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Thu, May 1, 2014
Persuasive Shopping: How Stores Trick Us Into Spending
Big Brother is watching you! And Big Sister, too! No, not the government, the stores!
In an article in the March 27, 2014 issue of Time Magazine, Harry McCracken writes about how, thanks to smartphones, GPS, and apps, retailers are testing and implementing technology - iBeacons - which can track your whereabouts and then prod you at any moment with an advertisement or sale pop-up on your phone.
Four ways iBeacons could change shopping and leisure include the following:
  1. Line hints at ballparks or stadiums: when you step away to buy a hot dog, an app directs you to the closest concession stand with the shortest line.
  2. Instant coupons in department stores: linger in the jewelry department without buying anything and a coupon will pop up on your phone.
  3. More context at museums and galleries: an app tells you historical information about each piece of art as you walk through the room.
  4. Reminders at grocery stores: an app reminds you of each item on your list when you're in the right aisle to pick it up.
While technology may continue to make shopping easier, there's no doubt we're increasingly being prompted by advertising and technology to buy more and more, often what we don't really need. So, in the end, is this a good thing?
Similarly, in the 2011 book Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, author Martin Lindstrom sounds the alarm on a myriad of issues, including the following:
  1. Companies use salicylic acid in chapsticks and lipbalms to basically kill your lips' ability to create their own moisture, causing you to be "addicted" to chapstick and lipbalms.
  1. We are being tracked in the supermarkets and online for certain sales based on what we bought before. Stores also use Facebook to see what your friends are "liking" to send you offers that are supposed to appear serendipitous.
  1. Increasingly, more and more stores aren't posting prices because they can change the prices electronically at different times of the day or week.
  1. Store designs take into consideration research that we are more likely to buy more in a store where you move in a counterclockwise direction.
  1. Foods are created with added salt, sugar, fat, and aspartame in everything, preferably all four creating an abnormally addictive quality.
  1. Certain “muzak” is played in stores to make you shop. Slower music, slower shopping. (Faster in restaurants for quicker turnover).
  1. Most supplements and beauty products offer promises and results but usually don't do much of anything, often causing us to keep trying them in hope they will finally work. What they’re really selling is “hope.”
  1. And because some consumers make a beeline for what they want, shopping from a list, they move things around in the store constantly so you have to search and stay in the store longer.
None of us is naive about sales techniques and advertising and its increasing use of tricks and technologies. But, remember, the two main goals are to instill hope that if we buy this or that product we will be happy and good enough; and, if we don’t buy it, we won’t.
With more and more Americans buying more and more (storage unit, anyone?), we find ourselves increasingly in debt and working harder and harder just to make ends meet. Then, of course, due to our hard work, we want to reward ourselves by buying more stuff - and then we have to work harder to afford it. We’ve lost touch with the ability to distinguish “want vs. need” and don’t expect companies, stores, and advertisers to feel sorry for you. And what are we teaching our children? They want, want, want and can’t seem to master one of the hallmarks of maturity: delaying gratification.
Over the last decade of counseling shopaholics--as outlined in my book Bought Out and $pent!-- I have found that most are fairly intelligent people with good values; they didn’t wake up one day and say “I want to be a shopaholic, in debt, and often living a secret life.” Most have personal issues that have made them particularly vulnerable and susceptible to being manipulated to our culture’s constant message to consume. It’s not unlike the messages we get daily to eat, drink, pop a pill, overwork, and seek sex all the time. We can’t block out every subliminal message that is pulling our strings but we can educate ourselves (and others) and be vigilant and adopt practices that restore our autonomy, dignity, choice, and finances.

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