Retailers Exploit Natural Human Stupidity To Get You To Buy More

The Chicago Tribune recaps the findings of some recent consumer behavior studies—for instance, we’re irrational buyers, prone to shoddy math and emotional decision making. The studies might be paid for by advertisers so they can better manipulate us, but as the Tribune notes, they’re useful for us too because they “can help shoppers make better spending decisions if they understand themselves better.”

Consider the concept of “shopping momentum”: “During a shopping trip, making a first purchase, even a minor one, can open the floodgates of buying.”

Shopping has two phases: deliberation and buying. Once they buy, consumers tend to continue buying without returning to the deliberation stage for future purchases.

In an experiment, researchers found shopping momentum was broken when consumers paid from different envelopes, apparently forcing them to return to the deliberation phase and think more about whether the purchase was a good idea.

That suggests a reason for the success of the longtime tip to budget with an envelope system — that is, spending cash from envelopes designated for such purchases as food, clothing and entertainment.

Also, “buying a guilt-inducing luxury item first during shopping curbed buying momentum.”

The “disrupt-then-reframe” sales technique preys on the human brain’s natural desire to seek “cognitive closure” when confused:

Researchers found that by presenting a confusing sales pitch to consumers and then restating the pitch in a more familiar way, they were able to increase sales.

Another common trick is the “double discount” offer—e.g., Barnes & Noble’s coupon and membership discounts, which are applied consecutively instead of all at once.

“Consumers easily confused, manipulated” [Chicago Tribune]
(Photo: Getty)