How Retail Stores Manipulate You

How Retail Stores Manipulate You

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(soft music) - Hello, friends, and welcome to another video. So a few months ago, I came across a video from The Food Theorists with a title that intrigued me. "You've Been Scammed and Never Knew It." I'll link it down below, but basically the video talks about the sneaky ways grocery stores get you to buy more stuff. Things like stocking the milk, something most people buy every week at the very back of the store, so you have to walk past literally everything else to get it.

Or wafting the scent of baked goods or rotisserie chicken throughout the store to make you hungry and thus more likely to stray from your shopping list. It does smell pretty good in here. - It does. - Not gonna lie. Now, as we have established previously on this channel, I've been known to frequent many a shop in my day, often for lipstick and for bath bombs and candles and lipstick. Oh my God, I'm gonna get so many Extra Bucks.

This is gonna be out of control. And as someone who loves shopping online and IRL, this video got me thinking. What other stores use techniques like this to get me to buy things I don't need? When I go into, say, Sephora or Target or another store and grab something off the shelf, is it because I chose it or because I've been manipulated into it? Ooh, phallic.

So I thought it'd be interesting to see what I could find about how the stores I visit try to lasso in their customers. Now, most of these strategies have been written about a lot before and we're definitely gonna miss some stuff, but I wanted to get kind of a broad understanding of the tactics retailers use to, shall we say, squeeze every last penny out of us. Some of these strategies are certainly less nefarious than others.

I mean, you could just call it savvy marketing, like having the dollar section be right by the checkout or asking people to subscribe at the beginning of the video instead of at the end. Yes? No? Think about it. But I'd wager that pretty much everyone watching this has been influenced by at least some of these techniques. Look, I'm Meghan Markle. I know I have. Now since the dawn of retail history, store owners have always needed to figure out how to get butts in the door.

Pre industrialization, shopping was a much simpler experience, at least in terms of choices. In the US, most stores you'd go into were either specialized trade shops or mom and pop general stores that sold a range of basic goods. The average middle class consumer wouldn't have access to very many store options or indeed many products at all. But by the mid to late 1800's, times were a-changin.'

Suddenly, shoppers had choices and every department store wanted to be the chosen one. And the favorite strategy of the golden age department store was to one, make the customer have fun in the store. Two, get the customer to spend more time in the store and therefore three, be the place where the customer spent the money. So stores like Wanamaker's in Philadelphia, Marshall Fields in Chicago, and Gimbles in New York, adopted a sales tactic of service and spectacle. The Smithsonian says that, "Setting the stage with as much hoopla as possible, the art of selling had become as much a show as any theatrical venture."

Stores would have dozens of departments and you could go there not just to shop, but to visit cafes, glamorous rooftop terraces, hair salons, and libraries. At Selfridges in London, there was even a rifle range. And at Wanamaker's you could shop while admiring the owner's personal collection of Titian and Monet paintings. All in all, it was a recipe for a rip roaring good time for customers and retailers alike. And the general idea of show customers some fun and get them to spend more time in your store is a strategy that's still crucial to retailers today. Except, today it's a lot more challenging to get the butts in the door in the first place.

Not only are there more competitors in the market, but the biggest competitors are online. So if physical retailers are gonna keep up, they have to use highly specific design strategies to encourage you to buy. - [Tyler] Okay, Safiya, ready? Eyes forward, okay? We're just filming a video here. - The thing about that is that the path swerves, so my eyes go forward. (Tyler laughs) Eventually, I hit a product. - That's genius.

- That's why when you walk into a store, pretty much everything around you from the floor plan to the lighting and the background music. Coldplay, hot sales. This isn't even Coldplay, I just wanted to say that. - Okay, so I think this is Coldplay.

- Coldplay, hot sales. - Been trying it since Target. - Is meticulously planned as part of a strategy to get customers to spend more time in the store and interact with the products more. A boy who lived, come tonight. It's $1.99, should we get it? - Probably. - So first up, let's look at the granddaddy of all manipulators, the purveyor of delicious meatballs and DIY bookshelves, IKEA. I'm ready to get manipulated.

Let's go, manipulate me like one of your meatballs, baby, let's go. IKEA is pretty iconic for its design. And there are a lot of carefully controlled factors here that inspire customers to spend more money. Starting with the fact that most IKEA stores are in the suburbs so you have to drive to them and they take a few hours to walk through. So you walk into the store basically already having decided to buy something. After all, you've made a whole day of it.

