Understanding How Stores Market To You Can Change How You Shop

By Kevin Gibbons

Most of us have noticed certain features about the stores we shop at. The grocery store puts the sugared cereals at 6-year old eye level, checkout stands have candy, gum and sodas nearby, the latest clothing fashions are front and center in the department store.

In our Savvy Shopping webinar, we point out that grocery stores invariably put the dairy section at the far back of the store, forcing you to walk by all the sales promotions and other sections to get your gallon of milk. Companies pay a lot of money, to skilled programmers and to websites directly, to upgrade their presence on e-tail sites and in search engines.

In his book Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products, author Nir Eyal lays out the four steps a business needs to follow to get consumers to keep coming back to buy their products. I won’t steal his thunder (it’s a really a good book), but the point is many companies are working very hard to get and keep you as a customer and to get you to spend money on their products and services. The better you understand how they do this, the better prepared you are to make purchasing decisions that are in your best interests, not theirs.

So what are some of the fundamental techniques companies use to get your business?

Establish a Need

If a store can convince you that you really need a product, then it is a long way towards convincing you to buy it from them.

In the grocery store, trigger words like “Natural,” (The US FDA has no legal definition for this term), “Healthy,” “100%” anything, all trigger a desirability or need. Appeals to safety and security, especially for larger purchases like cars, fall into this category.

Now, of course, we all want to feed our families healthy, nutritious food, and we all want to drive safe vehicles, but we need to be aware of these trigger words that can cause a gut reaction in our purchasing decisions. If you really care about a feature or attribute, do a little research to find out what it really means and what the real, objective measurement standards are so you can make an informed decision.

Make it Easy to Buy

I am sure that consumer businesses were initially opposed to debit cards because they had to buy and install the expensive processing equipment. But I am also sure that now, you could not pay most stores to remove those readers.

According to the British Retail Consortium, debit cards now account for over half of all retail purchases by volume in Britain. Companies are still spending over £1Million ($1.3Million) to process debit and credit card transactions. The only reason they are spending that much money is because it is worth to them to make the sales process more convenient for the consumer. Self-checkout lines, multiple methods of payment, including via Smartphone Apps, “convenient credit terms,” all make it easier for you to buy immediately. Likewise, the single-click purchasing through Internet stores and services.

Take the time to breathe and ask yourself if you are sure you need to make this purchase now, even if it is incredibly easy.

Offer Rewards

This can be as obvious as a “cash-back” or “club member discount” program or as subtle as a “cool kids” badge that identifies you with a preferred group. You see the latter in advertising in department stores where the people wearing the clothes for sale are pictured leading exciting, fun, sexy lives of adventure and leisure. If you just buy this top or those chinos, you’ll be part of the fun-loving cool club, too! Rewards are good. Benefits like saving on gas for purchasing groceries from a specific store can be substantial (if the store has the produce you like and the prices are still competitive).

The key here is to keep your eyes open and don’t get blinded by the shiny rewards. Do the math: Is it really a good deal at the end of the day?

Get the Consumer Bought-In to the Product or Company

Most people are creatures of habit. They find something they like and they don’t like to change from it. Some companies get you in with a good deal and then make it difficult to switch. For many years, people had to choose whether to use a Microsoft-based computer or an Apple-based computer. Once you made the choice, you were stuck. It was just too painful to switch operating systems. Even with the new emulators, most people still just pick one or the other. Likewise, most people choose either an iPhone or an Android smartphone and don’t bounce back and forth. It is just too difficult to learn new commands and worry about incompatibility.

Stores of all kinds capitalize on this reliance on routine and habit. They spend fortunes on mailers (paper and electronic) to keep their names in front of you, so you keep coming back to them.

Periodically, we need to stop and ask ourselves why we are making the purchases we are. Is it because we are truly buying a product we need that is good for the value? Or are we just doing it out of habit and really have no idea if we could do better?

What can you do to reduce the marketing impact of stores and make your shopping more merit-based? The common thread through all the examples above is “take your time and think about what you are buying and why.”

What does this mean in the real world?

It means, don’t go shopping when you are tired, hungry, stressed out or distracted.

It means always have a plan when you go shopping, whether to the grocery store, the department store, a car lot or on-line. Have a shopping list. Know what you are looking to buy and how much you want to spend.

It means give yourself enough time to perform the task at hand. Don’t go shopping for tonight’s dinner while the family is waiting around the table to eat!

Stores are in the business to make money. As consumers, we want them to make money. (If they lose money, they close and we cannot get their products!) We just want to be sure we’re making conscious decisions to spend our money and not being unconsciously influenced to depart with our hard earned cash on things we don’t really need or want.  Be a smart, aware shopper and you will get your money’s worth!


Kevin Gibbons is the Chief Operating Officer of The Savvy Life and co-author of the international bestseller Living The Savvy Life. For the past eight years, Kevin and Savvy Life Founder Melissa Tosetti have worked with over 450 individuals and families to create Spending Plans.

They also work with financial advisors and their clients doing cash flow planning as well as giving Savvy Living presentations via webinar and in-person to audiences across the U.S.

If you’d like to learn more about how Kevin and Melissa work with clients, visit The Savvy Life’s Programs page.

If you’d like to learn more about how they work with financial advisors and their clients visit: The Savvy Life Advisor’s Page