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Retail Stores are Seductive. Seriously.

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Last week I had some free time around lunch so I decided to go for a little walk around the city.  With Mother’s Day around the corner and wedding season in full swing, I figured I should keep both eyes open in case I came across the perfect gift.

Being on Fifth Avenue, I knew I was out of my price range, so I headed eastward along 23rd street, home to my favorite stretch of NYC thrift stores.  I went from massive 10×10 foot window displays showcasing a few watches, to cluttered racks and shelves crowded with crap just a few streets over.

As I was sifting through a pile of used and discarded home goods at Goodwill I started thinking about how all these items were at one point purchased.  I imagined how they were originally displayed, shiny and new.  Every thing I now picked up in the back corner of the store I could see in my minds eye at Target or Pier One, tempting me to put it in my basket and make the purchase.  But now, as I rifled through the dust ridden bins, that temptation was noticeably absent.

Everything was in working condition.  Sure, things weren’t in their original packaging, but there were certainly no faults or defects.  So if the items were the same, why the lack of temptation?

Am I really that easily manipulated by the in store atmosphere and the glamour of the shopping experience?  Why were the designer handbags on a dimly lit shelf behind the cash register at the thrift store not calling to me like the coach bag so perfectly placed in the display on 5th?   And conversely, why does a trip to Pier One make me feel like I need throw pillows, when I don’t give them a second look otherwise.

I accompanied a good friend of mine on a trip to Anthropologie a few weeks ago.  I don’t shop in the traditional sense very often, so when I walked in, I remember being totally overwhelmed.  It was all so beautiful.  I kept thinking, I want ALL of this.   There were even moments of, “I don’t even know what this is, but I want it”.

Luckily, I’ve become enough of a pro at avoiding impulse buys that I was able to walk away.  But I did have the thought, “Maybe some day when I’m rich.”  Well, that doesn’t really sit well with me either.  Why should I buy a $20 coaster from Anthropologie when I can get an equally awesome one for a buck or two at the thrift shop?  Hello, lifestyle inflation!

After this thrift shop epiphany, I’m challenging myself to remain hyper aware in any retail environment.  Do I really need this?  Do I really even want this?  Or am I just being seduced by a well-crafted retail atmosphere?  Is this purchase going to serve me or will it just take up space in my apartment until it eventually winds up in the back corner of the local Goodwill?


Does the retail atmosphere ever seduce you into spending?

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67 responses to “Retail Stores are Seductive. Seriously.

  1. So, this doesn’t happen to me so much with clothes. I think I feel the same way at new clothing stores as you feel at used clothing stores. Not much luster for me either way, which makes heading to Goodwill an easy choice for me. However (and this is more dangerous), I completely understand that feeling when it comes to technology. I always want a new computer (currently, I have been wanting 2 new computers! ah!)

    Always good to have strategies in place to avoid that temptation!

  2. I’m a big fan of thrift store shopping, but I do admit that it can feel overwhelming at times. For example, if I have my kids with me, I usually don’t have time to sort through racks and racks of clothes! I do find retail stores seductive in that way, since it’s laid out cleanly and nicely. The key for me is shopping when I don’t have my kids =)

    1. Great point. Having a stressor like limited time or energy definitely makes me feel more inclined to shop however it’s going to be easiest rather than in whichever way is going to be the most savvy.

  3. This is how Etsy always gets me. Some Etsy stores are PROS when it comes to staging their photos, and it makes me always want to buy. Then, I remember that it’s just the photography that makes it look awesome and that I can get some of the items for cheaper elsewhere.

  4. So much of shopping is in your mind. Retailers spend a fortune studying their customers and designing everything just right to tempt you to spend more. Everything from lighting, item placement, and even smells is there to make you open your wallet.

    1. The love of shopping can be a problem anywhere, but those really beautiful environments definitely make it more challenging, at least for me.

  5. I was definitely seduced by retail stores for years, and I joked that I was a marketers wet dream. It’s funny though as I have changed my view on spending money the last few years, now I see the stores and they almost make me angry. How dare they make their products look so nice and tempting? I am glad though that I am not swayed by their appeal any longer.

    1. I’ve found I am less and less easily swayed the more I think about utility, practicality, and all the other things I’d rather do with my money.

  6. Stores like Anthropologie certainly are seductive! Everything just looks so beautiful and perfect, and then you check the price tag and you’re like, helllll no! Or at least, that’s what I do, haha.

