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Blog: Stop pushing me to spend more at the till!

More and more retailers seem to be hassling customers to make last-minute, impulse purchases. This annoying practice has to stop, says Sue Hayward.

Cashier and shopper at till checkout

When did paying for goods become such an ordeal?

Why can't shops can't just pop your purchases in a bag, take your money and send you on our way?

Is it just me?

It seems that every shop I go into, from Superdrug to Smiths, I'm faced with a mini market at the till and pestered with "special offers" on chocolate, or to buy stamps or mobile top-ups?

Just let me pay and go

My pet hate has to be WH Smith, where staff seem to have an entire shopping list to rattle through before they'll let you get around to paying for your paper.

And don't think you can escape by jumping the queue and whizzing your purchases through its automated tills: these too seem programmed to flag up special offers on screen.

The Post Office isn't far behind Smiths in my opinion either, following a recent visit where I nipped in to renew my daughter's passport.

What seemed to start out as a friendly bit of banter about holidays rapidly turned into a sales pitch from the other side of the counter, with travel insurancecredit cards and currency all pushed in my direction.

I just don't want it!

Leave the kids alone

Now I think I'm tough enough to say no in these situations, but it's hard when shops try and sell to your children.

When my daughter was younger, Claire's accessories stores were a nightmare: full of sparkling hair slides and brightly coloured lipgloss, they were designed to appeal to smaller shoppers.

Yes they do have some lovely products, but what got me was that staff persistently tried to push more stuff at the till, even directly offering it to my young daughter on occasions.

It got to the point where I would boycott the store because shopping there proved such a pain.

Is this really a 'free' gift?

Bargain tagIt's not always about buying extras either: we shoppers are often encouraged to spend more with the promise of a free gift.

In the Body Shop last week I spent £10, but the smiley assistant was very keen that I spend another £8 as this meant I'd get a "free" goodie bag.

So, doing the maths, that would mean I'd actually fork out £8 to get that free bag?

Why do stores hassle us this way?

"Pushing products like this is known as 'cross selling' and it's an opportunity for stores to boost sales," says Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, consumer and business psychologist at University College London.

Upselling & cross selling gone wrong

"It can work, but if it's badly done customers become disengaged and you lose them."

This typically happens if there's pressure on staff to sell the same old products. 

Staff go into automatic pilot mode and reel off the list: customers spot this and get irritated by it which means they're less likely to buy.

"The trick for the retailer is to diversify by introducing the consumer to new products, which is more likely to catch your attention."

Till queues 'weaken willpower'

"Wait in a queue and willpower goes out the window," says psychologist Jessica Chivers.

"Willpower is like a muscle: it gets tired and our resolve weakens. So if we're offered some low cost 'treats', we're more likely to buy."

But even for those of us who are more easily tempted, Tsivrikos says there's still a cash cut-off point for this impromptu spending.

"It's around £3 for impulse purchases," he says. Anything over this and we're likely to consider it a more serious purchase which means we may hold back and the shops will lose out.

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Sue Hayward

Carl Chambers

Sue Hayward is a personal finance broadcaster, journalist and author. Sue talks and writes on money matters including chatting on BBC Radio & TV as well as contributing to magazines, websites and newspapers. Sue's also written two books; the latest of which is 'How To Get The Best Deal'.

View more from Sue



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