How to Be a Self-Aware Shopper
Companies use all sorts of tricks to get shoppers to spend money. Here are some ways to beat them at their own game.
Check in. Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow says consumers will make better purchasing decisions if they first ask themselves how emotional or anxious they are feeling, and avoid buying in an overly excited mood spurred on by a short-lived sale or stimulating store atmosphere. "Be in charge of your emotions and aware of how you're feeling when you're buying things," she says.
Avoid guilt. "Salespeople create a sense of obligation in consumers," says Yarrow, by offering compliments and refreshments. But you don't have to feel obligated to buy.
Read the fine print. "There has to be discipline on the consumer end," says Paula Courtney, president of the consultancy Verde Group. Check the details of any warranties or contracts before signing them, she says.
Complain. Frustrated customers can be costly to companies, so registering a gripe often inspires them to rectify the situation. Gail McGovern, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, says that dissatisfied customers, who influence not only their friends but millions of potential consumers through popular online forums such as Consumerist.com, generate bad publicity that can lead to high turnover rates, as experienced by the cellphone industry.
Understand the tricks. With retailers using increasingly sophisticated techniques, such as scents and sounds, based on psychological research, consumers might want to know how their minds are being massaged. "Consumers have to understand [psychology], too," Yarrow says, "to keep the game fair."