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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shop 'til you drop!

I've just come back from my weekend grocery shopping. Stressful stuff! And annoying because I know I am being manipulated! Consider the traps they're setting you all the way to the cash-register:

All the supermarkets bake their bread early in the morning. However, to add the illusion that it is constantly baked fresh and to entice you to buy more, they have resorted to pumping out the smell of fresh baking bread throughout the day.

Irritated at all those $2.99 and $4.99 and $9.99 prices? The reason for not rounding up to $3 and $5 and $10 is based on memory processing time. Rounding upward involves an additional decision compared with storing the first digits. Furthermore, due to the vast quantity of information available for customers to process, the information on price must be stored in a very short interval. The cheapest way to do so, in memory and attention terms, is by storing the first digits. Therefore customers perceive to be getting a better deal than they in fact are.

Are you in a hurry to just buy the few essentials such as bread and milk? Well, they've put them right at the back of the shop. This makes people walk past the rest of all the stuff, and heightens the possibility of impulse buys, in order to get their necessities. Changing rooms in clothes shops are almost always situated at the rear of the shop.

And have you ever noticed how they place the expensive items at the front of the aisle and the cheapest at the end? This is done to play on our sense of comparison, as we are much more likely to spend money on something that by comparison appears cheaper than the one we encountered first.

And then there are all those 'specials' which are special indeed as they've been marked up and then discounted again. The actual price is quoted and struck off, with a new pricing quoted in a different colour alongside to attract the customer who gets this inherent feeling that he is getting more for a lesser price. Sometimes he even encounters the same item deliberately place further along the aisle at the pre-discount price. This really makes him feel that he is getting something special!

And if a store really has to raise prices by say 10%? Well, consumers don't appreciate it so the tactic is to increase the price by say 20% and then give a 10% discount.

Don't even get me started on all the background music and the colour schemes. Our brains are hot-wired to respond to colour and retailers use colour to influence us physiologically and psychologically. Red is "stop" and green is "go". Most fast-food restaurants are decorated in vivid reds and oranges. These are colours that encourage us to eat quickly and leave — exactly what the fast-food operator wants us to do. These are the same people, incidentally, whose chairs are deliberately designed to give you an uncomfortable feeling after about 30 minutes which is the average time for a fast-food meal. But coming back to colours, classier restaurants favour softer colours that appear more sophisticated and encourage you to linger — and to order another drink, another coffee.

And the total absence of windows and natural lighting in a shopping mall (spelt M-A-U-L because of what they do to your wallet) is not accidental either: yes, it gives them more wall space to display their goods but far more important is the illusion they create of a totally separate world devoid of the realities of everyday life! Cocooned in a world of soft music and soft colours it is easy to forget how hard it was to earn those dollars they're stealing out of your pocket.

I tried a bit of stealing myself by following Remi Gaillard's example to get a McDonald hamburger at its real value, i.e. $0.00, but simply couldn't cheat the nice lady at the check-out window!