When I was younger, I worked at a small department store in North Dakota. It was my first job actually. I remember, specifically, my first day stocking soda in the fridge.
At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I headed over to the refrigerated case and started loading cans into the empty rows.
Before I got too far in the job, the manager who hired me walked up and gave me more detailed instructions, “When you stock shelves, always put the label facing out. It looks nicer and neater, and customers are more likely to buy if they can see the name of the product.”
It was a simple selling technique. So simple, that even a first-day, minimum-wage, high school student could figure it out. And yet, it was designed for one reason: to make a sale.
Earlier this week, I happened to walk past a large clothing store. On the window of the store, in as large a print as possible, the store was advertising their semi-annual clearance sale (60% off every item in the store).
When I entered another store down the street, I was immediately met with soft music and shelves upon shelves of color-matched items with smaller signs announcing the sale price on each of them.
And I was reminded, in that moment, almost everything in this world is designed to sell you something. From the smallest detail to the highest executive decision, stores are designed to part you with your money.
No detail is overlooked.
The signage on the outside and the inside of the building—designed to get you to buy.
The original price, the sale price, the limited time offer—designed to get you to buy.
The smells, the sounds, the colors, the free samples —designed to get you to buy.
The items placed at eye level, the items displayed on mannequins, the items placed at the very back of the grocery store—all designed intentionally to get you to buy. Even the exact layout of your local mall.
The brand credit card, the rewards card, the loyalty punch card—designed to get you to buy.
The payment options, the financing, the warranty—designed to get you to buy.
And the list continues.
Even worse, these strategies are utilized by far more than retail brick-and mortar stores. Restaurants use them. Grocery stores use them. Gas stations, service technicians, your favorite sports team, podcasts, streaming services, even your favorite free-to-download app.
As do websites of every size. Just yesterday I received several emails inviting me to attend a webinar on “Amazing One-Hour Webinar on the Small Tweaks your Website Needs to Become a Money-Making Machine.” Something tells me even that webinar intended to sell me something.
Everywhere we go, it seems, is designed to sell us something and get us to part with our money.
I fear, however, we don’t even need to enter these stores to be bombarded with their strategies anymore.
Billboards, junk mail, and email newsletters contribute volume to the already noisy world of ads we see every day. Each designed to encourage your purchase… or get you in their store where their other sales techniques can further the work and persuasion.
There are some practical steps we can take to be sold to less, such as not walk into these stores unless necessary I suppose.
But we’re never going to avoid it altogether—and we’re probably not going to change society to the point where this no longer exists.
However, we can become more aware of it. We can get better at recognizing when it is happening. And we can learn the tactics retailers employ to sell us something so we don’t fall so easily into the temptation.
In so doing, we can keep some of that money around for more important pursuits than buying stuff we don’t need.