When we shop, random store items often catch our eye and we end up buying things we don’t necessarily need. But there’s more to impulse shopping than thoughtlessly grabbing — in reality, consumers are constantly manipulated and tricked into making extra purchases.
While you might think you’re getting an unexpected bargain, the truth is that retail stores use various strategies to spark your “buy” reflex. This manipulation targets each one of your senses, from sight to smell. Let’s review how stores subtly influence us to overload our shopping carts.
Here are the most common ways stores play upon our senses to sell products.
The Sweet Smell of Retail
Scents are strongly linked to our memories, which influences our decisions about which products we buy, so consumer experts have a few odor-related tricks up their sleeve.
Retailers use a strategy of releasing certain nostalgic smells associated with certain products (like vending cinnamon-spiced candles in autumn) while other businesses attempt to associate specific smells with their brand, long-term.
Ever walk past an Abercrombie & Fitch in the mall and been immediately overpowered by a waft of cologne — and the sudden desire to check out some new beach shorts? That’s because there’s a familiar smell to A & F, peppered with manly musk and notes of ocean air.
The smell gives customers positive associations and a sensation to attach to the A & F brand. The advertising magazine Adweek has even researched the practice of pumping signature store smells through air vents!
Color Cues: How Stores Play Upon The Sense of Sight
When it comes to impulse buying, what you see is often what you get. Stores use colorful, exciting displays to encourage their consumers to buy — and certain colors may actually help.
Research has shown that red represents action and stimulation, which drives profits. Black makes us think of high luxury, while blue calms us and may cause use to spend less money.
Stores often use triggering colors in multiple displays that target buyers even when they’re making a quick visit.
For example, essentials like milk and butter are often located at the back of most grocery stores. As we walk down the aisles, certain colors may catch our eye and cause us to grab as we go.
Additionally, many retailers make use of “lifestyle” cues, building their product arrangements around a desired type of activity.
You may not need new sandals, but place them next to a cute dress, sunglasses, and beach towel, and you may find yourself pining for all four items at once just to achieve the perfect summer moment.
Tempting Consumers with the Right Touch
Your sense of touch can also be manipulated to make you buy more. And there are tons of ways that establishments can make you subconsciously want to caress the goods. Dr. Kit Yarrow, author of Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail, explains:
Research shows that when people touch things they’re more likely to buy them. So, you want to place things where people are more likely to pick them up. That means not-perfect displays—where things are a little off-kilter—because people are more comfortable picking things up that way.
Simply adjusting the position of a teeter-tottering wine glass may make you more likely to purchase it. As consumers, the act of touching brings us closer to the feeling of owning an item.
From aisle layout to stacked presentation, stores employ a myriad of ways to get you to stop, look, and touch.
Sound Decisions: How What You Hear Affects What You Buy
I’ll admit it: I’ve bought a bathing suit because of how much I enjoyed pairing it with Ke$ha and my signature dance moves in the dressing room. It might seem obvious, but sound has a lot to do with our consumer experience, from restaurants to home goods.
Music tends to create a mood and stores capitalize on how we perceive different music genres. A high-end retailer might stick to instrumental jazz or classical music to attract a distinguished and quietly discerning buyer.
Alternatively, high-energy pop might blare out of the speakers in a busy jewelry store for young teenagers. Does a store’s music make you feel like clubbing? Then you’ll probably be more likely to purchase sequined leggings.
The beat of a song also helps consumers move faster or slower throughout the establishment. You may not realize it, but the store’s music actually helps set your shopping pace.
Know Your Senses and Shop Sensibly
All of this talk about subconscious memories and deliberate impulse triggers might seem a little 1984. But it’s a reality of marketing and advertising these days that retailers will do anything to get you to buy their products. And as human behavior becomes easier to quantify and predict, we as consumers will see no shortage of these selling tactics.
So while you may not always be able to resist, be aware of the ways that your favorite stores are playing upon your senses to get you to spend money. Try to stick to a list when you go shopping in order to avoid temptation. And if you need a last resort, try noise-canceling headphones…and maybe some smelling salts.
How do you curb your impulse buys when you shop? Tell us your strategies in the comments.