3 Ways Stores Keep You Shopping

3 Ways Stores Keep You Shopping


Hi all! It’s been a while! How are you? Been shopping 150% overbudget this month? What, more than that? Yeah me too. Don’t get me wrong — je ne regrette rien. Personally, I obsess over googling product reviews before buying, so I’m rarely disappointed by my purchases.

But I did start thinking about how unintentional all my shopping has been. Typically I spend very little besides gas, groceries, and the like. I don’t deny personal responsibility — But I also wondered, how do businesses encourage shoppers into buying more? Nowadays more people are wary of “being sold to” by sales associates, but what about the store environments themselves?

We all know November and December are high spending months. I have no qualms about it — go forth and shop! But I do advocate being a mindful shopper. Be aware of merchandising and marketing strategies. Here’s three things I have been keeping in mind lately…

(1) There’s a lot of thought that goes into the layout of a store.

You might think you and other shoppers are just aimlessly wandering, but chances are you’re all following a specific track that was laid out for you. 

  1. Outside in parking lots or the mall, your pace is pretty brisk — you’re focused on getting to a destination. Stores need to get you to stop “walking” and switch to “browsing.” The first few feet of any store is the “decompression zone.” This area isn’t about selling merchandise. Rather, it provides environmental cues that subtly signal you to transition your behavior. My local Crate & Barrel puts a reeeally large, unwieldy dining table front and center of the entrance that forces you to walk around it — slowing your pace. H&M has a large display with mannequins front and center that introduces you to seasonal items and new themes, “prepping” you for what’s further in store.
  2. Now that you’re browsing, stores want you to see as much of the merchandise as possible. Supermarkets keep the hot ticket items far out of reach — the milk at the back wall and the bread in the middle aisles, so you have to pass by as many aisles as possible. IKEA and Costco are built like modern labyrinths, to keep you walking. Department stores favor a “race track” layout, in which customers enter through doors, typically drift towards the right, and from there on are led throughout the store in a circuit.

So if you ever came in to buy a specific item, but somehow ended up browsing discounted seaweed body lotion, and wondered “Wait. Why am I in this section, again?” … Now you know, my friend.

(2) Customized reminders to visit again soon.

Every few weeks, we receive advertisements from Target in the mail. It’s usually a few pages of products. I always assumed these were a random assortment of products based on the season, upcoming holiday, or my zip code. I assumed that my neighbors all got the same ad. Nope. Actually, those advertisements are personalized for you based on your previous purchases and spending habits. Once you look closely you’ll notice that quite a lot of the items featured are things that you already buy. Apparently Target can even guess when i.e. you’re expecting a baby or going through a breakup and send you corresponding coupons. Depending on how you feel about consumer data and privacy, you'll either be appalled or impressed by this. I for one don't mind so much, and think it's helpful if anything. For example, I buy a lot of heartburn medicine from Target… and they don’t miss a beat, those people. They constantly give me coupons for Prevacid and Tums, which I hoard. Thanks, Target.

(3) Keep shopping! Don't worry about how many items you've got.

Humans only have two hands, so we’re limited on how many things we can carry before we reach our max and drift towards the register. Imagine if I already have like a cup of coffee in one hand: that means I have to browse with only one hand free — it’s actually kind of uncomfortable. I’ll be done after I’ve grabbed like one shampoo bottle and wedged an eyeliner pencil in between my fingers. But stores want you to keep shopping...

  1. Store solution: offer a basket. The smart ones don’t just leave baskets at the front of the store — because no customer enters a store thinking they’re going to buy a lot of things, duh. They’ll place baskets towards the middle of the store, or offer it to you when they see you holding a handful.
  2. So we now have increased our carrying capacity. There’s a limit to this too though, because as the basket gets heavy, it gets uncomfortable to carry. This triggers me to start heading towards the cash register.
  3. Store solution: Instead of plastic baskets, offer mesh or soft-fabric tote bags that can be slung over the shoulder. The shoulder can bear more weight than our hands or forearms, so the ‘trigger’ to head to the register is delayed. Some stores go the whole hog and take the items away from you, offering to hold them at the counter or in the dressing room! How kind of them to remove all obstacles to continued, prolonged shopping...


There’s nothing really “wrong” about these merchandising strategies — if anything, they’re straight up helpful. They aren’t “tricks” that make me buy anything I don’t want. But they do make shopping (and consequently, spending) a lotttt easier… so with all the holiday sales coming, hopefully you’ll keep these little bits of information in mind next time you’re out browsing :)


Happy shopping!

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