  7. I notice this so much when I mystery shop. I’ve done a few higher end retail shops since moving to NYC and every time I think…. “if I just sell my kidney, I could totally buy that end table” or “yeah, I want to pay $50 to use string and clothes pins to hang up pictures like that! The clothespins have chevrons on them!!”

    Which is clearly insane. I could build that myself for $5. There’s actually a LOT that goes into the psychology of how stores lay out their merchandise to make it play on all your emotions and want to buy it. It’s sort of nuts. They do the same when they use like chocolate chip cookie air freshener in a Williams Sonoma and suddenly you’re starving and want to buy everything the store carries to make chocolate chip cookies yourself.

        1. I just don’t like buying things I don’t need. Even if I have a coupon. The retail environment gives me a false sense of needing everything.

  8. It must be that all the money retail stores put into store aromas, lighting, colors, packaging, etc. really works. I am also swayed by the clearance rack. I’ve bought stuff just because I liked the price then rarely wore or used.

  9. I imagine big retailers spend quite a bit of money learning how to display and create store atmospheres that make us want to fork over every penny (and then some) to them. And it can be so incredibly seductive, especially high end stores. Their displays often reflect a life we don’t live but would certainly like to, so we buy into that idea of we have whatever it is they are selling, then we can get a small piece of that lifestyle. I have no problem with liking nice things, because I do and refuse to feel bad because I like and want nice things. At the same time, I absolutely believe you have to know your priorities, so you don’t fall prey to marketing tactics and instead use your money on things that truly make you happy.

  10. There are definitely times where nice packaging or displays have beckoned me. Anthropologie is really overwhelming! It’s about the experience, not just going in, grabbing what you need, and leaving. That can be very tempting, but I always have the amount I’m willing to pay for something in mind when shopping. If an item is above that price, I walk away.

  11. I’m sure those companies spend a lot on marketing/advertising and have experts who know how to seduce consumers to go to the store and buy. I don’t really shop much for clothes but I do need some new shirts for work. I have bought things at thrift shops but not clothes. I have to get over that.

    1. I’ve thrifted a bit, but I haven’t bought any clothes there… yet. I just get SO many hand me downs from friends, it’s kind of crazy. I haven’t bought anything in a while.

  12. There are a couple stores, like Williams Sonoma and high end places like that that make me wish I had a nice, pretty apartment with hardwood floors and high end fixtures…but that is so unbelievably far out of my reach that I don’t even entertain the thought. Instead I go home, buy some nice flowers, and clean up my place and appreciate how cute and cozy it is for what it is.

  13. I even get that kind of temptation in Whole Foods. What I try to do is wander around there for a bit, seeing everything beautifully laid out and take note of the things I want to buy. Then I go to those cheap little neighbourhood markets that are always a mess, and hunt through to find the stuff I’d wanted at Whole Foods. Works well! Except….I never seem to be able to leave Whole Foods empty handed. Their cake and cream biscuits are just too darn good (yup, I’m one of those people that goes to the health food store to buy cake. Sigh.)

  14. Having worked in the manufacturing sector for years I learned about the extent of the mark-up over the original cost of production versus wholesale price and MSRP, I’ve become somewhat numb to shopping and I really try to find what I want at the lowest cost available. But some retailers are experts are pure genius at marketing their products and staging their in-store inventory! It is hard to avoid it 🙂

  15. I agree with Mel – it’s all about the “psychology of retail”. I remember a marketing class I took many years ago opened my eyes to all the little tricks retailers/restaurants/etc. do to get you to spend your money. Big box stores and thrift shops can be so overwhelming that you don’t even bother looking around, whereas boutiques and smaller shops highlight fewer items which make them that much more attractive. It’s always good to be aware of them, but it’s so easy to get swept up in the moment, even if you do know better.

    1. I always try to check in with myself and make sure I actually want and need what I’m purchasing. Though I’m sure I’ve been manipulated on occasion. Especially right near the cash register.

  16. I think this is a very important observation Stefanie…the difference between thrift store and buying new. I’m sure it’s not the same for everyone but I’ve never had the desire to impulse buy in a thrift store. I get that often though when buying new.

