Debt is such a big problem that people routinely commit to debt reduction strategies. Then, the end of the month rolls around and nothing changes.
Your credit cards are still maxed out. Your checking account is $5 away from overdrawn. You’re waiting for your next paycheck to do the grocery shopping.
While you must own some responsibility for that, marketers should own some responsibility as well.
Marketers are in the business of selling things. We know all know that. What everyone doesn’t know are the marketing tricks that get us spending and spending more.
Nothing can immunize completely from the power of marketing tricks, but knowing them can help.
So keep reading and find out the tricks marketers use on you all the time.
Upselling is one of the most common marketing tricks. It’s often confused with cross-selling, but that’s covered in the next section.
Upselling is, essentially, offering customers costlier versions of a product.
Say that you’re buying a new car. You’re committed to a mid-sized sedan.
Around the time you’re ready for signing some paperwork, the salesman starts offering extra features. He paints you a picture of driving down the highway with leather seats and surround sound.
You already decided that a new car was worth $25,000-$35,000. What’s a few thousand dollars more at that point?
Let’s say you’re buying a new computer. You pick one out at the store that will meet your needs for the next few years. An employee walks by and engages you in “casual” conversation.
They say something like, “Yeah, that’s a pretty good, but…”
The “but” is where the upsell starts.
They’ll start talking about how the computer you picked is already a year old. Computer technology moves so fast. Before you know it, your computer will freeze every time you try to check your email.
Then, they’ll point toward another, newer computer that’s more expensive. That computer is cutting edge and more powerful. It’ll still work just fine two years from now.
Before you know it, you’re buying the more expensive computer.
Next up on our list of marketing tricks is cross-selling. Where upselling aims for selling a better version, cross-selling is all about selling related products.
This tactic is all over the Internet. Big online retailers like Amazon use it constantly.
Say you’re looking at video game systems online. There’s a solid chance that the website will show you popular video games, gaming headsets, or system controllers right on the page. If not right on the page, then after you put them in the cart.
Showing you those related products encourages additional sales by making you think:
“Oh, yeah, I probably do need an extra controller for when my buddy comes over.”
Maybe you’ll want that extra controller or game at some point, but maybe not today.
It’s not just online, though.
Remember that more expensive computer the employee upsold you on. That retailer isn’t done with the marketing tricks. They’ll try again at the register.
While you’re checking out with that new computer, the cashier will ask something like:
“Do you want the 1-year warranty for this much?”
That’s cross-selling at it’s most obvious. If you say yes, the retailer still isn’t done with the marketing tricks. They’ll upsell the cross-sell by saying something like:
“Would you like the 3-year warranty for this much more?”
This isn’t a bash against warranties. Warranties can pay for themselves if you need them.
The point is that recognizing marketing tricks like cross-selling can save you money.
One of the marketing tricks that comes out a lot around the holidays is nostalgia.
Nostalgia is one of the more devious marketing tricks because it alters your perception. In fact, it makes you put less value on your money. Once you start devaluing your money, you’ll spend more on a product.
How does this play out in the world? Say a company put out a commercial 15 years ago that sparked a big sales rush. They put it back on the air now.
If you were 15 when the commercial first hit, it puts you in mind of the good old days. You reminisce about Christmas with Mom, Dad, and your siblings.
Except, now you’re 30 and control some disposable income. You think that your mom might get a kick out of it if you get her that retro-packaged product.
Sure, it costs twice as much as the same product with regular packaging. Still, it’ll remind Mom of the good old days. Totally worth it!
Here’s where it gets even more devious. Your mom sees the same commercial and thinks the same thing about you. She also buys one of the retro-packaged products.
You both laugh about it at Christmas. The company takes home a tidy profit and does it again in 10 years.
Ever hear of something called loss-aversion? Marketers sure have and it fuels the next entry on our list of marketing tricks.
Loss-aversion is the idea that losses affect us more psychologically than an equal gain. For example, losing $20 causes us substantially more anguish than the happiness we get from finding $20.
How does this fit into marketing? You see it all the time.
A company offers a stellar training course at a great price, but only the first fifty people get that price. They created scarcity by limiting the slots.
A company offers a great price on a product, but only for 24 hours. They created scarcity by limiting the time.
The idea that we’ll lose out on the deal creates psychological pain. It makes people want the product or service, in part, so we’ll stop feeling that pain.
It can make us want the product enough that we forget we’ll save $100 or $400 or $1000 by not taking the deal.
Just as importantly, that deal isn’t the game in town. More often than not, you can do some comparison shopping and find a better deal on an equivalent product.
There’s another reason you shouldn’t fall for this trick. It’s false scarcity.
Companies that run these kinds of deals almost never do it just once. There’s a very good chance you’ll get another shot at the exact same deal down the road. Depending on the company, you might get another shot in a few months.
Merchandising for Impulse Buys
Ever grabbed a candy bar from that display while you wait in line at the checkout? Almost everyone does it at some point.
That’s merchandising for impulse buying and it’s next up on our marketing tricks list.
Broadly speaking, merchandising is how retailers display products with an eye toward sales. It’s the reason that you usually see name brands displayed at eye level. If you see the name brand first, it improves the odds you’ll buy it.
Where merchandising gets really tricky is at the end caps. Those are those displays at the ends of aisles that face the main traffic areas.
Say you’re pushing a cart by the laundry aisles. You glance over at the end cap and see a bunch of detergents. Take a closer look sometime.
Most, if not all, of the detergents on the end cap are probably higher-priced, name brand detergents.
The idea is that you’ll see the detergent and think:
“Oh, yeah, I’m probably running low on detergent.”
Then, you’ll grab the higher-priced detergent off the end cap instead of walking down the aisle to get a cheaper product. The retailer makes a little more off each one of those impulse sales.
Here’s the thing. Those end caps are all over the store.
Say you grab eight items off of end caps and each one costs an average of $0.75 more than your usual choice. That’s an extra $6 at the register.
Say you do that twice a month. You pay out an extra $144 a year. Do it three times a month and you’re up to $216 a year.
Unintuitive Floor Plan
Walk into a grocery store where you don’t normally shop. Ask an employee where you can find the milk. They’ll probably direct you toward the spot in the store farthest away from the registers.
Seems insane, doesn’t it? Everybody needs milk. Logic dictates that it should go near the front, right?
That’s exactly why it goes in the back away from the registers. Everyone needs it, so they make you walk past a bunch of other products first.
They’re hoping you’ll stop and look at other products along the way and lots of people do. You walk in for a half-gallon of milk. You walk out with milk, cheese, a frozen dinner and ice cream.
Parting Thoughts on Marketing Tricks
There are lots of tricks marketers use that make you spend more.
The two most obvious marketing tricks are upselling and cross-selling. Those usually require a conscious decision on your part.
Other tricks, like scarcity and nostalgia, are less obvious. They work at a more subconscious, emotional level that encourages your buying behaviors.
Merchandising for impulse buying is all about getting your eyes on the most expensive products. Unintuitive floor plans bank on making you walk past the most products possible.
While you can’t escape these tactics entirely, knowing about them can help you make better buying decisions.
Looking for other tips on saving? Check out our post on saving money on gym memberships.