The Psychology of SpendingLearn the how merchandisers influence consumer behavior to get you to spend more while shopping.

Before you hit the stores, review the five ways stores use science to trick you into buying stuff.


You Move in Predictable Patterns. Americans like to shop counter-clockwise. Over time, researchers have found that stores that cater to this by putting the door on the right do better business than stores with the door in the center or, worst of all, the left. Grocery stores are laid out to lead you around a set path. Different products show up at the exact time that will make you most likely to buy. The goal is to keep you in the store as long as possible, and to make you pass as many shelves as possible.


You Can't Resist Shiny Things. Researchers came up with a theory in 1990 that humans respond positively to shiny surfaces. This response evolved to help us find clean, drinkable water in the wild, back when the species had to worry about that sort of thing. You'll notice that most shopping malls, cars, and jewelry are bright and shiny.


Shopping Gives You a Rush. Satisfaction intensifies when you buy new stuff. This is largely the result of a neurotransmitter called dopamine's effect on your brain. Dopamine is a precursor to adrenaline. Dopamine is also the gatekeeper to rewards and punishments, a system your brain uses to motivate you to explore, learn and acquire new stuff. For example, shoppers are more likely to buy something expensive and unnecessary when they're on vacation.


You Can't Comprehend Huge Numbers. Picture three golf balls, lined up in a row. Now, picture a box full of 4,258 golf balls. Which one is easier to imagine? Our brains are generally not equipped to handle numbers instinctively. From an evolution standpoint, it's no surprise – complex numbering systems weren't invented until 5,000 or so years ago. One study found that the harder we try to keep track of what we spend, the worse we are at it, especially when prices end in .97 or .99. Instead, round up the numbers and use a calculator to estimate what you are spending.


Your Tastes Can be Tricked by Brand Recognition. In the 1970s, Pepsi built an entire ad campaign around taste tests they called the Pepsi Challenge. They pitted their product against Coca-Cola's and asked people which one they preferred after sampling both in a blind taste test. Most Americans chose Pepsi. In a test where they could see the labels, the results were completely reversed: People loved Coca-Cola when they could see the familiar logo and red can.

Adapted from an article by Paul K. Pickett.

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