the editor for the daily e-letter The Rich Life Roadmap and a Paradigm Press analyst.

Nilus began his professional career at Jono Steinberg’s Individual Investor Group, where he published his original research through a regular investment column. Later, he worked for a private equity business and spent five years editing Standard and Poor’s...

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