When it comes to shopping, your subconscious mind makes the decision to buy several seconds before your conscious mind is aware of it.
Neuromarketers attempt to peer inside our heads to find out what drives a purchase decision. Tools of the trade include eye-tracking technology, electroencephalograms to measure electrical activity in the brain, and functional magnetic resonance imaging, tracking blood flow in the brain to detect areas of activity. But much of the science merely confirms what marketers, advertisers and retailers have known forever: Buyers aren't convinced; they're wooed. "You're entering a zone of seduction as soon as you enter the department store, and the only purpose is to get you to buy more," says branding guru Martin Lindstrom.
Some tips to help you resist temptation and protect your budget: When you shop, clear your schedule and bring a list. Shop alone. Wait before you buy, whether you take a half-hour break or you go home to sleep on a major purchase decision. And be aware of these stealthy triggers that retailers use to lure you into spending.
Mannequin Eye Contact
The seduction process starts as soon as you walk past a display window, says Lindstrom. Mannequins never look straight out to the street; they look left or right, the better to make eye contact with you as you walk by. Without realizing why, you feel obliged to stop.
What you walk on has a lot to do with how you navigate through a store. "There's a secret code on the floor," says Lindstrom. You might enter the store on a sea of white tile; that's to keep customers moving along a pathway without impeding traffic. As soon as you go left or right of the pathway, the flooring might change to carpet. And if the carpet is thicker than normal, you'll slow down, if not completely stop. The longer you linger, the more you're likely to buy.
Retailers know that your sense of smell is a powerful subconscious motivator. It can trigger cravings, memories or associations that make us linger in a store and influence us to buy. According to the Scent Marketing Institute, we're likely to browse longer in stores with floral or citrus scents, to feel secure and nostalgic when we smell talcum powder, and to feel relaxed when the scent of lavender or vanilla is wafting.
Each piece of department store clothing is tried on an average of nine times, says Lindstrom. So a fresh lemon or grassy scent in the dressing room is meant to distract you from the effects of all who came before you.
The music you hear, if you're the target customer, will be newer versions of what was popular when you were 18. You'll recall the feeling of the good old days without feeling stuck in the past. Music playing at a slower tempo slows people down. Both strategies aim to keep you in the store longer, boosting the likelihood of an impulse buy.
Lighting in clothing departments will be warm and soft. Shoppers look pale in fluorescent light. On the other hand, ambient light with a tinge of yellow or orange will make you look healthy and fresh—"kind of sexy," says branding expert Lindstrom.
The clothing may be "vanisized"—manufactured larger than the size on the tag or than the same size in a competing brand. This trick is a favorite for selling jeans. You fit into a size smaller than you'd normally wear (or the size you used to wear but can no longer), and suddenly you feel as if you're younger and have lost weight.
Your perception of value can be skewed by the "contrast effect," says marketing professor Dipayan Biswas, of the University of South Florida. A $20 shirt seems like a must-buy bargain when it's placed next to $40 shirts.
Colors can influence your mood, says Biswas. Retailers will use red or orange to create hype or excitement in the store, or blue if products are meant to relax you. Even the color of the ink used on sale signs matters: Markdowns in red seem more drastic and therefore more compelling.
Anne Kates Smith brings Wall Street to Main Street, with decades of experience covering investments and personal finance for real people trying to navigate fast-changing markets, preserve financial security or plan for the future. She oversees the magazine's investing coverage, authors Kiplinger’s biannual stock-market outlooks and writes the "Your Mind and Your Money" column, a take on behavioral finance and how investors can get out of their own way. Smith began her journalism career as a writer and columnist for USA Today. Prior to joining Kiplinger, she was a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report and a contributing columnist for TheStreet. Smith is a graduate of St. John's College in Annapolis, Md., the third-oldest college in America.
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