5 Pricing Tricks You Might Be Falling For Each and Every Time

Your opponent is a giant. Larger than you could ever hope to grow and intent on getting every last dime you have. Your opponent is every retailer in the land. It’s every store you walk into, no matter you intention.  Sure, they do not grab your arm and twist in order to separate you from your hard-earned cash. They are a subtle group that gets you to spend without even knowing that you are being influenced. It’s not just pricing that can get you to spend, but also paint colors on the wall, subtle lighting, and a number of other factors. Today, let’s just focus on the pricing aspect.

There are a number of ways retailers can influence your purchase patterns with just pricing. Look at gas stations for example. You see $2.12 on the sign, but the price is really $2.129 (close enough to $2.13). They just put that little 9/10 in small letters next to the large price. We gauge our interest based on pricing and we let go of our money based on a perceived deal. Here are 5 simple tricks that they use.

Charm Prices

”Charm price” is retail slang for a price that ends in 9, 99, or 95. The idea is to get you to think the item is cheaper than it actually is. It works because people read from left to right. You see the first number in the price and make a decision as to whether the price is acceptable. So, retailers who want $2 for an item essentially get it by asking $1.99. You think you got a bargain and the retailer thinks that you have been tricked into a purchase you may not have made otherwise.

Round Numbers

This one is a play on the charm price scheme. A business wants to make you think that you are affording a more expensive item by rounding the price to the nearest dollar. The idea is that there are no coins involved in the purchase. The underlying point is that if you wonder about pocket change, then you cannot afford the product.

Who wants to carry around coins anyway? They are a hassle and most banks don’t even accept them as deposits. That’s just craziness!!

Ten For Ten

Many stores are offering 10 for $10 deals. The hope is that you will not notice that you do not have to buy all 10 to get the low price, or that you may not notice that the same product in a generic offering is actually cheaper. For this reason, you should always check if the per-unit price is truly contingent on buying multiple units. Often it’s not. This seems to be a big one in grocery stores.

Limits On Purchases

Retailers want to convey to potential customers that a price is so low that they must limit how many each person gets. Additionally, retailers hope that customers will feel as if the item is scarce and they need to stock up. You used to hear this a lot on TV commercials trying to sell you those novelty coins or collective plates: “Limit 10 units per customer.” These days, this tactic seems to be gaining traction online as well, especially in the internet marketing community. For example, you will come across a website that exhorts you: “Buy Now! Only Five Spots Left!” Of course, if you check back two weeks from now, chances are these numbers won’t be different.

BOGO Sales

Buy-one-get-one-half-off deals are a favorite trick at retail outlets. Shoes stores seem to be very fond of this one. The idea is to get you to spend even more because you can get the next pair half off. Actually you could save even more by only buying one pair and going home. You will see these types of deals often. While shoe stores run them on a daily basis, even grocery stores run these deals. People salivate over getting a pair of shoes for 50% off, but if you are buying another pair you didn’t intend, then you are paying more and not saving anything.

If you do fall for any of these pricing tricks, then follow my impulse purchase savings plan. It will help you put more money away after you fall for these pricing tricks. When I do something like this (we’re all human after all), I make sure to stick the money in my Capital One 360 savings account or my Betterment account.

The tricks are so simple a third-grader could spot them, but they are so effective that millions of retailers use them around the world. Your best tool is to comparison shop and take advantage of any price-match guarantees that a retailer may have.

Author Bio: Author Jerry Coffey spent years as a “debtaholic,” struggling to escape a vicious cycle of credit card debt, payday loans, and struggling to make ends meet. Now debt-free, he writes for Repaid.org, a fast-growing personal finance blog.

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  1. My wife constantly falls for 10 for 10. I finally have shown her that most places you do not have to buy all 10 to get the deal. There are a couple places you do and the sign explicitly says that.

    My other favorite is the “Price Cut” sign. It makes people think it is on sale when they are really just lowering the price on the item indefinietly…

    1. My father falls for the 10 for 10. You only have to look at the sign and see if you can get one or two for a cheaper price. I do this all the time with Buy one get one. Some signs say 1st items half price.

    2. Grocery stores are notorious for these “10 for 10” or “5 for 5” offers. Honestly, I didn’t realize that you didn’t have to buy the full 10-count until a friend of mine learned this strategy in a marketing class back in college. Man, I’d been getting hoodwinked for years!

  2. Marketers are good! True that generics are often cheaper than the amazing buy dozens to get one 10% off offer. Here in Guatemala people are using both metric and imperial system, which makes it so hard to compare prices of 250 grams of cheese against a pound, or 32 floz against one liter… Pretty sure they do it on purpose to confuse customers.

    1. Yes they are. I am one and know all about this. Generics are a great buy. I am sorry to hear that you have to deal with different conversions, that must be difficult.

    2. Wow, the combination of metric and imperial measurements has got to be a real pain! That’s just too much math at the grocery store 🙂

      Most of the grocery stores in the US provide a price per ounce or similar, which can help you determine what your most affordable option is.

      1. Yeah, I thought that was crazy as well. If I didn’t have the price break down on the sticker, the grocery trip would take a long time!

  3. Good post! Marketers are smart & they know what they’re doing. Our business is in advertising and I am generally amazed at how they get us to fall for some tactics. I say go generic as much as you can and be an informed consumer, that’s one of the best ways to beat them at their game.

