How To

Don’t lose your mind shopping: 4 things retailers hope you won’t realize

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When it comes to being a responsible shopper, we’ve all lost our minds. I’m not kidding. Research suggests consumers do less thinking than expected before making a purchasing decision, and that they’re often unaware of the forces driving their behavior.

For example, a Yale study says capuchin monkeys share some of our basic economic decision processes, leading scientists to conclude that we make many consumer choices by instinct. When we try to ponder a purchase, we’re fighting tendencies that are probably hard-wired.

Too often, we’re unaware of the forces conspiring to make our bad decisions and can’t help ourselves. It’s largely a function of brain chemistry often triggered by cleverly-placed decoys, as Dan Ariely explains in his 2008 book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions.

But you don’t have to be a scientist or college professor to know that we make poor buying choices. How often have you come home to a family member or loved one who didn’t just make a questionable purchasing decision, but a spectacularly bad one?

You know, the rhinestone-studded jacket that was on sale, but completely unnecessary. Or a frivolous item, like yet another big-screen TV, or a trampoline, or … well, you get the idea.

You believe the person who made that decision was rational. But something happened between your doorstep and the shopping mall, and now you’re the proud owner of a lava lamp.

Truth is, we are not always rational. Maybe not even most of the time. Below our conscious mind, there’s a sea of impulses and instincts that we’re completely unaware of, pushing us toward making unfortunate, unreasonable purchasing decision and controlling our purse strings.

Businesses don’t necessarily want us to know we’re irrational, because they can profit from our subconscious shopper. Here are a few secrets you need to know.

Be aware of your irrationality

It’s possible to short-circuit your inner monkey and refuse to be suckered. The first step – and it’s one businesses hope you won’t take – is simply acknowledging the fact that you’re often not in control of your decision-making.

Know that companies prey on your unconscious mind.

Clever businesses create advertising and marketing campaigns that appeal to your subconscious. That makes perfect business sense, but it’s bad for consumers who end up making the wrong purchasing decisions.

Ask for help.

If you think you may be making a decision that’s based on an inexplicable urge – they’re often referred to as “impulse” buys – you can get a reality check by asking a friend or colleague for help. If they think a purchase would be unwise, your subconscious mind may be in control. Or maybe, out of control.

Step away from the floor display.

If you think you must buy something now, know this: Floor displays are created to force your unconscious mind into making an immediate purchasing decision. Don’t buy something in the heat of the moment. Step away, go home and think about it away from the distraction of the sales floor.

Nine out of ten times, you’ll reconsider the purchase because your unconscious mind is no longer under pressure.

Of course businesses don’t want you to know about this. They want you to think the idea to buy a product or service is yours alone – not the product of your unconscious mind being manipulated by a smart display or ad campaign.

Just say no.

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 at On Your Side or by email.