  17. I totally recognize myself in this – on a bad day walking past the windows of Bloomingdales can make me cry of seeing all that shine and glitter.
    There’s actually a lot of thought after how presentations, colors, scent, lighting and even music affect potential buyers. Shops actually do lure you into buying.

  18. I think one aspect of the retail experience that lures people in is the fact that the stuff is new. At goodwill it’s used and usually not in quite the same condition it was when it was brand new on the shelves at retail stores. I also think sometimes the smells you get at goodwill compared to the fresh new smell at retailers makes consumers want to buy more. I don’t thrift shop often, but it’s more because of a lack of time. I feel like going to a thrift shop is more like going to a garage sale. If I need something specific I know I can find it at a retail store, while thrift stores and garage sales you could spend hours looking around and still not find it.

    1. I think people go into retail stores looking for something specific and then get distracted and tempted into spending more by all the displays.

    2. I agree with you DC. Thrift shops take time. I don’t like malls and shopping so I’m one of those people that likes to go in and get out asap. I think time saving for me is a draw cos I also dont like standing around to test every item to see if it works and it’s fine. But on that note I do think shops are set up to get us to spend more money, which means we have to learn impulse control big time.

  19. I feel hypnotized whenever I walk into the grilling section of Home Depot / Menards / Lowes / any hardware store. Suddenly I feel like I need to revamp and update all my grilling utensils and cooking gadgets. The funny thing is, I usually do better when I’m by myself…I can talk myself down from the ledge….but my wife almost encourages me to buy the stuff. I think she sees the glaze in my eyes and gets hypnotized as well. 🙂

  20. We don’t go shopping that much anymore, for a variety of reasons, but it really can get overwhelming…which is what they want. They don’t want you to stop and think about not needing it, but they want to lure you in by the thought that it can be yours. Thankfully none of the advertising we do with our business is in retail, but those that do have a good reason behind it – because it works on so many. 🙂

  21. AWESOME post! I manage not to be seduced by the glitz of the retail fashion industry mainly because i am not a huge fan of shopping for clothes/accessories; but when it comes to Home depot or Lowes – ooh I really have to work hard to stick to my list!

  22. I totally agree with this one Stefanie! It’s very hard to control the urge of buying at the retail stores especially bags and dress. But since I’m trying to control my spending and save more, every time I go to a mall, I would directly go to the supermarket to avoid being seduced by the display items.

  23. Sometimes I wonder what they put in the air at those places. I can walk into Target even, in the kids’ clothing section, and I really have to talk myself down from buying my kids a whole new wardrobe. 🙂

  24. I have had that experience at Anthropologie, especially. They do a great job at setting up the store to really call your name. I guess that’s why they are so successful. I definitely get sucked into the retail environment sometimes, but I try to avoid shopping in general so I don’t have to do that to myself.

    1. Me too. The best way to avoid temptation is to not put yourself in that situation in the first place. I hardly ever enter traditional retail environments any more. Thank goodness for online shopping!

  25. I am a visual merchandizer by profession and we are the ones who are responsible in doing up the store displays in such a alluring way that people get lured into buying it 😉
    The reason you don’t feel like picking up the old stuff in working condition is a lot to do with how its presented to you at the store.Dropping by from SITS.

  26. O my gosh I totally totally understand this!!! Visiting today from SITSShareFest! Visit me anytime at homemaker-mom

  27. This is why malls are such a dangerous place to be. There are people whose jobs are engineering sights sounds and smells to get you to buy something. It seems nefarious, but their goal is to make a profit and they are doing whatever it takes to get it. Conversely our personal goal is to make a profit as well, and buying shiny stuff that you don’t need is not going to help. Great post.

  28. My advice on avoiding impulse control is to set a constant shopping day to do your shopping during the week and commit to only going to the store on that day to get all you will need for the rest of the week. I really can’t stand malls or food or clothing shopping in a big way, so I go shopping on Friday early morning when everyone is still at work and I have a standard shopping list of household and grocery things so is running low during the week I mark it on the list and just use that. Every quarter I set aside x amount to go clothing shopping, but Im super lucky cos my sister and my cousin are stylists and have boutiques so they gift me with the most awesome clothes from model shoots or series shoots and dont ever have to worry about that.

    1. I always do grocery shopping on an early weekday morning, otherwise it’s a zoo. I really need to be better about making lists for what I need though. Nice to have that stylist connection. I get hand me downs from friends, but they’re nothing too fancy.

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