You can't go home empty handed, right? Just drop your kids off at the free daycare and you're good to go. And unless you keel over from exhaustion, behold meatballs. - [Man] Would you guys like an extra four meatballs for a dollar? - Sure.

They have a restaurant in every store so you can refuel and then get back to shopping. Thank you. Yes, lingonberry. One IKEA exec even called the meatballs the best sofa seller. Gotta get some lingonberry on there. Because they encourage customers to stay even longer.

You know what sounds good right now? - What? - A sofa? - A Billy bookshelf. - A Kierkegaard bed stand. - No that's Danish. - Okay. - Then there's the fixed path concept at work in IKEA. We dare not stray from the path.

Marcus Engman, who is chief creative officer said in 2018 "It's about finding a way to get people to want to spend more time in the store, not force them." But if that's the case, Marcus, then what is this? Wow, that's literally exactly what we're talking about. - It's like it's-- - It's a little on the nose here, IKEA. - Exactly the line

in the video. The entire store is designed like a maze with the set direction you're supposed to travel through. And there are arrows on the floor pointing you deeper and deeper into the labyrinth. I brought some string, so we could find our way out. You know, it's a little Greek mythology humor for you.

The first section, the showroom, is designed to feel like you're walking through a catalog. Oh, I love me a fake fireplace, which is a pretty obvious, but not invasive marketing ploy. You mosey through model rooms.

I like this one. - This one's really nice. - And you start to envision these products in your kitchen. - Oh, this one's really nice. - This one's cute. Your living room, et cetera. - [Tyler] Whoa, they got one of those things.

- This is the bathroom I want, Ty. I mean, I had my meatball now I need my couch, right? - [Tyler] Yeah, you're all lingonberried out. - It's like after you're injured in Call of Duty. Everything's pulsating, there's red everywhere, but instead of blood, it's just lingonberry. But if you want to get off of the main path, there's not an easy way to skip to another section of the store.

- Ow. - Are you okay? - I just kicked something. I didn't follow the arrow. I strayed off the path. - That's what you get.

- While there are technically shortcuts across the showroom, they're hard to find and that's deliberate. It doesn't even say where we are. - Wow. No, we're here. We're here. We're here. - Okay.

- Someone marked it for us. - Oh my God. Someone really did. - Someone literally marked it for us (laughs). Vox reported in 2018 that at other retailers, customers tend to see only about a third of a store's floor area. IKEA's layout nudges customers to walk through and be tempted by almost all of it. This is like my style, hall front, I like it.

You also can't really see what room is coming up next. Is it the kitchen section? Children's furniture? You have no idea. Oh wow. Okay, beds.

I thought we were done for some reason. - [Tyler] Me too. - You're the beds. Because the main aisle through the store curves every 50 feet or so. - [Tyler] What are you doing back there? - Moving in. This makes you less likely to take a shortcut because you don't wanna miss the section you're looking for.

And it also evokes a sense of mystery that might make you more prone to impulse buying. Oh, French press anyone? It's $12.99. And similar to a Vegas casino, you often won't see a ton of windows at IKEA. - [Tyler] You think that's a real window behind you? - Oh, absolutely not. That's not the outside, that is an LED panel.

Because as one expert put it, when the sunlight is blocked out, it gets you to stop thinking about time and space. Okay, that looks like colonial Williamsburg. - [Tyler] It really does (laughs).

- But sure, Marcus, it's about us wanting to stay in the store. I'm good. I strayed off the path and I paid the price. - That keeps happening to us. - Now after you've lusted over the perfect closets and kitchens of the showroom, you wind up in the market hall or as some employees have reportedly called it, the open the wallet section. What they mean is fill your cart with subconscious decisions.

This is the area filled with smaller items, towels, dishes, wall decor that are easy to throw into your bag on a whim. Do I need this? It's a mini citrus squeezer. I don't think you do. - An egg slicer. - Oh, that sounds good. - I feel like that's good.

- The hand could be you. - I agree. I relate to that hand. And once something is in your bag, it's unlikely that you're gonna take it out because you'd have to backtrack through the entire maze to do so. No, I think we're stuck with it now. Plus, the moment you pick up an item, consumer psychologists say that you start to form an emotional attachment to it.

