Is Shopping a Trick or a Treat?

deceptive devil


As Halloween nears, many children are looking forward to trick or treating. Generally, this involves dressing up in a costume and going door to door in pursuit of free candy and/or small toys. While we may not trick or treat, most adults regularly engage in a different kind of acquisition activity: shopping.

In simple terms, shopping means the process by which we acquire goods. Some people avoid this activity, while others consider it a primary means of recreation. While shopping can be a lot of fun, anytime we bring new items into our living space it can have unintended consequences. For kids at Halloween, this might be a stomachache, a fight over candy or even a cavity. For adults, reckless shopping can result in wasted money, congested spaces and regret.

Whether you are shopping in a store, via the television or on the Internet, it is important to remember that expert marketers are trying to get you to purchase their products. It is their job to study human behavior and then use this knowledge to influence your decision-making. Words, colors, images, celebrity endorsements, online targeting and special offers are all techniques used to make people buy.

Admittedly, we all need food to eat, clothing to wear, tools with which to work/study, etc. Nevertheless, a shopping experience can easily go sour. To avoid a bad outcome, the next time you browse imagine a little “devil” on your shoulder, whispering these tricky lies into your ear. Calling them out for the deceptions they are is one way to guard against being sucked into a poor choice.


Trick #1: “You need this.”

This is one of the most obvious, and yet most seductive, mistruths. At one time or another, almost all of us have fallen prey to a persuasive ad, display or salesperson and brought home an item we did not need.

There are a couple ways to avoid this situation. The first is to shop with a list. This way, you have decided in advance what you actually need. If/when you find yourself thinking you need something only after you’ve arrived in the store, turned on the TV or clicked through to the ad, the best course of action is to delay; make yourself wait at least 24 hours. The product will still be there tomorrow or next week, and if it isn’t, you probably didn’t need it and the marketer was using an artificial time limit to get you to buy now.


Trick #2: “You will like it more once you start wearing/using it.”

Often, we have a lukewarm feeling about an object or piece of clothing, but go ahead and buy it with the rationalization that we will like it more once we get it home. Generally speaking, this isn’t going to happen. Remember, in the store or advertisement, the product is being showcased in its best possible light: pillows are on a beautifully made bed, clothing is hanging on a perfectly-sized model, product features are being discussed by beautiful spokespeople, samples are being given out at lunchtime, etc.

My general rule of thumb is to only buy something if you love it. You will probably like it most when you are in the store, so if you don’t love it there, let it go.


Trick #3: “You will figure out where to put it once you get home.”

With the exception of furniture and appliances, most people don’t give any thought to where they will store items until after they bring them home. When we are shopping, we are thinking things like how good we look in the sweater, how much better we could play with that new club or how handy it would be to have that immersion blender. Unfortunately, our available storage capacity is static. We all rent or own a limited number of square feet, and anything we buy will consume some portion of them.

When you find yourself attracted to an item, take a pause and consider where you can keep it. Will it fit in your closet or drawers? Will you need to give a current belonging away in order to house the new item? Do I need to let something go in order to accommodate it? Always clear the space before bringing the new item in. That way, you will be able to immediately put the new piece away, instead of stashing it, shoving it or sticking it somewhere temporarily until you can figure out where to keep it.


Trick #4: “If you don’t like it, you will just return it.”

Especially when it comes to online ordering, one of the most tempting aspects of the sales pitch is the guarantee that you can easily return it if you don’t like it. In theory, this is wonderful. In reality, many of us fail to complete the return. The time required to repack a box, find a receipt, print a label, make the trip to the post office or even just drive back to the store can be just enough of a hurdle to keep us from carrying through. The added restrictions of limited time windows or “for store credit only” policies can also deter us from making a return. Merchants know this, and therefore make the offer knowing that many people will never take the time to send purchases back.

The “100% satisfaction” guarantee has its place, but it should never be used to justify an unwise purchase.


Trick #5: “You might need this.”

As I said earlier, retailers are smart. They will tell whatever story they believe will make you offer up your money. One of their most effective marketing tools is fear. Watch late night TV and you may become convinced that you need to buy all kinds of products to hedge against possible eventualities.

I am a believer in preparedness, but there are limits. Before you spend your hard-earned money, take some time to evaluate the risks and benefits of the product being sold. Most of what we buy (and own) should be to meet our current and tangible needs.


Trick #6: “This will be a wise investment.”

If there is one thing I’ve learned working as a professional organizer, it is that markets are fickle. What was costly to acquire and considered valuable 40 years ago may today be little more than a cheap trinket. Fashion, changing times and changing living habits mean that we can never really know what value any item will have in the future.

The best reason to buy anything is because we love it and want to use it in our life today. If it ends up increasing in value in the future, that is a lucky benefit. If not, it will at least have given you pleasure and functionality while you have owned it.

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Which of these devilish lies are you most tempted to believe?