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It’s easy to be lured in by the sale signs and special promotions at a department store, but by the time you leave, you may feel as if you’ve been had. Department stores employ several “tricks” to get customers to spend more — and to the untrained eye, they are not so easy to spot.

“At the end of the day, retailers are just trying to sell stuff,” says Nicole Thompson, who has worked in merchandising positions for Circuit City and the May Department Stores, and now has her own business providing outsourced buying services and retail consulting.

“They are approaching it with some creativity, but they’re also approaching it with some science,” says Paco Underhill, a New York author of the popular book Why We Buy, which details several of the practices used by retailers to improve sales.

Here’s how department stores get customers who planned on only buying one item to walk out with five or six:


There’s a reason why perfume counters are located at the front of a department store: Not only is perfume a moneymaker, but it also smells good.

“That, in part, gets our saliva glands developing, and when we are salivating we are much less disciplined shoppers,” says Underhill.

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