Tiny chairs. What, what? What? I'm getting this. I don't even know what we're gonna do with this. You feel as though you already own it and you want it all the more so good luck putting it down now.

They don't call me Smeagol Fiya for nothing. - They should call you that actually. - Actually, no one calls me that. Currently, no one calls me that. - I've never heard that before. I like that. - And all of these strategies, the meatballs, the maze, the model rooms, the market hall are a really good example of something called the grew in effect.

We spoke with Jen Clinehens. She's a behavioral science expert who has consulted for Fortune 500 sized brands. And Jen describes the grew in effect as the moment people enter a store and are enveloped in an intentionally overwhelming experience. A fever dream, truly, of trash cans. Oh, it's only $12.99. You want one?

That means lots of interesting sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. Plant balls. IKEA masters this. Ooh pillows. You get overwhelmed by the size of the store and the 1000s of products you'll see. I like these candlesticks, these ceramic cacti.

It's literally a thing of rocks. - [Tyler] Oh my gosh. - And exhausted from all of the hours you've spent there and your brain kind of starts to melt.

How about sticks? You forget why you came in in the first place. - [Tyler] Is the end in sight? - [Safiya] Oh, lamps. Lose yourself in the moment. - You know, it's lamp. It does lamp things.

- And you might walk out with more and different things than you intended. - What are you doing (laughs)? - Do I want this? - No. - What is it? - Incongruent. - What is this? - I don't know. - Do I want it? - It's like a giant hacky sack. You don't want it.

- That sounds good. - No. Actually that does sound good. - But if IKEA's an 11 for service, spectacle and strategems, there are loads of other stores that do this too. Like this next store that has its own supposed psychological effect, Target.

According to the internet, the Target effect is the result of going into a store, intending to buy a few things and leaving with much more. Target affect? Yep, I know it. Oh, I know it. It's a common meme that people like to spend time at Target for fun. - I'm going to Target.

Nobody talk to me. - Just to see what's new or hang out there for an hour plus when all they need is Tide pods. Remember Tide pods? Good times.

- [Tyler] It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. - It was a times. And it is kind of interesting to me that Target has wedged its way into the hearts of its customers in a way that other bargain priced brands haven't done with as much success. So why are people happier in a Target than they are in other stores? Let's start with the little details.

Target tends to have a Starbucks right at the front, which creates a welcoming treat yourself atmosphere right from the get go. I'm gonna chug this. - Jittery hands. - That's what they call me, jittery hands. There's also a similar, if less intense, fixed path concept at work here like IKEA where there's usually one main aisle that walks you around the whole store. So you pass a lot of the other departments as you head for your destination.

Those are pretty sweet. TikTok would love this. I think I like it. Seasonal items like school supplies or Christmas decorations are usually kept at the back because those tend to be planned purchases, not impulse. Target is gate keeping the pool floaties. - Oh, big time. - Yeah.

- Strategically. - Strategically gatekeeping the pool floaties. So they want you to walk by all of the other sections of the store before you get to what you need. All right, we're gonna get one of these and we're gonna take it to Patrick's pool, okay? Say we're copying your video format and invading your pool. How do you feel? The knickknack-y dollar section is strategically located where you walk in and also where you circle back around for the checkout so you're doubly likely to impulse grab a little trinket that you don't really need. One if by land, five in the dollar section.

But is often too cheap to resist. Revere-core. National Treasure core. Nick Cage core. Can I have it? - Yes.

But there's something special Target does to cultivate that Target effect as well. More lanterns. They figured out how to make people feel like they're shopping in a more high end store when actually the average price for many household items doesn't differ that much from Walmart. Ooh, candles. - Oh, I'll take one of each. - The lighting is warm and less harsh than other stores and the aisles are wider and less claustrophobic feeling.

I like the amount of baskets we've got going on. I can use a basket. If I buy enough candles, I'll need a basket. - Exactly. - Right. Yeah.

The stores are kept fairly neat and organized. Meaning customers are less likely to get negative emotions like anxiety or frustration, which often accompany clutter. And in 2017, the brand started remodeling their stores to give them a more boutique vibe.

