With the holiday shopping season about to come upon us, we thought that now would be an excellent time to help you beef up your knowledge of the tricks that marketers use – both online and offline – to convince you to buy more, more, more. While “tricks” is a strong word and could likely be just as easily replaced with the word “tactics,” the end result is the same. You’re encouraged to buy things you may not even need (or want for that matter) based on the clever idea of a marketer. And yes, we concede that many of these ideas are clever.  Today in the second installment of the series, we’re talking specifically about marketing tactics used by brick and mortar stores. You can back up to read about tactics used online or stay tuned for the topics of sign-ups, upgrades and data collection.

Number One: Creating Event Significance. Of COURSE You Should Shop on Memorial Day!

Have you ever noticed that whenever you may possibly have some time off from work, suddenly there are sales galore going on at your local retail center? We’re not even talking about the consumer crush of the holiday season or the marketing takeover of Valentine’s Day. We’re talking about holidays that have absolutely nothing to do with shopping or products at all. For example, Labor Day and Memorial Day. Why would you rush out to purchase a mattress or a car on those days? There’s no reason at all, except that smart brick and mortar retailers have figured out that you can use your “free time” to shop if they give you a reason to. And so they’ve created event significance where there is none by hosting sales on those weekends. Sneaky,no? It is true that you can get some great deals on holidays that shouldn’t have any shopping significance yet somehow currently do, and that’s great if you really need an item and have been holding out for it. But don’t shop on a holiday just because marketers tell you to. Think of it this way: what are all of the other things that you could be doing with your time off other than shopping and how much happier would they make you?

Number Two: Impulse Buy Purchases. They Have You Trapped!

We previously talked about how impulse purchases can be very effective online since you don’t have to take time to think about whether they’re good purchasing decisions or not. In a brick and mortar retail environment, you’ll have more time to think … and that’s their advantage. They have you trapped in places where they can pitch upsells, cross-sells and impulse buys to you. Where do they have you trapped? In the checkout line. There’s a reason that items you may suddenly realize that you want (or even in some cases need) are what line the checkout aisles at most stores. Gum, batteries, lip balm, snacks and beverages may be convenience items, but they’re convenience items that you’re more likely to buy if they’re right there inspiring you. And you’d better believe that those aisle liner things also have items that children may notice and want while they’re waiting in line with you. You can’t avoid the checkout line, but you can go into it on guard for the marketing you’ll face.

Number Three: Urgency Marketing. It’s Not Just Online.

We’ve also previously talked about how urgency marketing is used online with the false expectation of limited supplies or discounts that will go away with time. These tactics are also at play in brick and mortar retailers, and they can be more effective because limited amounts of merchandise can actually be displayed. You’ve seen this, repeatedly, with Black Friday “door buster” specials. A limited number of televisions (say, less than ten) are put out at an insanely low price that is likely a loss leader. People rush to the store to attempt to be one of the few people who can get one of those televisions. But after the few people who actually get the loss leader television are done, a huge number of patrons are still in the store, having been drawn in by the deep discount. And do you know what those people do? They shop. Not for the television that they came in for, but for other higher margin items. How do you avoid this? Understand that you are extremely unlikely to get the television but extremely likely to spend money on things you don’t need. Then don’t rush in to try to get the television!

Number Four: Product Placement. What’s In Your Eyeline?

How many times do you go to a section of the shelves in a store and what you buy is what’s at eye level for you? That doesn’t just mean items you need, it also means items that you may spot in passing as you walk through the store. The things that a store places on the shelves that are the height of most people’s direct line of sight aren’t there accidentally. They’re there because research has shown the store management team that placing those items at eye level will increase sales or, alternatively, in some cases manufacturers have paid extra for eyeline placement. Think about it. Is there any reason that barbeque sauce is at eyeline but mustard is on the bottom shelf? There is, and that reason has a lot to do with what will cause you to put more in your cart. So just be aware when you’re passing through a store that items are displayed in a way to maximize how much you spend. How do you avoid this? Use a shopping list! Always use a shopping list.

Number Five: Price Matching. Getting You In the Door.

