This Is Exactly How Target Tricks You Into Spending So Much Money

We’ve all been there: You quickly run to Target for laundry detergent and toothpaste only to emerge two hours later, blinking and dumbfounded, with a cart packed full of stuff you don’t remember choosing and $300 less in your bank account.

This phenomenon is hardly uncommon and it’s exactly what the Target marketing department wants to happen. The so-called “Target effect” can happen at other stores, too, but Target is notorious for encouraging shoppers to spend more than they want on items they don’t need. They’ve even achieved the holy grail of retail: often, people (especially women) will go to Target with no specific item in mind. One popular meme says, “You don’t go to Target because you need something. You go to Target and Target tells you what you need.”

So how do they do it? How is Target so good at converting shoppers into buyers? And how can budget-conscious shoppers resist the many temptations? Read on to find out.

They encourage you to stay longer

target cart

Target | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Everything about Target, from the strategically placed Starbucks by the front door to the specific music they play over the loudspeakers, encourages people to slow down and take their time. There’s no such thing as a “quick Target run” because unless you have superhuman focus, you’re bound to fall prey to these tactics. Life is stressful – why wouldn’t you want to take an hour (or two) to sip expensive coffee and peruse beautiful items in a pleasant environment?

And of course, the longer you shop at any store, the more likely you are to purchase more.

Shopping at Target makes you happy

Of course, Target is more than just coffee and music. If you’ve ever noticed you feel a little happier when you’re inside a Target, it’s because they want it that way.

Dr. Kevin Chapman, a Kentucky psychologist, explained it this way to Refinery 29: “You have good people in the marketing department at Target, and they have really good designers who have created such an ambient atmosphere for people. It’s really well-lit at Target, right? There’s a lot of color at Target. It’s pretty consistent throughout the store and generally that’s going to make people feel happier.”

They fill the aisles with temptations

Even if you’re on a mission for something simple like dish towels, don’t be surprised to find yourself waxing poetic over a colorfully painted butter dish. That’s because Target is masterful at placing non-necessities near items that people come to purchase. Their beautiful displays help you envision the item in your home and convince you that yes, you do need a ceramic cookie jar shaped like an elephant. The store is laid out so you get the maximum exposure to all these enticing products.

Tom Meyvis, a professor of Marketing at NYU, phrased it this way: “Stores have an idea about the path [shoppers take]. 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. So when people come in for something in one category, you can cross-sell, you can sell them something that compliments in the next product category by making sure they’re right next to each other.”

The clearance sections are clever

There are certain people who exclusively shop Target clearance – and the store executives know it. That’s why they strategically place their infamous yellow clearance end caps throughout the store to entice a longer shopping experience. And remember, even if you’re shopping for sale items, you’re still spending money.

Clearance spots beckon discount-hunters like beacons, offering up marked down curtains, clothing, and snacks. One thing you may not notice? You typically have to walk past other end caps to get to the clearance. And those expertly merchandised displays are hard to resist – even for people on a budget.

The products are enticing – and exclusive

target store

Target | Scott Olson/Getty Images

One of the biggest reasons people love Target? There’s so much there that you can’t find anywhere else. Private label merchandise along with special flavors and varieties of national brands, all dubbed “Target exclusives,” make you feel special when you shop there.

Plus, since their turnover is so quick, people know to grab one-of-a-kind items they really like rather than waiting to think about it. Because let’s face it – if you hesitate on the adorable pumpkin candle holder, it’ll be gone and you won’t get it. Creating scarcity makes customers more likely to impulse purchase because they’re afraid of missing out.

It’s possible to make it through Target and stick to a list. But then again, why would you want to? Your best strategy for Target shopping is to create a budget and a time limit while you’re there. Allow for a couple of extras without going too crazy.

And don’t beat yourself up for buying too much – we all do it.