    1. I completely agree John. Though I know what they are doing, I sometimes fall for their tricks. That just means they did a great job!

  4. It’s very easy to make people feel like they’re getting a deal, plus they use our laziness against us. You should always be very sceptical of special deals.

  5. The one I see all the time now is advertisements that scream SAVE up to 75% OFF ON EVERYTHING IN THE STORE, where the ‘up to’ is in small characters and is one-third the size of the rest of the text. People go in believing that every item is 75% off, where in reality, one item could be 75% off and everything else regular price, yet they’re still technically telling the truth.

    1. Great point. This is so true and then people get disappointed. They are not lying, but just covering their behind to make sure they don’t get in trouble for false advertising.

    2. After seeing an ad that is offering up to 75% off I always wonder what happened that allowed a store to discount their prices so much. Why not offer the item at the lower price year-round and help the average Joe out?

      1. There are many things that allow them to discount the product so much. Most of the time they use those as loss-leaders. They don’t use lower prices year-round because it doesn’t bring in people. People love sales and love using coupons. They want to get a “deal”. Look what happened to JC Penny when they decided to do away with sales and went to lower prices. They are losing their shirt right now!

  6. Thanks for the Ten for Ten tip, I was not aware that prices may be independent of quantity of items purchased. This is really tricky! I’ll have to look out for it next time I see ten for ten pricing scheme 🙂

  7. Limits on purchases never work as people will go in and out or simply go to another shop. They can’t possibly track how many shops a customer is going to and how many they aregetting. If we want more we will go get more or the wife will get the limit then I will get the limit. I don’t get involved in those 10 for 10 deals but you are right. Often if you read in small print it may tell you that the prices are $1.00 each but you can get 10 for 10 hahaha.. and people are grabbing them like it’s an amazing deal. Ya, the deal! Great post. Mr.CBB

    1. Haha, so right Mr. CBB. There is no way for stores to really check the amount of purchases per customer, and who would really limit this anyway? And for the 10 for 10 deals, all you have to do is read the small print. As someone said above, it’s really just marketers taking advantage of consumer laziness!

  8. One common thing I see at grocery stores is the 2 for 4 on milk. However, when you go to the store a lot of times people don’t just buy one thing and usually end up buying more stuff because they realize they need something else as well.

  9. Recently I bought 3 packages of English muffins because they were buy 1 get 2 free. BF thought I was nuts (there are only two of us). I froze two packages and we’re using one. When I did the math it was an OK deal (I’ve gotten better prices during sales with a coupon), but it did feel like I was getting a great deal when I bought them. Tricky marketers.

  10. Back when I was into “extreme couponing”, I admit I fell for that whole 10 for 10 thing more times than I care to remember. My husband finally had to explain that I didn’t have to buy 10 for 10 to get the deal 🙂

    1. Yeah, it is simple math, but most people don’t think about it or read the tags to see if you have to purchase 10 in order to get the deal.

  11. People simply do respond to promotions, its a common marketing tactic in the arsenal of retailers. The most creative ones trick the customer into thinking its a great deal, while really its just configured in such a way as to maintain the retailer’s margin.

    Thinking about wants and needs, and asking ourselves if we would buy it if it was full price is a good way to resist such issues.

    1. Yes the do. Most of the time, the prices are slowly increased in order to have large sales without actually saving your much. Some sales that advertise 50% off are probably only 5-10% off the retailers margin.

      1. Exactly, Grayson. I’m reminded of Joseph A. Bank. Whenever you go in there, the suits are discounted 50-70%. Of course no one ever pays the original retail amount – the suits are literally always on sale in some way or another!

  12. On trick that is not mentioned here is all the “gift cards” you get. They are the biggest gimmick ever since almost everyone seems to “forget” about them at one time or another. They also make you spend more since you want to use up all its value.

    1. I assume you are talking about gift cards that retailers give you when you spend a certain amount? If that is the case, then yes, that is also a good one. If you didn’t plan on spending $50, but notice you will get a $10 gift card if you do, then most people will spend the $50.

    2. So true, Brian. Either you forget about the card and never spend it, or you overspend trying to use up the card. This seems to happen even with those Visa gift cards that work like a debit card.

  13. I live in the southwest where tourism is big and “going out of business” sales are a professional marketing strategy. In another lifetime I was in upscale specialty retail and people would come into my store asking if they could get a deal like in the stores that are going out of business. I said “you have to ask how long they have been going out of business and when they will be finished. My prices are “stay in business prices.” The bottom line is people have to be more aware and ask questions.

    1. First, thanks for stopping by and commenting Suzanne. The going out of business sales are big where I am due to the large furniture market here. Each store has a going out of business sale once every few years. It makes me laugh because the prices are not good.

  14. Great advice! I remember the revelation I had when I finally noticed I didn’t have to buy 10 items to get the discount.

    I also heard that charm pricing originated so small shops could keep track of how many items they sold in a day. If there was 60 cents in the register they know that 40 items were sold (obviously before the time of sales tax)

  15. Great post Grayson. Whenever I shop, I first compare prices. Then, after going to each store, I decide which one is my target. That’s the time I haggle or ask my wife to do it. When the sales person declines my offer, I kinda leave the store or say that I am gonna look for cheaper products. Usually, they give in to my offered price. If not, I’d look further. Consumers nowadays should be smarter than them. 😀