Retailer Tricks Can Trap Your Cash: Here Are the Worst Offenders - TheStreet

With St. Patrick's Day and Easter in the rear view mirror, and Mother's Day coming up fast, retailers have plenty of tricks up their sleeves to separate you from your money.

It's up to you to be vigilant, but there is help on the way from Deal News, which ranks the top maneuvers retailers favor to get you to spending money, when you're out hitting the malls and shops or going the digital route.

"Smart shoppers do their research and know exactly what they want, and for how much, before they hit the store," notes Benjamin K. Glaser, features editor at Deal News. "Basically, any attempt to divert you from that plan could be an attempt to get you to buy things you don't need or really want. So if you see a deal on something on your shopping list, go for it and take the savings. But if you start wandering through attractive store displays and get swayed by signs proclaiming discounts on items you hadn't even considered, be wary of the real value."

One predominant way stores get you to dig deep for more dough is to design layouts that "make you buy." The gambit there is to make you pass as many products as possible before you get to a gallon of milk in a grocery store, or screws, nails and bolts at a hardware store.

"The more items you see, the more you're likely to take home," Deal News states.

Or, how about doling out freebies while you're shopping? That's a favorite tactic of big box stores like Costco and BJ's. "While snacking your way through the grocery store can spice up your grocery run, it's another way for retailers to convince you to buy," Deal News adds. "Not only are you checking out new products, but you may also feel obligated to buy something after taking up someone's time."

There's really no shortage of ways retailers can have you digging a little deeper into your pocketbook.

How about per-customer limits to give the impression there's high demand for an item? "Nothing increases demand like scarcity," says Evelyn Romans, founder of the budget website "When stores say, 'limit four per customer,' it gives the impression there's high demand, a limited supply, a low price, or all of the above."

Another favorite tactic - "10 for $10" sales that beg you to fill up on socks, soda or other common items. "Sure, you only need one of an item, but think of how much you'll save by buying none more," Romans adds. "This age-old trick leverages that logic and makes shoppers almost twice as likely to stock up on a product. But there's a secret retailers don't want you to know. You can usually get the same per unit price, even if you only buy one."

Brent Shelton, an analyst at, says one of the most expensive 'add-ons' are extended product or service warranties. "Avoid extended warranty offers, which consumers run into both in-store and online," Shelton advises. "The majority of the time it may not be worth the spending, and there are alternatives that are cheaper, like utilizing Square Trade, or buying certain items with an American Express card, which includes additional warranty coverage on most items."

Most of the time, especially with electronics and computers, if the product is a lemon, you'll know right away and the item is most often covered with the manufacturer's warranty. "Square Trade or AMEX gives you some security on more expensive purchases at a fraction of the cost of the retailers' extended offers," Shelton adds.

Online, retailers can get particularly crafty with the old duck-and-dodge product savings ploys. "A lot of these trick strategies are at the intersection between the psychology of consumerism and the application of Big Data," says Mike Mike Catania, co-founder and chief technology officer at "Fundamentally, these retailers competing online know their prices are compared automatically by third-party sites, so when they don't have the best offer they'll release an offer headlined '60% off' when the full description is '60% off some clearance items.' Since we're headline consumers, we see the 60% and click through to their site even if we already know not everything is going to be 60% off."

Once you're on a shopping site, retailers really open their bag of tricks to keep you active. "f you put something in the cart and try to leave the page, they'll alert you with a message that can contain a coupon if you checkout right now," says Catania.

Alternatively, if you're a known shopper and logged into the system, you might receive an email reminding you things are in your cart, and that if you check out this week, your whole order is 5% off. "All of these enticements are also perfect for helping you forget that you came to the site originally to see what exactly was 60% off," he adds.

Ask a retailer, though, and he'll tell you that pop-up coupons and other discount offers really aren't tricks -- they're conveniences to aid shoppers looking for the best deal. "I've always tried to do my best at avoiding so-called shady tricks to be completely upfront about everything," notes Patrik I. Levai, who runs, an online store that sells hand-made ceramics from Spain to an international customer base. "However, I think some of these tricks are not shady and just aim to make the customer feel more comfortable."

Still, Levai says he sees gambits from other retailers that step over the line between "helpful" and "deceitful."

"Take free shipping -- especially for online stores," he says. "This makes the customer have a similar sense of shopping in-store even from the comfort of their own home."

But here's the trick -- most stores have a minimum order for getting free shipping, like $100. "When the customer is about to check-out and pay, he or she notices the $100 minimum and goes back to buy more items to get over the minimum purchase requirement," Levai says.

One last tip - watch out for so-called "price anchoring."

"Everyone does this, even Amazon," says Allen Walton owner of SpyGuy "They make up a fake 'retail price' and then have a heavily discounted 'sale price.'" 

This makes it seem like the customer is getting a great deal, but that's not the case. "Little does the customer know that the sale price is really the retail price," Walton adds. "Since shoppers are trained to think that sales are short lived, they'll buy now instead of putting it off and risk the sale ending."

With retailers gearing up to make you pay more than you want, always have a plan of action when you do go shopping, especially for big-ticket items.

Make a budget, stick to it, and pass on the "extras" that always seem to drain your wallet.You'll be happily surprised how much money you've saved at the end of the month.