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?

24 thoughts on “Is Shopping a Trick or a Treat?”

  1. I think I have been tempted by all of the above from one time or another sadly. But still reading this though I am just glad to know I am not alone and it isn’t just me at the very least though.So, thanks for compiling this list to let me know that even though I have succumbed to some of this in the past, I am indeed not alone.
    Janine Huldie recently posted…20 Halloween Mason Jar CraftsMy Profile

  2. So many of the people I work with fall prey to trick #4 – you can just return it! But time and time again I see the massive piles of retail goods with the tags still on them or even still in the store bag by the door with nary a chance of making it back to the mall. I read a stat that says if you don’t return an item within 7-days you’re never going to return it and I think that’s true. Don’t fall prey to this “trick!”

    1. That’s a great statistic! That rings so true for me… it is just so easy to procrastinate that task, and then it ends up in a bin. I see that as well, sometimes full boxes of clothing that has never been taken out of the packaging.

  3. Brilliant how the rationalizations we employ lead us into difficult choices. I love that you are creating these questions and thoughts up front so we can use them when we are in shopping mode!

    1. I think it is compelling to realize how powerful our rationalizations can be! We can come up with good reasons to do just about anything. Of course, that doesn’t mean they are valid arguments. Once you see them for what they are, and can acknowledge that you are justifying something that you know may not be wise, you have a better chance of avoiding a poor decision.

  4. I found that if I try something on, I am more likely to only buy it if it looks fabulous on me. By doing this, I find that I only buy what I truly love and will wear. My wardrobe expense reduced to very little by doing it this way.

    The first part of reducing clutter in the home is not bringing stuff into the home. This statement is really simple but it is hard for people to understand.

    1. That statement is the simple truth! Less is really… less! Less to store, less to clean, less to maintain, etc. Trying on is a good idea. That is hard for me, because they often don’t carry my size, and tell me, “You can order it online.” This is a personal frustration, but what can you do? In the grand scheme of things, it is a small problem:)

    1. So smart to ask yourself before you buy! It is so easy to get caught up in the moment or the infomercial and suddenly think, “I’ve gotta have it!” These are the items that tend to be lying around months later.

  5. Hard to believe that I used to shop for fun! I had more money, more time, and less stuff than I do now. I can’t stand shopping now. I’m not opposed to spending money on things I need, but I have so little luck in finding them that I always pre-shop online either at a known website, or on Google Images. If it’s available at a local store I might drive over to get it. But often it’s not. Great questions for shoppers to ask themselves before bringing more stuff home, Seana!
    Hazel Thornton recently posted…Are you too busy to live your life?My Profile

    1. You make a very good point, Hazel. We may find that our penchant for shopping changes over the course of our lives. When we are young, we may be more tempted, either for household furnishings or for clothing for a new career. I, like you, have found that now I am much less tempted. I have moved into a “time to start getting rid of stuff” frame of mind now!

  6. Even though I really don’t like shopping, somehow stuff still ends up in my house. I can’t imagine what it would be like if I did enjoy shopping.

    1. Interesting to see that the comments from most of my organizer friends mention that they don’t really love shopping. Maybe working with clients to clear the clutter helps deter us from developing that hobby!

  7. I love this. I am pretty discerning when it comes to shopping but it can be challenging. I love your points about the marketing of products. This is so true and so subtle that it is easy for people to get caught up in this. What a great post.

    1. Thanks for the affirmation, Kim. When you draw back the curtain of advertising, you realize how vulnerable we really are to the messaging. We aren’t helpless, but we need to be aware and keep our priorities clearly in front of us.

  8. Cassidy would be applauding this post. Especially #4. That one is a true trick.
    I usually go by the thought that if it’s something for ME, I go home and sleep on it. 99% of the time, I forget about it. That 1% in which I can’t stop thinking about it? I buy it.

    1. Sounds like a pretty good system, Tamara! I think that 1% is what you will really love and enjoy. I was always the worst about stuff for my kids… I bought more for them than needed or even wanted. Live and learn:)

  9. Rule #2 is very important to me. In the past, I have spent far too much money on clothes that I said, “Once I lose five more pounds, I can wear this and it will look great.” I cannot tell you how many outfits I’ve sold in garage sales that still had the tags on them. No more!!

    1. If it is any comfort, please know that many clients of mine are in the same boat. I regularly sort through clothing that still has tags. We are vulnerable to the way things look on TV or on the model or mannequin. We basically buy an idea that we want to be our reality. The good news is, it really is just clothing… just stuff. It doesn’t have power. If we don’t want it, move it on, and perhaps be comforted by the idea that someone else will be thrilled to have it!

    1. I think we are sort of “sitting ducks” when I realize all the tools and research being employed to persuade us to by. There are a few stores I simply avoid entering because I know it will hard for me to resist!

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