According to the Better World Handbook:
"Companies actually design their stores to encourage impulse buying. Do you really need any of that junk that surrounds you in the check-out line? One powerful technique to avoid impulsively buying 'big' purchases, like a new stereo, is to wait two weeks before you buy it. If you still really want it, then get it."
As a former student of marketing and retail management, here's what I learned that stores do to make you buy more:
- Design their store layout so that you have to walk all the way around, past everything to do your shoppping. A major culprit here? Hollister. Also consider the grocery store that puts items like milk in the very back so you have to walk past everything, or a store like a Target that is layed out like a track so that you have to walk all the way around the perimeter.
- Put "point of purchase" items next to the register. Magazines, gum, candy, batteries. As long as you're standing in that line, you might as well be thinking about more shit you need to buy.
- Notice in a grocery store: Beer, diapers, and milk are NEVER all on sale at the same time. Why? Grocery stores have all sorts of matrixes that tell them if X goes on sale, then they sell this much more of Y. A sale on any of these three items alone will boost overall profits - so there's no reason to have them all on sale at once, is there?
- Loss Leaders. A loss leader is a profit that a store discounts so much, they actually lose money on it. For example, a grocery store sells chicken insanely cheap. The result is that the consumer (yes, you) goes in and gets some cheap chicken. Say you've saved $4 on your chicken. You actually perceive that as an extra $4 in your pocket. So what do most people do? You guessed it... they spend it on candy.
- Shopping carts. Yes, they are a convenience but they also make consumers buy more. Ever wonder why Wal-Mart has such big shopping carts? Actually, the whole strategy of the Wal-Mart super center is meant to make you buy more. People are more likely to grab a cart when they are grocery shopping, and they come to the store more frequently to buy groceries than other items too.
- High-low pricing schemes. You're familiar with this. A store plans to sell a bunch of cashmere sweaters for about $80 apiece at Christmas. They get a shipment in in September and price them at $140. That $140 price tag has a meaning to us. That sweater becomes a "$140 sweater" in our eyes. The price says something about the quality, and about the prestige. By Christmas, they are all discounted down to $80. And all the Christmas shoppers get excited about their "deal" because they are getting a "$140 sweater for $80." (The opposite of this pricing scheme is EDLP - Every Day Low Pricing. I'm personally a proponent of this for a long list of reasons, even if I do not like many of the stores that offer it... Wal-Mart, Target, etc).
- Lifestyle Retailers. This covers your Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma, Restoration Hardware, Urban Outfitters...Starbucks even. These stores don't just offer to sell you a couch or a tea kettle. They offer you a whole lifestyle. The message of the store is "Buy from us, and you will live like THIS." Notice how Pottery Barn shows just ONE leather chair. A furniture store might have ten different varieties, but Pottery Barn's one chair is a very authoritative "THIS is THE chair you need to have the Pottery Barn good life." Naturally, that one chair is sitting next to the blanket you need, and the pillows, the coffee table, bonsai tree, and martini set. And it all ain't cheap.
Knowing all of this - I still go shopping. I still buy from all of these stores. Ok, maybe not Wal-Mart. But I try to plan my purchases ahead of time so I get exactly what I want. I don't think it would be "liberal" or "progressive" (or - to use the book's term, create a "better world") to never buy anything. I'd like to see us have a strong economy. I just feel that when you shop, you are voting with dollars. You don't vote in elections on impulse, why vote with your dollars that way?