Everyone who's ever been in a clothes shop knows the feeling: you walk in needing jeans, you come out with four dresses, a pair of socks and a cushion in the shape of an owl (thanks Primark). But what psychological tricks do these places use to get you reaching into your purse and out the door holding four bags of stuff you never realised you needed?
Style psychologist Kate Nightingale knows the dark arts behind the shopping, but it's not quite as simple as it seems. 'If you wanted to cover this properly, you'd have to write a whole series of novels,' she laughs. 'But if you manage to lay out all the atmospherics, and you've got all the senses covered, then you're going to have the basics. The bottom line is that they want you to stay in the store for as long as possible, because the longer you stay - the more you're going to spend.'
Some of these cunning plans you'll have noticed, some you definitely won't have, but be warned: the moment you know what they're doing, it'll stop working. 'People have to be unaware of these effects because as soon as they become aware, the effect is diminishing or making you pissed off,' she explains. Sort of like how, when you going into certain flagship stores, you can get lost and have no idea how to get out, forcing you to wander around way more products than if you had exited immediately.
But what are these basic stunts the brands pull to make you shop til your bank balance drops into the red?
**The Flooring **
Oh yes, the ground under your feet is unknowingly leading you exactly where the store wants you to go, and it's all about surface texture. 'Simple changes in surface of the flooring creates a pathway that's different to where you have the hangers for the clothing. That'll direct you around the pathway so they can actually look at the items,' says Kate. 'With Topshop, for example, you can clearly see the texture of their boutique sections are different, so you feel like it's a more VIP space. The pathways are designed to weave around the displays so you go to all the places they want you to.' Flooring is also used when there's a structural issue, like a big pillar that blocks off a part of the store, or escalators right in the entrance which would ordinarily stop you in your shopping tracks - you'll see they weave around them, subconsciously leading you past the blockage and deeper into the fashion.
Strip lighting is used to cut cost corners, but Kate points out that lighting is also used to draw you to parts of the store you wouldn't ordinarily notice. 'Anything that's going to be flashy or generally slightly attracting attention, you're going to be naturally drawn into it and any merchandise around it, you'll feel is more important somehow. Certain pieces may have a neon sign above it which would attract you.' But what about the changing rooms? There must be a reason for the downlighting that makes you look like a sad, nude cartoon of a gross person!
'That's just bad design, they don't listen to women!' Kate says. 'If you go to really good stores, the lighting in changing rooms is good. If you go to normal stores, and even middle of the range, they use LEDs to save them energy but haven't thought about how much more business they'd get if we looked good while trying on the clothes!'
There are millions of studies done on what audio does to our buying power - but Kate gives us the rundown. 'Different tempos, genre and volume of the music being used affects us completely outside of our awareness. And it depends wholly on the brand, and what sort of person they're trying to attract - faster tempo in a store for younger girls is going to make them happy and excited so they'll spend more money and will feel like they spent longer in the store,' she explains. 'Even if they haven't actually spent that long, the point is that they'll associate the space with feeling happy and excited, and remember spending a long time there so are more likely to come back and spend more money.' God that's wily.
**The Smell **
The upmarket stores will genuinely use different scents to influence you - there are some smells which work better with females, and some with males, and it's proven to increase spending. For example, the smell of Pina Colada is proven to make adults buy more stuff in toy shops, and pumping coffee scents into cafes increases coffee sales by 300 per cent - but what about clothes? 'There are studies that have been done that show, when feminine scents weren't present in womens' fashion stores, and they'd used a male fragance, the sales and satisfaction went down. And it works vice versa - I think the female scent was vanilla, and the male was rose maroc,' Kate says. 'It's not as simple as "Lavender will make you buy this or that" but if a brand wants to appeal to a particular type of consumer, then they can use a fragrance to match. Fresh, clean fragrances for fresh, clean styles or more exciting ones for products that push boundaries.'
**The Escalator Trick **
The whole 'let's make sure you have to go to the other end of the store to go up another level' is a great example of something we all know about, so are really pissed off when it happens. 'If you look a few years ago, Selfridges used to do this. But now they don't, because we've worked it out and it annoys us,' Kate says. 'We associate the escalator trick with lower price stores and discount places.' We won't mention any names, but you know who you are, and you know how irritated it makes us. So stop it.
The Product Placement
Whether it's better lighting on certain products, or forcing you to physically walk into them - where an item of clothing goes greatly affects how likely we are to buy it. 'Brands will put some products lower or higher on the shelves to make you not look so closely at them because they're more standard, and they'll place the products they want to get more attention in the centre of the floor at an eye level,' Kate explains. 'One trick is to put products around some sort of installation or artwork to, again, get your attention and they'll make you accidentally bump into them, too. All the time, you'll have no idea it was intentional.'
Putting Pictures On The Hangers
Clever little shop, you've shown me exactly what it'll look like on - and also the sort of stuff I could wear with it, all of which you stock. 'This helps a lot of people to imagine what they'll do with it, what they can put with it, and it definitely improves sales. A lot of us have trouble visualising how can we use it and how it'll actually look. Plus, it's no coincidence that they tend to group the clothes seasonally so they're surrounded by coats and jackets and tops that'll go perfectly.' Ever noticed that, when you buy an outfit, you're quite likely to find both pieces fairly close to each other? No, it's not a coincidence.
**The Tills **
Aside from the obvious ploy of putting interesting, cheap and useful things around the queuing area (which totally works, by the way, and why we always end up adding 'hair bobbles' and 'socks' to our final haul), the more luxury brands will make less of a big deal about the tills. And the higher you go, the more likely it is you'll never even see one on the shop floor. 'It's to remind you that you didn't come here to spend money, just in case you start thinking "I am spending what I can't afford!". They want you to really concentrate on the value of the product, and the beauty of the lifestyle it brings rather than the money,' Kate explains. 'Sometimes the tills are closed off with actual partitions, so you don't go there until the sales assistant takes you to pay.'
While this is just clothes psychology for absolute beginners, we guarantee you'll be unable to stop noticing all this stuff the next time you nip into buy a party dress after work. But the good news? Now you know, you won't be as affect by it. Knowledge is power, people.
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Picture: Eugenia Loli
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.