In his seminal work The Art of War, Sun Tzu proclaims that battles are won or lost before they are even fought. Well, it’s admittedly a rather pedestrian application of this wisdom — there are no warriors, battlefields, or Hans Zimmer soundtracks in this scenario — but make no mistake: big box stores that claim to be our very best friends in the world have invested heavily in the science of getting us to buy more than we want or need to. Here are three especially insidious (yet also especially effective) tactics from the retail customer manipulation playbook:
1. Crazy bargains up front.
How many times have you wandered into a big box store, looked at a ridiculous, crazy bargain — like a top quality Sherpa throw for $10 or a great lawnmower for $100 — and said to yourself: “what’s the catch?”
It’s like this: as far as these front-of-the-store bargains go, there’s (usually) no catch. And if you simply buy them and leave, then you’ll be in Sun Tzu’s winner circle. But guess what? The vast majority of people don’t buy these items. Instead, they think: “hey, since these items are so cheap, then this store must be full of deep discounts!”. Except, well, it really isn’t; at least, not to such an extreme extent. But once the perception is there, customers end up filling their cart with all kinds of stuff that they didn’t intend to buy. And speaking of carts…
2. Carts just keep getting bigger and bigger.
If you go back in time — and not centuries here, but just a couple of decades — and enter any big box retailer, you’ll be surprised by how tiny the carts were. Actually, back then they were normally sized. Today, however, they’re giant sized for the simple (and indeed, scheming) reason that some customers will literally keep putting stuff in their cart until it’s full; otherwise, they don’t feel that their shopping experience is complete. What’s more, some customers feel a sense of “cart inferiority” is they only have a few items, while the person in front or behind them at the checkout line has an overflowing cart.
3. Putting basic items at the back.
Have you ever wondered why retailers put basic items way, way back in the store — like grocery staples such as milk and butter, or houseware staples like fuses and AC/furnace filters? Be assured that it’s not random. Retailers put this stuff in the back, so that customers are obligated to wade past aisles and displays. That’s why folks who only need to pick up a stick of butter end up coming home with all kinds of weird stuff, like a singing rubber fish or (yet another) power drill.
The Bottom Line
Nothing above suggests you should live in fear of big box retailers — although frankly, you can buy everything from milk to furniture to lighting kits for a Ford Raptor online these days. Rather, you just need to be mindful and aware of the games that retailer play. (and it doesn’t hurt to know where you can get freebies, either!).