Like the new bath bomb displays that are reminiscent of Lush. Oh, the F bomb. I get it. I get it. Ooh, Baby Yoda.

They also started rolling out sleek home displays, which Target calls dynamic product vignettes. It's a mug tree. Do I need this? I like this. - Yeah, but why? - Just a feeling. - Just an inexplicable desire.

That kind of remind me of a Crate and Barrel or a Pottery Barn. I'm interested in the cube. Do we need a cube? - [Tyler] This is turning into IKEA, part two. Why don't you leave the cube? Move on from the cube. - You can pry this cube from my cold dead hands.

Don't do it. Target also leans into collaborating with high-end designers and well-known celebrities who are experts in their field from Lily Pulitzer and Zac Posen in the fashion section to Joanna Gaines and Justina Blakeney in the home goods. And even to pastry chef Christina Tosi's Milk Bar in the snack aisle. Now that's a face you can trust. Jen Clinehens tells us that people are more likely to trust an authority figure. Joanna, I might need this.

A psychological phenomenon called the authority principle. One if by land, large if in Waco. And when Target partners up with these well-known names. Gotta go find my girl, Cassey.

They're leveraging those creator's expertise to sell more goods. Now that's what I call an authoritative water bottle. Look at that beaut, 1.83 liters.

- [Tyler] It's a lot. - It also just feels kind of exciting to see a fancy name on a product that is generally more affordable than that name usually suggests. It makes people feel like the item itself is fancier and that being able to purchase an item from that name, with that price is a steal so we're more likely to buy it even if it wasn't on the shopping list. I just want everyone at Target to know that I bought water bottle because of Cassey Ho.

Hello? It worked. Yeah, Pop Sugar's gotta go. All right, this is Cassey's spot.

So Target is really good at cultivating an environment that feels like a little bit of luxury to visit and makes you wanna stay there longer. That was a parallel park. And buy a lot more than you intended. Ooh, they have Zodiac candles and birthstone candles Or as one Twitter user haiku'd in 2017.

Needed some tweezers, spent 90 bucks at Target. Guess what I forgot? What did I come in here for? (Tyler laughs) This one smells really good. Now it only feels right to round out this video with a look at some of the stores I've been known to harass, beauty stores like Sephora and Ulta. I'm surprised I'm not banned from Sephora.

- Me too. - I feel like I have to be on some kind of internal watch list, right? Let's see. Right? I guess we're about to find out. Both Sephora and Ulta follow a similar blueprint in terms of store design. - [Tyler] Eyes forward, soft eyes forward.

- But what about a basket? - [Tyler] Oh, you need a basket and then eyes forward. - What are we getting again? Just like the milk in the grocery store or the school supplies in Target, products that our beauty needs like skincare and hair care and in Ulta's case, the hair salon, are usually kept in the back of the stores. - [Tyler] Look how far out it is. I feel like you're scuba diving.

- About 50 feet deep right now. Whereas products that our beauty wants, like the newest celebrity eyeshadow palette. - [Tyler] Space Grande. - Are on display front and center when you walk in.

Ooh, I do like that color. What do you think? Oh, and it's magnetic. Okay, I'm getting it. And you have to walk through all of the colorful makeup displays to get that moisturizer you ran out of.

Do I need "Stranger Things" makeup? I don't know. - [Tyler] I don't know either. - Do I need clearing butt butter? Maybe.

Ooh, travel size fragrance. - [Tyler] We need the arrows on the ground like in IKEA. - Actually, I'm missing the arrows on the ground right now. Both stores also let you test out many of the products on your own, which is something that Sephora basically pioneered when they opened their first US store in 1998.

- [Tyler] There it is. - This definitely makes for a more fun shopping experience. My face is wet now. But research also shows that the more you touch and handle a product, the more likely you are to buy it. I do like that actually. A principle known as the endowment effect.

Wait, I just did that for the video, but now I kind of want this color. As researcher, Suzanne Shu, told "Time Magazine," when you touch something, you instantly feel more of a connection to it. Look at me endowing all these lip glosses. It would be a shame if I had to buy one of every lip gloss in this store. That connection stirs up an emotional reaction. Yeah, I like the feel of it. This can be mine.