When it comes to brick and mortar stores, it’s all about getting you into the door. Once you’re in the door, you’re likely to spend money. One of the latest techniques to get you in the door is to guarantee the lowest price by allowing you to use your smartphone to check prices at other locations and then matching those prices if they are lower. While this exercise is interesting in that it gives you some idea of how much variation a location can use to price things, be aware of the logic behind it. If you feel secure going into a store that’s racing to hit the bottom in prices, then you’ll shop there more often. And what will happen is that the number of times you’ll actually compare prices and ask them to drop a price is far less than the amount of money they’ll make off of you on the many items that you don’t check. You may occasionally save money, but the store still profits from you.

Number Six: Store Layout. There Is a Method to the Madness.

Did you know that there are less than five layouts in total for every Target store in the United States? Local stores don’t decide how they’re going to be laid out – a team of very data-driven analysts at corporate headquarters looks at how shoppers in certain demographics behave and then assign a layout to each store that is most likely to be successful. What is that based on? It’s based on the likely path people will take, and the top sellers (often placed at the back of the store so that you have to walk through all of the other merchandise to get there).

Number Seven: You’ve Got Mail

And we mean both the virtual and hard copy kind. Because stores typically are able to not only get data on your demographics but also, obviously, your local address, they can easily capitalize on you. We’ve addressed that there’s no purpose in doing anything other than unsubscribing from marketing emails, but postal mail is another story. There are lists you can get on that technically ban merchants from sending you “junk mail,” but there are also plenty of loopholes. What’s our best advice? Keep the recycling bin literally next to the mailbox on your porch. That way postal flyers for local merchants can go directly where they belong – back to nature.

Number Eight: You’ve Got Kids.

Do you have kids? If so, try not to take them shopping with you! Your local brick and mortar retail store is counting on your doing just that as a way to extract more money out of you. Unless you have the most perfectly well-behaved child in the world, and we’re pretty sure that none of us do, children can rapidly go into melt-down mode in a store when a)they see something that they want, b)there are toys of any kind around, c)they are tired, d)they are hungry , e)all of the above or f)seemingly no reason at all. Stores are aware that hurried parents will appease their child with anything from a toy to a sweet. That’s why you’ll always see children’s items as you’re entering the checkout lane, which is the real danger zone for kids since you’re trapped there with nothing else to distract them. What’s the cure to the ill? If you have the option, don’t take your children shopping until they’re old enough to understand consumerism. But since most of us don’t have that option, set firm boundaries and, as soon as possible, have children purchase items they want from their own allowance money.

Number Nine: Lifestyle Marketing. You Are Where You Shop.

Let’s be honest, as much as we’d all like to pretend like it isn’t the case, there is a feeling of “you are where you shop” out there. People who shop at WalMart don’t shop at Target. People who shop at Target don’t shop at Macy’s. And the top of the food chain is headed into Neiman’s. What’s built into this class system of shopping is the desire to do even more shopping at the “next step up.” And trust us, there is always a next step up. On the one end of the spectrum, stores are using marketing techniques associated with price and low cost incentives. At the other end of the spectrum, stores (and even brands) are leveraging where you’d want to “be seen” shopping and how that makes you feel about yourself. There’s an easy fix here. Realize that you are not what you buy. Then you can make purchasing decisions with a clear, unaffected head based on more logical thought processes than walking into a store as part of a social class statement.

Number Ten: The Personal Touch.

While the number of stores that employ a significant number of in-house sales staff is declining and self-service is all the rage, many stores (particularly those with larger ticket items) still know that having a person on staff to “help” you is the key to making your sale. And we’re not debating that sometimes in-store sales people are very helpful. But they are also carefully trained to ensure that they do their best not only to make sure that you buy something but also that you buy the most things you could buy and for the highest price. They’re trained to help you “figure out” that there’s actually “more value” in buying the larger TV, and they’re trained to be incredibly likeable so that you’ll do it. We don’t want to encourage getting rid of salespeople because at the end of the day we’re in support of creating jobs. We just want you to be aware that you should do your research first and know what you want when you enter the store. Then you’ll have the opportunity for the salesperson to be truly helpful instead of, well, a salesperson!

Marketers don’t mean to be evil. In fact, they’re not. They’re simply people with a job to do using the best tools that they can come up with to do that job. However, we as postconsumers have jobs to do as well. By educating ourselves about these tactics, we can make sure that our decision making is driven by informed and thoughtful choice rather than responses and reactions to marketing tactics.

Did we miss a marketing tactic that offline marketers use that you want to share with us? If so, just tell us about it on one of the social media channels below.

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