As someone who has spent a lot of time working in consumer goods and retail, I like to pretend I’m immune to those industries’ tricks. What actually happens is that I consciously analyze their tricks, then fall for some of them anyway. As I made an impulse counter purchase the other day I got to wondering just how resilient I really am. I decided to track my habits across a few common retail habits. The results:
Impulse purchases: There’s an oft-cited truth that people buy a lot more when they don’t make a shopping list (and stick to it). If you’re trying to save money, wandering the grocery store without a list is a major no-no. I’m pretty good at resisting extra groceries, but noticed I tend to throw in impulse purchases at places like Walgreens. Somehow I always walk in there needing 1 thing and walk out with 5 more things I had “forgotten I needed.” Don’t even get me started on the rare trip to Target. I chalk this behavior up to the ridiculous assortment of SKUs at these stores since it really has to do with the merchandise they offer and not the way they offer that merchandise.
Counter impulse purchases: You know all those candy bars up by the register? They aren’t there because people tend to forget about the candy bars they needed and stores want to make sure they have easy access. The candy is up there because it’s usually at a relatively affordable price point and shoppers are likely to toss some in their baskets at the last minute. And it’s much more than candy these days: I’ve seen everything from gift cards to tweezers to jewelry. I love surveying the random stuff by registers but don’t often buy it. In the last couple weeks, however, I bought chapstick and avocados right as I was about to check out. I’d argue those weren’t excessive purchases but still, hadn’t planned on getting them that particular day!
Promotional pricing: Buy one get one free. Buy 4 for the price of 5. 5% off the usual price. I know how these tactics work. In fact, I’ve literally modeled out how they financially impact a manufacturer. I still fall for a lot of them, because sometimes it IS a good deal. One of the trickiest parts of promotional pricing is when you buy more than you need- suddenly you have two 40 oz jars of jelly because the price was lower than usual. So I try to limit myself to only buying things on promo if I can absolutely justify it. Two jars of peanut butter instead of one, for example, because I know I’ll definitely eat it. But not 5 boxes of cereal at once, and definitely not multiple units of something I barely use. There’s a term called “pantry loading”- essentially, buying so much at once that you don’t have to replenish that item for a while. It gives manufacturers a quick boost since it pushes up units sold within a specific reporting period. The risk though is that customers will then have no true need to buy for a while. Manufacturers (and retailers!) don’t technically want us to stock up too much, since they need us to come back. So the hope is that you’ll buy your 2 for 1 jars of peanut butter, but eat those jars at the same rate you usually consume a single jar. Sort of a “you have more, you consume more” mentality.
I could go on about this a lot longer, but I’ll stop here (for today). But I encourage you to keep track of your own shopping habits for a bit and see what you find. I’d love to hear about it!