I mean, if I keep throwing this endowment around, I might have to. And that emotion can cause you to buy something you never would've bought if you hadn't touched it. - [Tyler] You feeling endowed? - I feel well endowed. So those are some of the strategies that Sephora and Ulta have in common, but it's also pretty interesting to see how the two stores differ in the ways they try to get you to loosen the purse strings. Sephora, of course, sells pretty much exclusively higher end products and they have to make the customers feel as if that price tag is justified.

And Sephora does a lot to try and position itself as an expert in the beauty space with their makeup classes, curated displays of Sephora's favorites, and expert staff who themselves are sporting a full beat and act as authority figures if you need a recommendation or a shade match, or if you just look lost. I'm not lost, but I am unhinged so I don't think they're gonna wanna help me. - I don't, no. - Yeah. I think actually I'm beyond help at this point.

- [Tyler] I think they can help you, but not in the ways you might need. - To what avail? To what avail really. And there's obviously also the physical design of Sephora at play here as well.

Like the black and white striped branding that surrounds the store. You see black used by a lot of different beauty brands and that's because it conveys that sense of luxury that these stores are after and works as a great backdrop for colorful cosmetics. But something a little less obvious at work here is the fact that stores like Sephora use a lot of high shine materials in the store construction like lacquer.

This is the black lacquer we're talking about. - [Tyler] You can see me. - It's a very shiny pillar. Walking into a shiny store automatically makes you feel like you're in a luxurious, aspirational space. It do be shiny. And our collective lust for shiny things is well documented.

Now these are some shiny lips. Look at that. They're a little intimidating. As consumer psychologist, Kit Yarrow, told "Racked" in 2016, "Even in movies, the street where the couple falls in love, it's always shiny." Shiny just makes everything seem more magical.

Does it make you feel like you're enveloped in luxury? - A little. - A little bit, right? So there's a kind of sexiness, a chic factor to Sephora that they're definitely trying to play up to convince you to shop there. But over at Ulta, the vibe is a bit more peppy and colorful.

Of course, Ulta carries both prestige and drugstore brands and the message they want you to believe is that a wider range of customers can shop there. But that doesn't exactly stop them from trying to get you to buy the pricey stuff. All right. Are you ready for this? - [Tyler] I don't know. Am I?

Why do you have a ruler? - To measure. For example, the prestige displays generally have four instead of six or seven shelves. So roomy.

And the bottom shelf is usually 10 or 11 inches off the ground instead of four for the drugstore brands. I like these ones down here. They're really close to the ground.

Powder puff. They're just hidden down here. Erwin Winkler, who was vice president of creative services at Ulta for many years, said in 2015 that the luxury displays were designed so people wouldn't have to crouch or lean over too far to pick up the products. They're higher, so you look at them more. - [Tyler] Yeah, yeah, no, I got it.

- It's like a higher, so you buy them. - [Tyler] Yeah, they're my sight line, I got. - It's at a height that's more accessible. "I always do the butt test," Winkler said. What woman in the world wants to shop with her butt out? I guess perhaps a woman who wants to buy Maybelline instead of Too Faced.

Erwin didn't think about the power of the squat now, did he? I gotta get back up. So all in all, I think it's pretty clear that today's retailers do use a lot of tactics to kind of get into our psyches and convince us to buy. What are we going there for? - I do not know. - The ruler's not from here. Here's my haul.

I didn't have to buy stuff while filming this video, but we did. - [Tyler] We're testing the manipulation. - Yeah, we did. - And it's definitely not limited to the stores we talked about.

Basically, everyone is trying to figure out how to do this in some way or another. Overall, I think I'm definitely gonna start paying attention to the subliminal messaging in my day to day shopping. And if nothing else, at least bring an alarm clock with me the next time I go into IKEA. - [Tyler] Is this thing flipping me off? I think it is.

It's like, do you know about that? Thank you, guys, so much for watching. If you liked that video, make sure to shamash that like button. And if you wanna see more videos like this, make sure to shamash that subscribe button. Here are our various short form and social media handles.

And here is our merch website, which I am now manipulating you to buy from. And with that, I will see you guys a next time. - The wall is very grew in. Like textiles, I find extremely overwhelming in life.

That kid is very overwhelmed. He's grew in'd out. He's done with it. - Yeah, let me tell you something.

That child does not feel any endowment effect at all. He's discarding those window wipers like there's no tomorrow. He does not care.

2022-07-11 20:55

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