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How Stores are Secretly Using Barry Manilow to Rob You:
Key Retail Merchandising Traps & 9 Tips for Consumers to Avoid Them
by Brian W. Vaszily for

Brian VaszilyAbout
Brian Vaszily

Brian Vaszily (pronounced "vay zlee") is a bestselling author, positive change advocate, speaker/organizer and sometimes funny guy whose life mission is to help others explore, experience and enjoy life more intensely while bypassing the traps that would hamper that goal -- particularly unscrupulous marketing and rampant consumerism.

Brian is the founder of, has authored several books including the acclaimed novella Beyond Stone and Steel (see for some reviews), and with over fourteen years of marketing management experience is President of the TopMarketingPro consultancy.

In addition to his How We Get You columns here at SixWise, Brian also leads the popular blog, "The 'Live Deeper' Blog by Brian Vaszily." He has appeared on many TV and radio shows and been quoted in many publications regarding his books, columns, articles and ideas. Brian Vaszily was born and raised in Chicago, growing up on the northwest side in the blue-collar Portage-Cragin neighborhood. Brian and his wife and two children currently reside outside Chicago, Illinois.

The next time you set foot in a retail store of any sort, please state the following:

"I am NOT a hamster."

Saying it aloud is good, but saying it aloud to the cashier or greeter is even better.

Oh, you may be cute like a hamster. You may stuff your cheeks full when you eat. You may even bury yourself under shredded newspaper when you sleep.

But there is no way you can repeatedly be lured through mazes without even being aware of it, like a hamster. There is no way you can constantly be tricked into actions that please others without you even being aware of it, like a hamster.

No, no, no.

Well actually, yes there is.

Actually, you are repeatedly lured through mazes and you are constantly being tricked into actions that please others without being aware of it. Nowhere more so, in fact, than right there in the aisles of those retail stores. That breed of marketers who call themselves merchandisers have seen to that, as you'll read below.

But still, you are NOT a hamster. Because you -- unlike hamsters or any other creature on earth, for that matter -- can make sure you remain conscious of their lures and tricks.

If you need help to stay aware, as most of us do, you can develop some ritual reminder to keep you aware, such as raising an imaginary shield in front of your body every time you walk through the doors of a store, or smearing Vick's vapor rub under your nose whenever you go shopping.

I personally recommend stating "I am NOT a hamster" whenever you enter a store -- and repeating as often as you need to while in the store -- because you'll get a kick out of how other people look at you in a funny way when you say it. But considering how much time and money -- and therefore eventually how much health and happiness -- these lures and traps can suck out of you, do whatever works for you to stay on guard against them.

A Short Tour of the Most Controlled Environment on Earth

Every type of retail store has lures and tricks in place to get you to buy more, More, MORE than you ever intended to when you walked through its doors.

(This is why you must beware of stores -- if you typically shop with your guard down, in a passive mood or a mood to be entertained, plan on amassing a bunch of stuff you don't need. Plan on going deep into debt like the typical American and getting angry and screwing up your relationships and health because of the debt and wondering how it all ever could have happened.)

But few other types of stores have perfected the "merchandising" as well as the giant supermarket chains. One statistic really says it all:

"Supermarkets are places of high impulse buying for both sexes -- fully 60 to 70 percent of purchases there were unplanned, grocery industry studies have shown us," according to Paco Underhill in Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.

Though you should hate that statistic, my brethren in marketing/merchandising cherish it and work hard -- though sneakily -- for it. Disguised as customers, it is standard business for marketers to follow people in stores to assess their habits in response to displays, lighting, packaging, and other marketing tactics. Chain supermarkets will discreetly test many different tactics in dozens of different stores to determine which one works best ... at getting you to buy more, More, MORE.

So -- in order to build your awareness so you are NOT the hamster the marketers want you to be when you're in the maze of their stores -- let's take a brief tour of some key lures and tricks in a typical supermarket.

BEWARE: The bigger the shopping cart, the less it seems you are buying.

Size DOES Matter!

Over the past several decades in the U.S., shopping carts have been super-sized along with portion sizes, houses and clothing. Remember how small the carts were when you were young? The older you are, the smaller you likely remember they were. The reason shopping carts are so big now, and aisles are wider to accommodate them, is that tests have shown that a big cart prompts people to put more stuff in them to buy (a small cart looks more full more quickly.)


Car dealerships have long known the power of smells to promote purchases, which is why many use "new car smell"-scented sprays to enhance the real interior smell of the vehicles on their lot. Supermarkets also understand the power of smells, which is why the bakery section will often be located near the most popular store entrance ... the smell of freshly baked goods makes people hungry, and of course a hungry shopper buys more, More, MORE.

