10 ways shops convince make you buy their products with mind games

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If you run a consumer guide like Buyfromwhere and go round scouring for deals, you’ll learn the tricks that retailers use to make you part with your hard-earned money soon enough. While I may not have seen them all, there are some tactics that seem to be so common across retailers that I’ve slowly become immune to them. As Sun Tzu put it, know thyself, know thy enemy and you’ll be able to win all your battles. In this case, the retailer is your ‘enemy’, so let’s proceed to try understanding the enemy by understanding the tactics that they use.

1. The ‘Clearance Sale’

Clearance sales (or warehouse sales or overstock sales, et cetera) are perhaps the number one trick that retailers use to draw in crowds. Add in things like “up to 90% off” and crowds will make a beeline for the store. Despite the fact that these clearance sales seem to happen many times in a year, many seem to fall prey to such tactics. Gain City was having a clearance sale at its Ang Mo Kio showroom. I guess the crowd was partly because Gain City didn’t post a list of deals but instead forced them to go down and have a look for themselves. I went down myself and found that the deals were nothing out of the ordinary (okay, maybe I didn’t look hard enough for the few good deals…).

Unfortunately, once you’ve made the effort to go all the way down, you’ll probably want to leave with something, and you make an impulse buy. And the worse part is, you might even think you got yourself a good deal when you didn’t.

Since we’re all armed with smartphones nowadays, it doesn’t hurt to take it out and compare prices on the spot. Even better, do your research before even going down. I tend to be wary of clearance sales where prices are not stated. If the prices are really good, they would show at least a sample of the deals that are being offered. I mean, if you have a really good deal, why hide it from your customers?

2. The ‘Below Cost’

This is another sly move by retailers and usually goes hand-in-hand with clearance sales. To better understand this tactic, you should first understand that inventory gets obsolete over time. So, say I’m a retailer and I have stock of a two-year-old laptop that I bought for $999 and haven’t managed to sell. Today, the market price of a similar brand-new laptop is $799. If I sell the laptop for $899, I’m technically selling it ‘below cost’. But are you getting a good deal? No.

3. The Mark Up, then Mark Down

Ever wonder how retailers offer up to 95% off their products? Well, they mark it up a couple of times before offering you 95% off. Or most of the time, you’re paying the current market price for it even though it’s discounted.

4. The Bargain Bin

Ever rummaged through clothes that were chucked on a trolley, hoping to find a design that you like in your size? That’s the bargain bin for you, and the messier, the better. One would ordinarily expect clearance items and last pieces to fall inside that bin at heavily discounted prices.

Based on this perception, retailers are keen to exploit this by having a bargain bin, that may comprise clearance items and last pieces, but at just slightly discounted prices, if at all. Your mind may think that its cheap, since the presentation sucks, and that’s where they trap you.

The next time you rummage through a bargain bin, stay skeptical.

5. The Cheap Looking Store

This generally happens at pop-up stores, Expo sales, or outlet stores. The store is minimally decorated and looks inviting to the bargain hunter. Step inside, however, and you’ll realise that the prices are same old, same old.

Big Box employs this strategy. With a Wal-Mart looking store, you’d expect prices to be similar to that of Wal-Mart. Instead, they’re priced the same or even higher than large chain stores like Challenger and Best Denki.

Coupled with the ‘mark up, then mark down’ and the ‘below cost’ tactic, they could successfully convince you that the product they’re selling is worth the money and you’ll never find it cheaper elsewhere, even if it’s not.

6. The Slash and Write

Next, we have what I call the ‘slash and write’ tactic. In this tactic, what retailers do is to first print out a nice-looking spec sheet with an inflated price. Then, they’ll apply a red marker, cancel the inflated price, and then fill in the price they intend to sell it at. This wires your mind into thinking that ‘hey, they probably just discounted it, so it’s a good deal, or else why would they not print the correct price in the first place?’

Then you realise, at least for the image on the right, that it was an opening special. Would they suddenly realise they overpriced the product and slash the price just weeks after opening if they didn’t intend to slash it in the first place? (Nope.)

7.  The Handwritten Price

Handwritten prices look cheap and as a result, you’ll think the price is cheap as well. This is usually used in conjunction with the ‘Slash and Write’ technique for maximum effectiveness.

In this day and age, there really is little reason to handwrite prices, except for the aesthetics and maybe to convince buyers that the price is cheap. What’s more telling is the yellow background, which manages to psychologically cheapen the price even further.


8. The ‘Last Three Days Only!’

Have you ever heard of the story of the boy who cried wolf? Some retailers claim the ‘last three days only’, then proceed to extend the sale, perhaps due to ‘popular demand’, for another few days.

Then, we also have ‘pre-renovation sales’, followed by no renovation at all. I witnessed this at Harvey Norman’s Jurong Point outlet. In mid-January, they advertised a pre-renovation sale. When I stepped in again in February, the posters were removed, but the store looked exactly the same. What gives?

Courts also had a ‘last three days’ sale recently that was somehow extended to another three days, albeit at a different location. Still, you know what they’re trying to do…

The obvious reason they do this is so that we get this sense of urgency to splurge. Pushy salesmen may tell you that it’s the last day, and you can’t get it at this price tomorrow! If someone tells you that, just walk out immediately. No one should have to endure such pressure selling tactics. Instead, whip out your smartphone, check the prices, and see if it’s a really great deal. Many times, you’ll be able to find a similar price elsewhere, and if not, many retailers are still able to do a price match for you without any pressure selling.

Hopefully, we’ll all wise up one day so retailers won’t be able to exploit this silly tactic any longer.

9. The Pressure or Hard Sell

Speaking of pressure selling, perhaps it’s wise to dedicate a point just for this. I’ve had this happen to me at a camera shop at Sim Lim Square. I originally wanted a camera bag, and the salesman proceeded to hard sell me various other products I can’t remember. I stood my ground, and told him straight in the face that I bought the camera at a major discount, and I didn’t want to spend so much on it. In any case, I think it’s important for you to stand you ground from the very start, and not fall prey to such tactics. Thankfully, most large retailers these days are wise enough to not risk their reputation by engaging in such tactics, but it still pays to be careful, especially at smaller retail stores.


10. The Bait-and-Switch

Sometimes, newspaper advertisements are not as they seem. They may advertise a product at a ridiculously low price to entice you to visit their store. Then, when you reach there, they’ll tell you it’s sold out, and proceed to recommend you something else that generates a larger profit for them. This is known as the bait-and-switch tactic.

To counter this, make sure you check for stock availability before you go down, and get them to reserve it for you. If that’s not possible, take the risk and go down, but make sure you go for that product and that product only. If they try the bait-and-switch on you, tell them you’ll consider, then do a price check on your own before deciding whether it’s worth the money or not.

Quiet Firing is a more serious issue than Quiet Quitting, because it could have all boiled down to one issue. Here’s the issue: