Impulse buying hooks retailers use to reel you in

Vintage 1935 advertisement depicting a hypnotist and his subject.

Retailers want you to have impulse buying on the brain. Pay attention to their tricks! (Photo Credit: CC BY/elleinad./Flickr)

How do retailers get you to buy? Frequently, it has little to do with the quality of their wares. Here are some retailer tricks that contribute to your impulse buying habits.

Retailer tricks for impulse buying No. 1 – Leading you by the nose

Sometimes called the “Cinnabon Effect,” this is an olfactory path that retailers take to cement their message and products into your brain. Baked goods are the primary component of scent marketing, whether it’s fresh-baked cookies, bagels, bread or cinnamon buns. A 1997 study of ambient odors found that pleasant odors including such things as vanilla and cinnamon improved a subject’s mood, and even made them more willing to volunteer for a boring task. Couple that with the fact that odor is closely tied to emotion and memory, and it’s no wonder that retailers use pleasant smells to keep you shopping.

Retailer tricks for impulse buying No. 2 – The food court trap

Why is it that in a mall, the food court is centrally located? It isn’t because retailers have your convenience in mind. It’s because they want you to have to pass through the food at every opportunity. According to the International Council of Shopping Malls’ Michael Niemira, it’s by design.

“If people aren’t rushing home for lunch or can get a snack for a screaming child and stay in the mall,” he said, “they’ll stick around longer. And obviously the longer people stay the more likely they will spend money.”

Modern food courts tend to include coffee shops now, as well as a host of higher quality faire than what food courts offered 20 to 30 years ago. Why would leave for food when you can stay and then get right back to shopping?

Retailer tricks for impulse buying No. 3 – Get ready to walk

Do you think mall designers were asleep at the switch when they scattered stores in such a way that you have to walk as much as possible to get what you want? Of course they weren’t! If stores of the same type were grouped together, you’d only see one small part of the mall before leaving. Having to walk from one end of the mall to the other exposes you to more tantalizing shopping opportunities, not to mention it gives you the opportunity to walk off the calories from your latest foray into the food court.

Retailer tricks for impulse buying No. 4 – Free shipping

Here, we dip into online retailing. Free shipping is an easy one, and nearly every retailer offers it. Typically, however, there’s a catch. Spend enough money, join a frequent buyer club, buy specially selected items, etc.

Retailer tricks for impulse buying No. 5 – 1-click payment

Online retailers like Amazon make shopping in cyberspace even more convenient for return customers. One of the ways it does this is by offering 1-click, where you can pay with a previously used credit card with just a single click. No need to re-enter all of the credit card information, and hence no need to go fetch your wallet every time you buy.

Retailer tricks for impulse buying No. 6 – Speed and convenience

Along the same lines at 1-click payment, online shopping affords the consumer greater speed and overall convenience when compared with brick-and-mortar shopping. No need to drive to the mall, no need to walk back and forth all day and no need to wait in long checkout lines. You only have to wait as long as it takes for you to click and for pages to load.


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