Financial IQ

5 Signs You’re a Smart Consumer

How can you tell the difference between a smart consumer and a sucker? Salespeople spend a career studying their customers, trying to understand who makes an easy mark.

Businesses study their customers, using test marketing, sophisticated analytics and outside consultants. Their goal: to find out what makes you tick. Specifically, they want to understand what compels you to buy.

Here’s how they get you to do it: a recent study published by Cornell University compared restaurant menu formats.

Guests given numeral-only menus spent “significantly more” than those who received a menu with prices showing a dollar sign or those whose menus had prices written out in words, the study found.

Got that? Remove a dollar sign and you’ll spend more.

Don’t be an easy mark. Here are five signs that you aren’t that easily swayed:

Impulse control.

If you can walk past those “for sale” signs and ignore the candy at eye level, then there’s a pretty good chance you won’t fall for a fast sales pitch.

Companies invest countless hours studying you like a lab rat, trying to figure out your next move. If you can resist their corporate come-ons, your body language won’t give you away as a sucker.

Patience.

Scoring the best price on a product may mean coming back later, when the item is on sale. Do you have what it takes to hold off? Not everyone does.

Not everyone knows the difference between a “want” and a “need.” (And to be honest, it gets complicated when you’re shopping with your kids.) The smartest salespeople prey on your fears with “act now” language in their pitches. But you know better.

Thoroughness.

Before making any purchase, do you read the end-user agreement or the contract? Easy marks don’t, because they don’t care. They just want the product, and they want it now.

If someone catches you reading the fine print on a product, they’ll go to someone else looking for an easy sale. Because you’re not going to be an easy sale.

Politeness.

Believe it or not, polite customers are smarter. Why? Because they know their manners are a way to get what they want. If you want a special consideration, or a discount, rudeness will rarely get you there.

So smiling, making eye contact using “please” and “thank you” are actually deterrents to salespeople who might think you’re a pushover.

Frugality.

Nothing identifies you as a probable sale faster than your willingness to part with your cash. If you give someone the impression you’re willing to spend your money like a pirate, the sales staff will be drawn to you. And they won’t let go until you’ve spent the money burning a hole in your pocket.

Display any one of these five qualities when you’re shopping, and you won’t just keep the predatory salespeople away — there’s also little chance that you’ll buy an overpriced, overhyped item.

I’ve spent the last four weeks talking about mistakes customers make. Businesses often say that their best customer is an informed one, and that sounds nice. But the truth is, they profit from your ignorance.

So when you show up in a store and act as if money is no object, no one is going to complain. These merchants will happily take your money.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.