Surprising Items Retailers are Secretly Hoping You’ll Buy

As the retail landscape changes, causing some stores to adapt while others descend into bankruptcy, ‘dead inventory’ is a bigger problem than ever. This is unsold merchandise that ends up costing retailers money in more ways than one, and, as trends and technology change, what is flying off the shelves one day may be gathering dust the next. While it can be extremely difficult to predict what will sell and when, there are nonetheless some items that are constant headaches for retailers. The following fifteen items are what stores are most hoping you’ll buy.

1. Tech accessories

Phone charging cables
Charging cables | tongwongboot/iStock/Getty Images

We’re all familiar with the rack by the checkout full of cheap cords, chargers, cases, adapters, and more. It’s always there when we need it, whether we’ve lost our first pair of earphones or our fifth. But consumer loyalty only lasts until the next iPhone comes out with its new, different ports — or lack thereof. Then, all too quickly, the various doodads become obsolete and nearly impossible for retailers to sell. Remember how flip phone cases were made of two separate pieces?

Next: Save the date

2. Calendars

Hands holding a calendar
Calendar| Kwangmoozaa/iStock/Getty Images

Calendars can be found everywhere, from Walmart to your local boutique. Not even the biggest chains can fight the inexorable march of time, though, and with each day that passes in a new year, the odds of selling that year’s calendar drop as more pages become obsolete. Moreover, as personalized photo calendars take a larger slice of the market, traditional ones with pictures of pups in flowerbeds take an even bigger hit. Drastic markdowns and those few optimists who decide in August that the only thing standing between them and a well-organized life is the right calendar are often a store’s only hope for recouping any of their cost.

Next: On Wednesdays we wear pink

3. Trendy clothing

Brooke Burke wearing hammer pants
Hammer pants are a hard trend to pull off | Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Fashion trends come and go but sometimes, for whatever reason, stores just can’t manage to sell certain items no matter how on trend they are. Maybe they’re in a geographic region where that trend never took off, or maybe their clientele is too old, too young, or otherwise a poor fit. However it happens, it leaves a store with a rack of merchandise that not only isn’t making money but it’s taking up valuable retail space from other items that might. When this happens, the store has to decide when to keep trying, and when to cut its losses and return the items to storage or to their supplier.

Next: Five servings a day

4. Precut fruit and veggies

Fruit in a store
Precut fruit | VictorHuang/iStock/Getty Images

Grocery stores have their own specific problems in the retail world, but there are a couple reasons why they want you to buy those trays of precut fruit and veggies. For starters, those items have some of the highest profit margins in the store — sometimes even as high as 40%. On the flip side, though, chopping it up gives the produce a shorter shelf life, which means stores have a narrower window in which to sell before having to throw it out.

Next: Carry on, my wayward son

5. Electric guitars

A group of electric guitars
Electric guitars | studio9/iStock/Getty Images

Electric guitars have seen a significant drop in sales over the last fifteen years as a new generation of musical heroes spin beats instead of strumming them. Ironically, acoustic sales have actually seen a rise in popularity, perhaps indicating an all-or-nothing approach among new musicians: either fully electric, with a turntable and synth, or fully old-school. Regardless of the reason, the drop in electric guitar sales has been the cause of a justified concern among brick-and-mortar music stores.

Next: Tinsel, turkeys, and tombstones

6. Seasonal decor

Pumpkins and fall leaves
Fall decor | anyaivanova/iStock/Getty Images

We can joke about the Christmas decorations that are on the shelves the day after Halloween, but the truth is, stores have a very limited window in which to sell seasonal decor, and if they want to extend it, they can only do so in one direction. While such items may seem more forgiving than calendars since holidays come around every year, hanging onto inventory that long can be costly. Not to mention decor is often big and bulky (think wreaths and giant plastic pumpkins) thus taking up valuable shelf or warehouse space.

Next: They still make those?

7. Blu-rays

Stack of blu-ray cases
Blu-ray cases | danielvfung/iStock/Getty Images

Remember when Blu-rays were the latest and greatest way to watch movies? You don’t? Oh, you must have blinked in the late 2000s. Nonetheless, there are still people buying these discs, which means stores will continue to sell them. Don’t think there isn’t a fair amount of nervous fingernail-biting surrounding it, though. Streaming and video-on-demand continue to cause a decline in DVD and Blu-ray sales and some manufacturers, including Samsung, ceased making Blu-ray players altogether. It’s only a matter of time before the market dies completely.

Next: Give us this day our yesterday’s bread

8. Day old bread

Freshly baked bread and rolls
Bakery items | sergeyryzhov/iStock/Getty Images

Another product that grocery stores and cafes want you to buy are the day-old pastries and loaves of bread. Sure, they’re making a better profit on the fresh stuff, but anything is better than nothing, which is what the dumpster will be giving them for it later. Selling these goods half-price is their last chance to turn a small profit, or sometimes just to break even.

Next: Trick or treat

9. Halloween costumes

Children in Halloween costumes
Halloween costumes | Rawpixel/iStock/Getty Images

Halloween costumes occupy a special place in retailers’ nightmares. While there are certainly some classics that sell every year, a large part of the market is trends that are difficult to predict because they’re based on the whims of seven-year-olds. Will the fifth Harry Potter movie inspire as many Harrys as the first one did?  s Frozen still inspiring Elsas and Olafs, or do we need to let it go? Get it wrong, and you’ll have an aisle full of costumes collecting dust and taking space from the ones that would sell. 

Next: Gotta get those steps

10. Last season’s Fitbit

Fitbits
People wearing Fitbits | Rich Fury/Getty Images for Fitbit

It’s like the day-old bread of electronics. Sure, the store isn’t making as much of a profit on it as it is on the newer models, but they want to get at least some of their money back on their initial purchase and it isn’t getting any fresher. Their ideal customer, of course, is the one who needs the latest product every time, thus keeping old inventory from piling up on their shelves in the first place. When it does, though, the only solution is a heavy discount.

Next: Who thought this was a good idea?

11. Crazy snack flavors

Potato chips in a store
Lays chips | Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images

When grocery stores have contracts with certain big name food brands, they don’t always retain the right to decide which products and flavors to put on their shelves. Instead, the brands themselves determine what the inventory will be.  This means that even if the store employees could have told you nobody who shops there is going to want blue cheese BBQ flavored chips, they’re going to be on the shelves anyway, just taking up space.

Next: Feel free to judge by their covers

12. Books

Books for sale in a store
Books in a store | Cayce Clifford/Bloomberg via Getty Images

While the death of physical books may not be as imminent as it seemed when e-books were first introduced, they’re still in danger from retailers like Amazon and, to a lesser extent, a resurgence of independent bookstores. Book sales in other retail stores, whether big box megastores or small boutiques that may carry only a few shelves’ worth of titles, have still seen a hit. If a book isn’t one of the lucky few chosen by a book club or endorsed by Oprah, the odds of it being picked up anytime soon are low.

Next: To preserve your awkward years forever

13. Picture frames

Picture frame on a table
Empty picture frame | BongkarnThanyakij/iStock/Getty Images

Between photo sharing, Snapchat, Instagram, and even those digital frames that can cycle through 32GB of pictures at a time, what use can there be for an old-fashioned frame that holds only a single photo? Old habits die hard, though, particularly among older generations, and as new services emerge to facilitate the printing of photos from your phone, stores can hope there’s a market yet for these items.

Next: Super size me

14. Regular sized soft drinks

A shopping cart full of Coca-Cola
Bottles of Coca-Cola | Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

No matter what you call it, we all know it’s more economically efficient as the consumer to buy the bigger size, which means it’s less profitable for the store. As American sizes creep up and what was once inconceivably huge is now a ‘medium,’ profit margins are dropping. Cue the two for $4 or three for $5 deals: they’re the easiest way for stores to get rid of all those measly sized bottles.

Next: Can I get your number?

15. Address books

Writing in address book
Man writing in address book | gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images

The ‘little black book’ has gone from a source of intrigue to utterly antiquated in record time. Like calendars, they’re still something you can find on shelves everywhere, where they wait patiently for your phone to die and leave you without a single contact’s number. Then you’ll realize the security they offer, with none of the fickleness of electronics, and the value of writing things down in ink. Right? Sure.