Here’s Why We’re Buying All The Things (And How To Fix That) | Part 1

“I went into the store for 4 things and came out with 12.”

“I was looking for paper towel and ended up with a new shirt.”

“[Insert store name] is my happy place. Going there is like a quick pick-me-up.”


Stores strive to make themselves inviting. And some of them do it really well.

Imagine this: you pull into a parking space and grab a rusty, dirty cart. At least one wheel is probably broken, or has a wad of hair wrapped around it. You push the cart into the store and notice that something has spilled on the floor, and no one has cleaned it up. You pick a few items off a shelf and notice that, like your cart, it’s also rusty. You avoid using the bathroom in the store because you know it will probably be dirty, or missing soap. You just don’t feel very good being there, shopping suddenly feels like a chore, and you try to get out of the store as soon as possible.

This has been my experience almost every time at a certain company’s stores; because of that, I now try to avoid them if at all possible (or use their website). But then there are stores where I have the completely opposite experience, and if I’m not careful, I could end up buying much more there than I intended. Stores that have been described as having “cult-like followings.”

But why is that?

Stores where we buy or spend too much have what I like to call the “Target Phenomenon,” as Target is one of the most popular places where people can easily overspend:

  • Stores will do whatever they can to keep you there as long as possible. Stores with the “Target Phenomenon” do this well. 
    • They have clean(ish) carts, floors, and bathrooms, so we’re not subconsciously feeling like we want to leave the store.
    • It doesn’t have many of the other things on this list, but have you ever noticed that Costco has absolutely no signage telling you what’s in each aisle? I hope that’s just my local one, and that not all of them are like that. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted wandering around in Costco seeing plenty of other interesting things I could buy as I looked for dried fruit.
    • A photo of a “feeding station” at a Texas Target went viral recently. On the surface, this seems like a really thoughtful idea– a nice spot for a mother to stop and feed her hungry baby. The chairs do look more comfortable than the hard benches in the fitting room:Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 2.30.29 AMBut it’s also a very clever marketing idea: “Feeding stations” encourage mothers to stay in the store and sit awhile, surrounded by merchandise that they could buy, rather than sitting in an empty fitting room or going to their car to feed a fussy baby.
  • They have attractive, colorful displays– ever noticed that Trader Joes’ puts all their fresh flowers right at the front door when you walk in?
  • They have “Value Packs” that aren’t always a better value. Stores assume that you won’t do the math, that you’ll just pick the one that says “Value Pack” regardless of whether you’re getting a better deal by buying the item in bulk. I was in the Target diaper aisle recently, staring at the baby wipes display. One particular brand was selling a single pack of baby wipes for .0665 cents per wipe. The “Value Pack” of the same wipes was selling them for (drum roll, please)… 0.0624 cents per wipe. What a deal!
  • They put sale items or a “dollar section” at the front door to draw you in. My grocery store does this all the time- they put huge displays of “Buy One, Get One Free” items just inside the front door, so you’re tempted to stock up as soon as you walk in.
  • Items have pretty or eye-catching labels. Now usually stores don’t have any control over this. But ones like Trader Joe’s do have control; almost everything that TJ’s sells is their own “private label” brand. Just LOOK at this label on their chocolate! Doesn’t it make you feel a little happier just looking at it? Put that same bar of chocolate in a plain wrapper, and you are way less likely to be drawn to it: Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 2.17.18 AM


These are just some of the efforts working against us in our struggle to stick to our shopping lists and make it out of the store without taking half of it with us. And sometimes we buy things without the influence of marketing at all (see my post on that here). But now that you’re aware of some of the strategies that entice us to buy more, what can you do about it? Check back for Part 2 of this post on Wednesday, where I’ll share specific tips on how to avoid buying all the things.


Target photo from, originally posted to Facebook by “Breastfeeding Mama Talk”

Chocolate image from

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Here's Why We're Buying All The Things (Part One)


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