There are thousands of marketing tricks out there, and they’re growing by the minute. It’s hard to compete: companies have entire branches devoted to figuring out how to get customers to spend more. And that’s not fair—you don’t have an entire team of people looking for ways to save you money. So we’re helping you level the playing field a little. Here are a few of the more common tricks companies use, and ways to avoid letting them coax your hard-earned money out of your hands.
Pay attention to what you’re spending, not what you’re “saving.” Often, suggested retail prices are inflated so that the store can mark down the item and make it seem like a great deal. If you buy a $30 sweater that used to be $50, you’re not saving $20…you’re spending $30. You would save the entire $50 if you didn’t buy it at all. The key is to ignore the original price and just pay attention to what you’re actually paying. If the item is worth it to you, that’s what matters, not how much money you’re “saving.”
Stores like Walmart are guilty of this. They will announce super low prices to draw people into the store, then they will actually price many items slightly higher than other stores. The way to outsmart them is to do a price check. It’s pretty easy these days, especially now that everyone has a smart phone and can look up the price while standing in the aisle. This might not be reasonable for every item—your shopping trip will take hours if you stand there checking the price of every bottle of shampoo and bar of soap—but for the bigger items, it may be worth it.
Americans like to buy in bulk to save money. Companies like this too, since they can charge more. Cost per item or per ounce is usually cheaper for them as the quantities rise, so they pass this savings on to you when you buy large quantities. This is so ingrained into most of our minds that we just assume that if we buy a larger size, we’re saving money. Sometimes, though, the larger size isn’t a better deal. This is an easy trick to beat. Many stores will list a per ounce price under the total price, so just take a second to check it and make sure you’re getting the best value for your money.
This one isn’t exactly a trick, since signing up is voluntary…but it does get you to spend more. Many stores are now asking for email addresses at the register, and a couple of times I found myself spelling mine out even though I wasn’t the least bit interested in the company’s upcoming specials. If you’re on a budget and you’re trying to cut back in a certain area (say, clothing), getting emails from JCPenney every week isn’t going to help. Consider unsubscribing from these weekly (sometimes daily—I’m looking at you, Bath & Body Works) emails. Less clutter in your inbox, and more money in your wallet. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Let’s say your favorite store is offering a free item with a purchase of a certain amount or more, and you’re so close to the amount that you decide to get that extra pair of jeans you’ve been eying. Now you get something free. Score! Except, is it really free? Not if you spent more money just to get it. Next time, before you add something you don’t need into your cart so you can get that free deluxe sample, ask yourself if the freebie is worth the extra money you’re spending. If it’s not, put that item back and bask in your self control.
Infomercials use this trick all the time. Usually their “special offer” is only available for a few minutes, and afterward you don’t get the two extra spatulas, or even the free microfiber dish rag! Here’s a way around it. If you watch a lot of late-night TV, you’re probably going to see the same infomercial again (and again, and again). Ignore it the first time you see it, think about whether you really need it for a few days, and if you still want it, order it the next time you see the ad. And please, look up some reviews. As Seen On TV items are notoriously poor quality.
The cousin to “available for a limited time,” “limited quantities available” is another gimmick to get you to rush into making a purchase without fully thinking it through. In some cases, there is a legitimate shortage and you do have to think quickly. Often, though, there will be more in stock in a week or two. If you’re in doubt, it’s more likely you’ll wish that you had saved more for retirement than that you had bought that limited edition set of cookie tins.
Any of these sound familiar? We’ve all fallen for some of these tricks at one point or another, but once you figure out how these companies think, it’s easier to just say no. Hopefully some of these tips have helped you become a smarter shopper; now let us know: what marketing tricks have you fallen for? Leave them in a comment below.