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7 Ways Stores Manipulate Your Mind

Attention shoppers! You tell yourself you’re “only browsing,” but you leave a shopping trip with a bag full of stuff. How does that happen? Not by accident, that’s for sure. Clothing and department stores know exactly how your brain works, and their aisles and racks are nests of stealthy psychological traps designed to ensnare your unsuspecting mind (and wallet). Here are seven of their favorite tactics (we also have you covered with Your Smart Guide to Holiday Finances).

Circus Mirrors
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Yes, the Skinny Mirror is a real thing. It’s also a California-based company. The premise is pretty simple (and devious): By subtly slimming the appearance of your torso, the Skinny Mirror makes you look about 10 pounds trimmer. Since you look better in whatever you’re trying on, you’re more likely to buy it. How much more likely? About 15 percent more, found a Swedish study.

Blue Cues
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Ikea and Best Buy know what’s up: Shoppers are drawn to blue-hued environments due to the color’s cool, calming effects, finds a study from Arizona State University. The same study found a blue-ish environment also increases purchase rates. (Don't miss The Best Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals!)

Subtle Scents
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The right scent—by evoking pleasant emotions and memories—has the power to persuade, shows a Canadian study in the Journal of Business Research. A couple of examples: Leather and cedar smells nudge you toward expensive furniture items, while floral and citrus aromas keep you browsing longer, experiments have shown. Smell is so powerful that it can make you choose one store over another—even if you actually prefer the merchandise in the outlet that doesn’t smell as nice, the Canadian study claims.

Mood Music
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While classical music screams “luxury” and “affluence”—and so can make high-end items like expensive automobiles and jewelry seem more alluring, the tempo of a store’s tunes are also a big motivator. Fast music pumps you up and increases the likelihood you’ll make impulsive purchases, shows a review study from Western Kentucky University. The same review found age-appropriate music ups your affection for a retails store’s items.

Road Blocks
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The more often you stop, the more likely you are to pick up and consider buying an item, the Western Kentucky review study explains. Retailers know this, and so they create barriers and aisle configurations that force you to pause or change direction often. (Think of the big display tables that confront you the minute you enter most retails shops.) The more a store can slow you down, the more likely you are to grab a product it’s selling, the study suggests. Make sure you're buying the best clothes to flaunt your assets with these 7 Secrets from Top Stylists.

Slick “Sales”
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If you believe you’re getting a deal, you’re a lot more likely to hand over cash for an item (even if you don’t really need it), shows a famous and oft-duplicated marketing paper from France. The ploy is simple but shockingly effective: If a retailer wants to sell you a shirt for $39.99, all they have to do is slap a "sale" sign above it that lists an “original” or “regular” price of $59.99. Most shoppers will feel like they just “saved” $20 by snagging the shirt, the French study shows.

The Power of Three
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When presented with three options at three different price points, you’ll almost always go the middle route, research shows. For example: If you had to choose between a $10 lipstick and a $25 lipstick, most budget-conscious shoppers will grab the less-expensive of the two. But if the retailer also offers a $50 lipstick? Suddenly sales of the $25 cosmetic skyrocket. That third, ultra-expensive option makes the in-between offering—the one the retailer really wants you to buy—seem less expensive but not cheap, studies suggest.

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