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6 Ways Retailers Trick You Into Buying More Sh*t

Even the savviest shoppers can be tricked into buying things they don't want or need.

Happy holidays! Tis the season for family togetherness, holiday parties, cold weather, and for the majority of us, shopping. So this is a good time of year to take a look at why we buy what we buy, and how stores manipulate us in order to get every dollar they can out of our pockets.

Even the savviest shoppers can be tricked into buying things they don’t want or need. There’s no need to feel foolish; the retail industry spends an inordinate amount of time and money figuring out the science (yes, it is a science) of how to sell the most stuff. But it is a good idea for consumers to know what they're going into, especially around the holiday season, when stress levels are running high and stores are packed with shoppers spending money left and right.

Though far from a comprehensive list, here are six tactics retailers use to get you to part with your hard-earned dough.

1. Holiday ploys: The scents and sounds of the season.

Journalist and author Oliver Burkeman recently wrote a piece for the New York Times on retailer manipulation around the holidays. Burkeman writes that music and scent choices can have a huge effect on shoppers. Stores play the same Christmas songs over and over again, at high volume, not because anyone likes them, but because such conditions can cause “a momentary loss of self-control, thus enhancing the likelihood of impulse purchase,” according to researchers from Penn State and the National University of Singapore.

Smells are just as important. You know how grocery stores often pump the scent of fresh-baked bread through the aisles to boost shoppers’ appetite? Burkeman writes that “Like music, smells are selected to encourage spending, not to make your shopping experience more comfortable.” Even if you don’t like that fake cinnamon holiday-candle smell, it’s still effective at making shoppers feel festive and generous – and therefore spendy – because of its strong associations with the season.

2. They trick us into staying inside as long as possible.

This is another classic retail maneuver Burkeman brings up in his piece: stash the most in-demand items at opposite ends of the store. So even if a shopper just came in for milk and bread, she has to walk past thousands of other, more expensive items, increasing the likelihood that she’ll toss some of them in her basket.

Anyone who’s ever been to an IKEA has experienced an extreme implementation of this principle. Once you enter IKEA’s labyrinthine layout, time seems to stop, and you emerge hours later with hundreds of dollars worth of furniture you didn’t even come in for. It turns out the Swedish furniture stores are literally designed to be mazes to keep shoppers in the store for as long as possible and maximize the number of items people will buy on impulse.

3. Lighting matters.

Just as holiday songs and smells can entice shoppers to buy more gifts, the lighting of a store can boost profits year-round. This Telegraph report sums up some of the tricks retailers have figured out over the years: avoiding bulbs that change the color of the merchandise in unappealing ways and dimming the lights in the lingerie department to make it feel more discreet, for instance.

Ever wonder why fruit is near the front door of most grocery stores? According to the Telegraph, “Fruit and vegetables look healthier and fresher in natural light. In contrast, meat and fish need a clean white light, otherwise they look tired.”

4. “Triangular balance” and shelf manipulation.

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