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13 Secret Tactics of Marketers

The little known secrets of stealth marketers

1. Don’t fall for prices ending in 9, 99, or 95.

These so-called charm prices make us think they reflect good deals, author William Poundstone tells Sonya Sobieski of Psychology Today. We also tend to round them down, reading a price like $5.99 as $5, a phenomenon known as the left-digit effect. Poundstone, the author of Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It), also notes that markdowns don’t often include these magic numbers. That’s because when the discount is easy to calculate, we think it’s a better bargain. Thus “Originally $20, now $15” works better than “Originally $20, now $13.97.” You’ll be more tempted to go with the former, even though the latter saves you more.

2. Steer clear of 99-cent stores.

Not only are they loaded with charm-priced items, obviously, but they have a profit margin twice that of Walmart, Poundstone reveals. One exception: if you live alone or have a small family, reports These stores often sell pint-size packages of food, allowing those who consume less to avoid waste.

3. You can expect to pay a premium if you’re a lazy shopper.

From Dairy Queen to Starbucks, many food retailers have begun selling mini-size treats at prices that hardly make them a good value, notes USA Today. They know that many people would rather be seen as virtuous — eating fewer calories than a normal portion contains — than thrifty and that they’re willing to spend more if they don’t have to actually dole out those portions themselves.

4. Note the missing dollar signs.

According to a Cornell University study quoted at, diners spent much less when menus used the word dollars or the dollar sign than when only numerals were used to indicate price.

5. Know you’re being tracked.

If you use a store loyalty card, your buying habits are being recorded and often used to lure you to buy more. According to the New York Times, retailers these days are successfully tricking consumers into spending more by determining their spending “sweet spot,” based on previous purchases. So three 12-packs of Pepsi are marked at $12.99 at Stop & Shop because the grocer knows you’ll buy at that price, even if you don’t need it.

6. Understand how certain phrases are used by retailers.

“For a limited time only” creates a sense of urgency, Yale marketing professor Ravi Dhar tells And retail analyst Amy Noblin theorizes in USA Today that the come-on “Buy one, get one 50 percent off” incites more people to buy than if the sign read simply “25 percent off everything.”

7. See per-customer limits for what they are: a ploy.

As Vicki Morwitz of New York University’s Stern School of Business explains to cbsmoney, “[People] think, ‘Oh, this is scarce, I should buy this,’ ” when it’s probably not.

8. Beware “bundled” services.

Phone companies lump everything together for a single price — text, talk, web service — because they figure you won’t read the fine print and realize you’re paying more than you should for each, Poundstone says.

9. Beware new packaging.

Check the ounces on that newly packaged bottle of your shampoo, and you may find you’re paying the same for less, says Poundstone. One way manufacturers hide this? A big dimple in the bottom of the container.

10. Watch out for bogus “bargains.”

If a retailer displays a cut-rate model that’s clearly inferior to the one he wants you to buy, he’s trying to influence you, says Poundstone.

11. Look at what’s displayed with what.

Research has turned up some very specific data on product adjacency that retailers use to get you to buy more, writes Martin Lindstrom in his new book, Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy. If you see prepaid calling cards set up next to the coconuts, assume it’s for a reason. One grocery chain found that buyers of the former tended to buy the latter (because people who cook with coconuts tend to be from Asia or the Caribbean).

12. Don’t try on clothes you don’t need.

A shopper who stops to chat with a store employee and tries something on is twice as likely to buy as a shopper who does neither, Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, tells

13. If you’re a guy, shop alone.

According to a Journal of Marketing Research study reported by, a full 56 percent of men shell out more if they hit the mall with a friend as compared with women, 4 percent of whom actually racked up bigger receipts when going solo. That’s because when men shop, they like to show off their knowledge and status via their purchases.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest