Target has a way of getting us to spend our money on things we didn’t know we needed. Have you ever found yourself at the checkout at Target with way more items in your cart than you planned to pick up? Do you find that your self-control plummets every time you walk into the retailer, creating a dangerous situation for your wallet? If so, you’re not alone! The Target Effect is a very real thing, responsible for impulse purchases and jettisoned, well-intentioned shopping lists all across the country.
But fear not! If you’re trying to rein in your spending, there are thing you can do to beat back the Target Effect. Most importantly, once you know all of the sneaky ways the store gets you to spend more money, you can plan your shopping trips accordingly. Then you just might have a shot at actually going to Target and leaving without buying something you didn’t plan to.
Read on to discover all of the tricks Target employs to part you from your hard-earned coin.
The pleasant environment in Target makes you want to shop more
Let’s face it: Going to Target is just a pleasant experience. It’s brightly lit and usually nice and clean, the red color is stimulating, and everything is arranged in an orderly and organized fashion. Additionally, the customer service is usually excellent, and the selection of items throughout the store is fairly impressive.
Well, that’s by design, as all of those pleasant feelings make you more willing to part with your money, according to Sudeep Bhatia, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. “Emotion and mood are influenced by environmental factors like color, music, lighting,” Bhatia explained in an interview with Philadelphia magazine. “If your emotions are manipulated, then your behavior will also change, influencing what consumers choose.” That explains why items seem to jump into your cart, even though you didn’t go into the store looking for them.
Target makes shopping feel like a treasure hunt
It always feels amazing when you manage to get a good deal at Target, snagging a cute sweater on clearance or a steeply discounted book. It feels kind of like winning a treasure hunt, doesn’t it? That’s a deliberate strategy to get you to spend more money, according to David Gordon, research director at PlanetRetail RNG. “Stock is rotated in and out,” he shared in an interview with Business Insider. This ups your chances of developing FOMO, making you more likely to purchase an item on the spot and less likely to wait for it.
Target also has apps and special programs that allow you to hunt for discounts, making you think you’re saving money left and right, according to former Target corporate employee Joe Hancock, a fashion merchandising professor at Drexel University. “It makes shopping a game,” he revealed in an interview with Philadelphia magazine. “In reality, Target should mark things down at the right price in the first place. Instead, these discounts make you feel like you’re getting a deal when you’re actually not.”
Cross-selling is one of Target's specialties
Have you ever gone to Target to pick up a new piece of furniture and found exactly the tools you needed to assemble it in the same section? Or perhaps during your holiday shopping you were pleased to find tape adjacent to the wrapping paper? If so, that would make perfect sense, as Target is a master at cross-selling, according to Tom Meyvis, a professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “Stores have an idea about the path [shoppers take],” he explained in an interview with Refinery29. “Walmart was once famous for doing things like putting like Band-Aids next to fishing hooks and things like that. Something you don’t naturally associate, but once you see them there, it makes sense.”
This kind of tactic is a great way to get shoppers to spend more money than they anticipated. “So when people come in for something in one category, you can cross-sell,” Meyvis continued. “You can sell them something that compliments in the next product category by making sure they’re right next to each other.” Genius!
Target uses "psychological pricing"
One thing that Target does that the store is definitely not alone in doing is using “psychological pricing” to make you think an item costs less than it does. That’s why the cute pair of shoes is priced at $49.99 instead of $50.00, and the laundry detergent is $9.99 instead of $10.00. That could certainly throw a wrench into how quickly and accurately you can calculate how much you’re spending.
But does that technique really work, tricking shoppers into thinking something is cheaper than it actually is? Yes, according to Kevin Chapman, a licensed clinical psychologist. “They give you the impression that you’re getting a deal,” he revealed in an interview with NBC News. “Because it has a 9 on the end of it it appears to be on sale, so how could you pass it up?”
Couple that with the fact that you probably already expect to see decent prices at Target, and you can see why it’s so easy to spend a huge chunk of change at the retailer.
Worried about space in the car? Don't worry. Target will have it delivered
If you live in the suburbs or the country, chances are you have no problem moving your Target haul from the store and into the trunk of your car. That means you’re not restricted by the amount of space you have or by how much you can carry on your own, making it easier to part with your money.
But if you’re a city mouse, you’re less likely to have a car, which means you can’t bring a giant Target purchase home without struggling on the subway. That is, unless you live in New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C., or San Francisco, as, in those metropolitan areas, Target is happy to bring your items home for you, according to their website. That’s right, you can shop in store to your heart’s content, and they’ll send it all home later via delivery.
There's a reason the grocery carts at Target are so large
When you make the decision to go on a Target run to pick up a few things, you already know what the pricing is going to be like and are comfortable enough with the brand to trust that they won’t fleece you, according to Tom Meyvis, a marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “Target and Walmart and a lot of these places have kind of established themselves as places you can go where you pretty much know you’re going to get a good deal, that things aren’t going to be so expensive,” he shared in an interview with Refinery29. “So people sort of treat it like the grocery store, where they’re just putting stuff in their cart.” Raise your hand if you’re guilty!
Speaking of carts, you might have noticed that the shopping carts at Target are larger than carts elsewhere. You weren’t imagining it, as they are in fact about a third larger than a standard cart, according to ABC Action News. And that big cart just encourages you to fill it up — no wonder it’s so easy to spend money in there!
Target doesn't feel like Walmart for a reason
Target and Walmart may be go-to places for the savvy shopper on a budget, but that doesn’t mean that the stores are the same in every other way. For one, Walmart isn’t concerned with making its merchandise pass as luxury items, according to Joe Hancock, a professor of fashion merchandising at Drexel and a former Target corporate employee. “Walmart’s [philosophy] is ‘stack it high and let it fly,'” he explained in an interview with Philadelphia magazine. “That’s what places like H&M, Uniqlo are all about.”
Conversely, Target makes a concerted effort to merchandise its inventory in a manner that makes it seem a little bit shinier. “Target likes to borrow strategies of higher-end retailers like Nordstrom,” he continued. “You don’t see 50 t-shirts in Target stacked; it’s only a few in every size. It creates the notion that it’s a specialty item, giving you the impulse is to buy it because it makes you think that it’s more special than it really is.” He added that the tech sections in newer Target stores look like an Apple store quite deliberately.
Target is always stocked up on seasonal items
Do you love going all out on Halloween, turning your front yard into a ghoulish scene with lots of macabre decorations? Are you the same way when the holidays come around, making sure you have a new seasonal wreath for the door and lots of shiny ornaments for your Christmas tree? If so, there’s a good chance that you make an annual pilgrimage to Target to scope out that year’s seasonal inventory, according to Ioli Macridi, a research analyst at PlanetRetail RNG. “Target is a seasonal leader,” Macridi revealed in an interview with Business Insider.
But what you might not know is that Target strategically places its seasonal items in a specific place to get you to spend more money. That’s why you tend to find them at the rear of the store, which means you have to walk the entire space of Target in order to get to the holiday stuff. That, in turn, means you’re more likely to see additional items that you didn’t come for and might pick up a few things on your way to the wrapping paper.
There's a reason you can grab a bite to eat at Target
Aficionados of Target know that in most stores you’re going to be able to buy something to eat or drink either before or after you start shopping, usually at Starbucks. That’s part of a greater trend in retail, where stores are increasingly providing space for customers to come in and grab a cup, according to Business Insider. Chances are if you can get a bite to eat or something to drink, you’re more likely to stay at the store for a longer time, too, as you won’t need to leave to do so.
Additionally, since Target executives know people like to get coffee and stroll through the aisles, they’re merchandising accordingly, according to Joe Perdew, Target’s vice president of store design. “We know that some guests want to grab a coffee at Starbucks and explore the aisles,” he shared in an interview with Refinery29. “So we’ve added features like dynamic product vignettes throughout the store that help guests envision how things will fit into their lives.” And if you can see how it would look at home and love it, presto — sale made.
Dollar deals at the front of the store can seem irresistible
One of the most entertaining sections at Target is the Bullseye’s Playground, formally known as The One Spot. According to their corporate website, the Bullseye’s Playground, so named for the dog that serves as Target’s mascot, is the “grab-and-go mecca at the front of Target stores known for killer dollar deals.” Everything in that section is priced between $1 and $5, making it an affordable place to browse and buy.
Of course, there’s a reason Target has such a section, according to Business Insider. The Bullseye’s Playground is conveniently located at the front of the store adjacent to the checkout section, giving you one final opportunity to fill up your cart before paying. And given that the majority of products in this section are seasonal items, special promotions, or somehow tied to the location of the store, there’s a good chance you weren’t planning to purchase them when you came in. Talk about sneaky!
Target collaborates with high-end designers
Another thing that Target does to both snag more of your income and separate itself from Walmart is pair up with luxury designers to create collaborative products that they can sell in their stores, such as mass-produced Hunter rain boots. According to Mark Tritton, Target’s chief merchandising officer, the reason for this is to provide loyal customers with the chance to acquire designer items at a fraction of the cost. “These collaborations give our guests the opportunity to get their hands on incredible design at an affordable price,” he explained in an interview with The Washington Post. “With each partnership, whether it be with a designer or brand, we want it to feel unique and special.”
But according to Sucharita Kodali, an analyst for market research firm Forrester, Target has an ulterior motive for working with brand-name bigwigs. “These types of lines actually drive little in sales, but the real win is to drive people to stores and have them buy everything else they need,” Kodali explained. “It’s perfect for Target.”
Target spends a lot of money on marketing
Have you ever gone to Target and had the sudden “I never knew I needed this but I totally do” feeling? Of course you have, if you’re a regular patron of the big box retailer. But make no mistake about it: There’s nothing random about that moment, according to David Loranger, a retail and consumer behavior lecturer at Philadelphia University. “They look at who you are tangibly (how much money you make, your gender, where you live, do you have a family) and psychographically (your hobbies, lifestyle, ethics),” he revealed in an interview with Philadelphia magazine. “And mix their product, price, place and promotion in various combinations that resonate with who you are as a person.” Forget sneaky — that’s just creepy!
So how exactly does Target figure out how to sell you exactly what you didn’t know you needed? They conduct focus groups, analyze metadata, and sort through oodles of demographic information, all to part you from your cold hard cash. And while that has to cost a lot of money to finance, it’s obviously worth it when you and everyone else spend more than you planned to at the checkout.
Does Target curate your audio experience?
For a long time, when you went shopping at Target you wouldn’t hear any piped-in music, something the corporation did to prevent shoppers from getting distracted. The thinking is that without music to keep your mind occupied, you’re more likely to get lost in the shopping, and, in all likelihood, buying more things than you need.
But by the end of 2017, dozens of remodeled Target locations began playing music, likely to enhance the aesthetics of their stores, according to Minneapolis Marcus & Millichap vice president of investment Matt Hazelton. “Everybody is looking for a way to make the customer experience more enjoyable because it’s becoming less and less about the products and more about the experience,” he shared in an interview with the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. “Back in the past with indoor malls there was a mentality with you don’t want to distract people. You wanted them to focus on shopping.”
So whether your local Target is silent or playing a carefully curated playlist, by design they’re trying to squeeze every last dollar out of you.
Target is a fast fashion pioneer
If there’s one thing that Target can definitely lay claim to, it’s that it’s the OG of fast fashion. Before there were H&M and Zara stores seemingly on every corner, Target was mass producing cheap clothing with a lower price point, according to retail analyst Lori Wachs. “Fast fashion is where everything went,” she explained in an interview with Philadelphia magazine. “But these guys were really ahead of the curve.”
According to Forbes, Target revolutionized the retail industry with this move, and found a whole new way to part customers from their money. But in light of the revelations that fast fashion is horrible for the environment, many customers are becoming more discerning about what they buy. That’s likely why in late 2018, Target signed onto the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, according to their corporate website. They pledge to reduce carbon emissions, use sustainable materials, and reduce waste — which might be enough for fast fashion connoisseurs to continue shopping at Target, guilt-free.
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