The Science of Shopping: 9 Sneaky Ways You’re Being Tricked To Spending More

Updated: February 22, 2023

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the retail industry in the country generated a total gross income of P566.8 billion back in 2012.

If this was your net worth, you’d actually be richer than the Ayala heirs, Iñigo and Mercedes Zobel.

With that much money going around in this sector, it’s not a surprise that mall boutiques, supermarkets, and department stores are doing everything they can to get the most out of this pie, which includes using science and consumer psychology to make people buy more than they should.

Below are nine strategies that these establishments are employing to trick you into spending unnecessarily while shopping, and what you can do to beat them in their own game.


1. Doing weekend and payday sales

Holding a mall-wide sale during weekends and paydays is one of the oldest tricks in the book that gets people to spend more.

Not only does it bring in the crowd, but studies have shown that most people buy something when a mall is crowded because they subconsciously want to feel they belong there, especially when they see people carrying shopping bags and they’re empty-handed.

Don’t go to the mall if you don’t need to buy anything, and go first thing in the morning, when there are fewer people shopping.

2. Using bigger and conveniently-placed shopping carts and baskets

It’s been proven by several studies that customers will tend to buy more items when they have a bigger shopping cart. This also explains why shopping baskets are now conveniently placed around department stores.

If you’re out to buy just a few items, don’t get a shopping cart. If possible, ditch the basket and carry your purchases by hand instead.

3. Setting up bright lights and soothing music

Supermarkets invest in bright lighting and colorful displays to put you in a good mood, then they play soothing and relaxing music to slow down your walking pace. This combination creates an ambiance that inspires shoppers to buy more.

It helps to have a grocery list so you can come in and get out as quickly as possible and avoid getting lured into this bait.


4. Laying out a strategic floor plan

Stores usually put their busiest and best-selling sections as far away as possible from the entrance to tempt you into looking around.

That’s why the meat section in the grocery is always at the opposite end, while the fitting section is usually placed far from the popular brands in department stores.

When treading these aisles, just walk and look straight to your destination and avoid glancing to your sides.

5. Placing items that go together near each other

The sandwich spreads are located near the bread section, while the soda shelves are just one corner away from the chips and snack food aisle.

This is more than just about convenience for the grocery shoppers, it’s also about making you grab those items one after the other simply because it makes sense in your head.

The easiest way to avoid getting duped by this strategy is again, to have a grocery list and have the discipline to stick to it.

6. Placing the priciest items at eye level

It’s human nature to first notice the items that are right in front of you. That’s why distributors and manufacturers pay a premium to put their products on shelves at eye level.

Fortunately, the solution to this is easy enough to do – simply take the time to look up and down the shelves to see which items give the best value for your money.

7. Giving discounts on bulk and bigger sizes

Buying items in bulk or getting the bigger sizes are usually advertised by groceries as a way for you to save money. This is true only if the volume will match your normal consumption and you actually have enough storage at home.

Getting that 6-pack soda is cheaper than buying it per can, but if you’re not a regular soda drinker, then be sure you don’t become one just because you have more at home.

And of course, don’t buy it if you don’t have enough space in your ref, or else you’ll be tempted to drink more than what you normally consume just to fit the cans inside.


8. Deliberately making you linger inside

A butcher showing-off his cutting skills at the meat section, supermarket staff stocking shelves during busy hours, promodisers giving out free stuff, holding a cooking demo program on weekends – all these tactics force you to stay longer by giving you a reason to linger inside the grocery, and thus tempting you to pick more items than you need.

Give yourself a limit and time yourself inside the supermarket.

From personal experience, all you need is about 30 minutes to complete one week’s worth of groceries. Just do your list and immediately head out to the cashier.

9. Putting impulse items at the cashier

It’s almost impossible to find a checkout counter that doesn’t display knick-knacks near the cash register. This is their last-minute strategy to get you to buy unnecessary stuff.

Doing mental math to calculate your total purchases at the grocery, or thinking ahead of where you need to go or what you have to do next will distract you from browsing through these impulse items.


Final Tips

Apart from what’s given above, it also helps to simply carry cash, and just bring enough to buy what you need. Also, write down and prepare your shopping list before leaving home, and remember to never shop hungry – grab a snack first in your kitchen before you head out.

Lastly, don’t bring your kids when shopping, especially at the supermarket. You’ll be able to focus more and stick to your list; and of course, you’ll avoid having to deal with tantrums when you say no to buying something that your child wants.

One of the foundational rules of wealth building is to spend less than what you earn. And if you’re on a tight budget, it helps to be equipped with valuable knowledge on how you can avoid unnecessary expenses, especially when you’re shopping.

Marketers will always do their best to make you buy, it is, after all, their job. But in the end, remember that it is still your money, and it is your job to spend it wisely.

This article also appeared in the 4th Quarter 2014 issue of MoneySense Magazine.

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Photo credits: mikeschmid, alaivani, photosbystan and nathaninsandiego


  1. My friend works at Target so I usually always know when everything is going on sale. Certain news sites also let out Target’s promotions for certain days depending on the item (clothing, electronics, etc), so now I know when to shop for clothing!

  2. Back in time when I still lived on my farm in the US, it was a minimum 45 minute run with no traffic into the nearest city to shop. We always made the most of it and really loaded up so as not to have to return again for a long time. Most everything needed was produced on our farm except things you could not grow in a cold northern climate. We grabbed many bags of close-out coffee, citrus fruit and bananas. Now, semi-retired in the Philippines, I still tend to do the same. Cruising the NLEX on vacation is great. Near home, I am no fan of driving in local traffic. We tend to load the boat when out and then hunker down at home doing the work we love. Two additional benefits to our shopping style is that we never worry about emergencies like a flood cutting off transportation and thus the supplies of the items we like and use regularly. We also smooth out price fluctuations by loading up on discounts. sales etc. This may not be very practical for apartment dwellers with a limited space but we honestly believe that everyone should stock at least a few weeks of emergency supplies “just in case.” Better to have and not need than to need and not have.

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