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How retailers use psychology against you

Our browsing habits tell all. Both online and in-store, retail marketers are watching your every move. Online they plant cookies on your Web browser and then buy ad space from the sites you frequent. That's how the shoes you were eyeing on one site magically appear in the sidebar when you log in to your Facebook account. The more retailers know about your web history, the longer those shoes will follow you.

Beyond this, many brick-and-mortar retailers install smart cameras that track customer movements around the store. Thus, marketers know where to place merchandise to better boost sales.

However, shoppers can use technology to their benefit too. Online tracking can be minimized with web solutions like DuckDuckGo or Ghostery. Further, Nelson recommends smartphone apps like Barcode Scanner or Price Check by Amazon that let shoppers compare prices instantly and find the lowest available price for a particular product.

We're not as rational as we think. What major retailers know, and many consumers do not, is that our external environment plays a huge role in our buying decisions. One recent study at Washington State University found that consumers exposed to one simple scent over another, more complex odor spent 20 percent more money while shopping. It's not just our nose that affects our shopping behavior. We're susceptible to music, language, colors, textures and even merchandise placement.

The best defense against retailers' sensory strategies, according to Nelson, is to shop online. The online experience takes sensory input out of the equation, helping us to make more rational buying decisions.

Loyal customers are profitable customers. All those free retail loyalty programs that you belong to may actually be costing you money. Strategically timed coupons are designed to get you in the store or online, usually just after you've taken a shopping hiatus. When you use a loyalty card, you give a retailer permission to track when and what you buy and how much you usually spend.

According to a recent study published in Scientific Reports, shoppers' behavior is often repetitive when it comes to stores and expenditures, which makes it possible to predict future shopping patterns. For a retailer, these buying patterns are powerful information that, if wielded properly, can tempt many to increase spending.

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