Tricks retailers use to get you to spend more (and how to avoid them)

Emma Price

Chief Marketing Officer

March 11, 2021

There are lots of age-old tricks companies use to get you to part with more of your money – from supermarkets to online shopping sites and even investment firms (not naming names)! We’re arming you with knowledge of just a few of the most popular tricks to help you avoid these pitfalls and stay in control of your spending.

Scarcity marketing

There are a variety of different ways brands use scarcity marketing to rush you into a purchase. They can range from smaller tricks like ‘limited time only’ offers to a huge product like the famous McDonalds McRib or Disney Vault!

Some examples include:  

  • Counting down how many hours and minutes you have left to get next day delivery
  • Alerting you when stocks are low or showing how many of an item are left in stock
  • Holiday sites telling you how many people ‘favourite’ a hotel
  • Flash sales and time-limited offers
  • Limited edition collections

These tactics are also used by investment companies around this time of year, with the end of the tax year approaching. A lot of investment providers start shouting about the 'ISA countdown', telling you to 'use or lose' your annual ISA allowance in a bid to get you to top up your allowance by investing with them before the deadline. Ultimately, the pressure tactics used by financial companies in their ads don’t have your best interests at heart and, and as with many of these tricks, you shouldn’t let them get to you. Unless you’re close to investing your full ISA allowance of £20,000 this year you can ignore the fuss of end of tax year. If you are, don’t panic! You still have time to research providers and make sure you make a decision that feels right for you. At OpenMoney, we can advise you whether investing is right for you and if it is, we’ll tell you how and where to invest.

In-store tricks

There are lots of ways that supermarkets try to maximise your spend in-store. Look out for these examples on your next trip:

  • Essential items: Think bread, milk, eggs – these are often stocked further away from the entrance and apart from each other so you need to walk through more of store to get there and hopefully pick up items you didn’t come in for along the way.
  • Expensive items: The most profitable or most expensive items often sit in the middle of the shelf directly in your eye-line, and popular combinations will be stocked together to encourage you to buy both.
  • Impulse buys: One you may already know – tills are littered with small purchases to encourage ‘essential’ last minute purchases.
  • End aisles: We might be used to seeing cheaper deals at the end of the aisles but it’s important to make sure you’re actually bagging yourself a bargain and haven’t just been conditioned to think you will. People are 30% more likely to by items at the end of an aisle than in the middle! [1]
  • Sensory overload: Shops use sight, smell, sound and taste against you in a bid to get you to part with your cash. Smells like freshly baked bread can trigger hunger, causing you to pick up more than you came in for and free samples can encourage a purchase you hadn’t intended. Slow music can be used to slow you down and encourage more time in store.

When you’re shopping in store, we recommend making a shopping list and having a clear budget in mind – and avoid shopping when hungry!

Arm yourself online

The same goes for online sites, which have their own ways to encourage spending.

Sites will offer free shipping if you spend a certain amount, encouraging you to keep shopping and buy more. Amazon Prime and ASOS Premier delivery can be a great way to save on shipping costs, but these products are designed to keep you shopping more often so be careful they don’t end up costing you more in the long run!

It’s common practice now for sites to offer savings on your first order if you subscribe to their email list. There’s no harm in saving yourself some cash using these in the short term but beware – your inbox will soon fill up with deals and sales which can be hard to say no to. These emails are a double-edged sword. They could save you money if you see a sale or discount code for an item you were already going to buy but they can encourage more spending too. It could be worth unsubscribing when you’ve made your saving to avoid falling into the trap.

If you’re shopping online, it’s always worth looking at sites like vouchercodes.co.uk before you buy to see if you could save – Pouch is a browser extension that automatically applies voucher codes to your bag.  

We’re hoping by lifting the curtain on some of these tips and tricks, you’ll empowered to make informed decisions about your buying decisions – good luck!

Capital at risk when investing.

[1] BBC - How Supermarkets Tempt