Become a savvier shopper.
We've all heard the saying: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. But if you're fooled a third time, it probably just means you like to buy a lot of stuff. With advertising and pricing techniques, retailers entice you to part with your money. What they do isn't illegal, and often, it isn't even unethical. But it may feel a little ... wrong. To become a savvier shopper, note these 10 ways shoppers are often lured into buying.
The 'buy these for just X dollars' sign
You've likely seen these signs in the grocery store. "A retailer will post a sale sign that advertises five items for $5," says Michael Levin, associate professor of marketing at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. "A consumer may not know that they can purchase just one item for $1. They'll buy five items because they think that's the only way to get the deal."
Taller, narrower packages
You shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but you should judge a package's cover before deciding to buy it. "Consumers often think that a taller, narrower package holds more product even when it doesn't," says David Hagenbuch, an associate professor of marketing at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and founder of Mindfulmarketing.org. "For example, notice how many ice cream containers have shrunk in girth but not in height?"
'Up to' sales
It's happened to all of us. "You're walking by a store, and a big, bold sign inside catches your eye: 50 percent off," Hagenbuch says. Naturally, you walk inside. That's when you notice the fine print: up to 50 percent off. "Still, you start shopping, believing that you'll find lots of half-off deals," he says.
Advertising telling you a product isn't expensive
A 2007 Carnegie Mellon University study demonstrated that if a business changed the description of an overnight shipping charge on a free DVD trial offer from "a $5 fee" to "a small $5 fee," the response rate climbed 20 percent. You may think you're too smart to let an adjective persuade you. But if you aren't thinking carefully, it's easy to see how you might be convinced that, sure, a $5 fee is pretty "small" for shipping.
Manufacturers know you're probably not going to send in a rebate, Levin says, adding that the redemption rate for rebates is "far lower than the redemption rate for coupons." Making matters worse, he adds, "retailers often incorporate the final price after rebate in very large print on the sale sticker." Consumers "get confused and think they've already received the discount or simply forget to redeem the rebate," Levin says.
You aren't buying what you think you are.
Watch out for food products masquerading as something they're not, Hagenbuch says. "For instance, some name-brand ice cream makers have reduced the cream content of their products so much that they can no longer be called ice cream. Instead, they must be labeled 'dairy products,'" he says. "This terminology, however, is not readily displayed on the packaging, which mimics what consumers are used to seeing for real ice cream."
The number nine trick
Everyone knows retailers like prices ending with nine -- like a $799 TV -- because consumers think, "Ooh, that's less than $800!" But it's a tactic that works. In 2003, the journal Quantitative Marketing and Economics conducted field studies testing prices that employed the number nine and found that when a consumer was offered the choice to buy similar merchandise -- like a $49 dress versus a $44 dress -- more people would purchase the item that ended in nine.
Advertising focusing on low payments, not the final price
Many ads tell you that for just the price of a cup of coffee, you can have that insurance or cellphone plan. Car dealerships often focus on the monthly payment, asking how much you can afford per month instead of how much you can afford total. If you're buying anything requiring monthly payments, look at the annual cost and how much you'll have spent when your purchase is paid for. That's often the last thing a retailer wants you to do.
No dollar signs and other menu tricks
According to Cornell University research, consumers tend to spend more when dollar signs are left off the menu. Restaurants may also display a few higher-priced items, knowing you probably won't choose them, but other items will look more reasonably priced in comparison. And some eateries have been taking advice championed by menu engineer Gregg Rapp: Prices ending in .95 seem friendlier than those ending in .99, which are associated with value and cheapness.
Department stores do this all the time, particularly with clothing. You see a $56 shirt on sale for $32 and think, "Hey, that's quite a deal." Of course, the store never intended to sell the shirt for $56. The plan all along was to charge $32. The retail industry calls this "price anchoring." JCPenney tried ending price anchoring in 2012, but sales plummeted. The CEO got the boot, and the store went back to price anchoring. Apparently, shoppers enjoy being duped.
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