Who hasn't struggled at home to scrub that disgusting cake of wax off of supermarket cucumbers? In addition to extending their shelf life, that wax makes cukes appear a more vibrant green in the produce section. Meanwhile, Red Delicious apples tend to be among the blandest tasting apple variety, but they're still the most popular variety due largely to their bright and pretty red color. Many studies have confirmed that people are drawn to and buy more of vibrantly colored products (of any sort). There is of course an entire science to product packaging that is focused in large part on colors, but even the color of dairy products and meats are "enhanced" through chemical or genetic means because of this color rule.

Beyond the colors of products, extensive testing has also been done on the colors of the walls, floors, fixtures and virtually every other surface inside of chain store to determine which is most "effective." Supermarket store floors are typically kept super-shiny white, for example, because it promotes greater sales -- likely because at a subconscious level people associate it with cleanliness, freshness, and purity.

Positions Please!

The merchandising tactic most people have heard of, but virtually none seem to remember once they're inside the wonderland of retail store, is that the placement of every single product has a reason, and that reason is of course the store's profit. For example:

  • The most profitable products are placed at eye-level ... at the eye-level of the average-height female typically (unless the product is usually purchased by a man, in which case it is at his eye-level). The off-brands with slimmer profit margins are placed way above or below.

  • Merchandisers know how influential children can be in purchases, so in addition to creating packaging with strong appeal to them, the products they want the kids to demand or beg for are definitely placed at their eye-level, and in areas they are forced to linger (candy in the register area is one obvious location, but next time you're in the pharmacy department, note how nearby there are toys or some other products geared toward children on display.)

  • The necessities you went to the store for are way in back, while the unnecessary but dazzling junk you never knew you wanted is all up front. In a supermarket, for example, the milk you actually went there to purchase is located at the back of the store -- and you must pass display after display of tempting items (Oreo cookies that go perfect with that milk, diet pills to assuage the guilt of the Oreo cookies, seasonal items like Mother's Day cards and Halloween candy, etc. etc.) just to get there.

  • The store layout -- the location of each product department in relation to the other departments -- has been carefully studied and planned in order to maximize getting money out of your bank account. There is literally a pattern through their maze that you are being subconsciously pushed through that is proven to result in buying (much) more.

    At bookstores, for example, there is a reason the sports section will lead into the computer books section will lead into the vehicles section -- that is the "testosterone path," the books that men will typically be interested in buying. (This is an emerging "science" in the retail world, though, so watch out ... they're only going to get better at it.)

Oh, the Lovely Muzak

Even the sounds in chain retail environments have been tested to ensure your "optimal shopping experience" (i.e., getting you to buy more than you ever intended to buy.) This includes the positioning of the walls and ceiling and how well noises are absorbed, the sounds the registers and other devices make, and of course the music piped through the speakers.

The marketers in corporate retail chains very carefully control what music will and will not be played; while the details behind this are fascinating, in short there are certain music types that, though you are not consciously listening to it, have been proven to make people more upbeat and prone to spend more, More, MORE. Supermarket chains ought to pay Barry Manilow billions in royalties for all the extra purchases his music playing in the background of their stores has provoked.

You are Really NOT a Hamster:
How to Protect Yourself from Being Treated like One

The tactics above are just a few key examples of the lures and tricks that supermarkets and other retailers employ to get you to buy far more than you need to. But virtually everything you can see, hear, taste, touch or smell in a chain store has been studied and put in place for this purpose ... the workers' uniforms, how they respond to your questions, etc.

They'd Be Smiling Less Without Him

"Supermarket chains ought to pay Barry Manilow billions in royalties for all the extra purchases his music playing in the background of their stores has provoked."

Below are some key steps to protect yourself whenever you walk into any store:

  • Always make a list of what you need before heading to ANY type of store, and commit to sticking to that list

  • Develop a ritual every time you enter any type of retail store that will remind you NOT to get duped into buying anything you didn't need, such as announcing that you are not a hamster. Repeat that ritual as you journey through the store as needed.

  • If there are only a few products on your list, use a small hand-carried basket if they have them available versus a shopping cart

  • Don't try samples. In fact, abstain from interacting with products in any way, unless it was a product on your list. We all know where supposedly innocent tasting and touching can really lead ...

  • Try NOT to ask employees for help -- or be prepared to resist their smiles and your guilty emotions when you do. Studies have shown that the more shopper-employee contacts that take place, the more people end up buying stuff they didn't need to buy. Part of the reason is they feel "obligated" since the employee was so helpful.

  • Don't be tricked into buying something you didn't intend to because it is "on sale" (and definitely don't be fooled by rebates, which are often giant scams). You'll save even more by not buying it at all.

  • Never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. Never go mattress shopping when you're exhausted. Never go puppy shopping when you miss your kids.

  • If you can avoid it, don't take kids or anyone who might get you to buy more than you intended shopping with you.

And one final important piece of advice when you are in any store: purposefully watch for other lures and tricks intended to get you to buy more, More, MORE. Make a game of spotting them, in fact, and if you are with children, have them join in this game of spotting their marketing ploys.

"I spy with my little eye another trick to get me to buy..."

Also Recommended ...

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