Whether you're a loyal warehouse club shopper, or someone trying to decide if the membership fee is worth the savings, it's important to understand how Costco and Sam's Club trick you into spending your money. From the floor plan of the warehouse, to how they stock their shelves, everything is done for a reason. And that reason is to separate you from as much of your hard-earned money as possible. Here are the tricks to be aware of so you can become a savvier warehouse club shopper.
1. The Shiny Objects Are Stacked Up Front
Have you ever wondered why warehouse clubs put their 4K 65" TVs right near the entrance, and you almost have to step over them to get in and do your shopping? This is where you'll also find all the coolest new gadgets and electronics that are designed to suck you (and your money) in like a Star Wars tractor beam. It's hard to not stop and daydream a little bit. But unless one of these bright and shiny objects is on your shopping list, keep on trucking.
Warehouse clubs are also famous for stocking really cheap seasonal items near the front of the store, forcing you to walk by them. During the summer, you'll find bargains on camping chairs and shorts. During the winter, you'll find deals on coats, sleds, and warm clothing. Known as "Open the Wallet" pricing, it's done to get you excited about the idea of saving money. Money that you can, in theory, use to buy more stuff at full price before you check out.
2. Bland Décor Tricks Your Brain
Have you ever taken a second and looked around at the décor at warehouse clubs? The gray concrete floors, the metal shelving, the pallets stacked to the ceiling. While some of it's for inventory reasons, it's mainly done to make it appear like very little money was spent on sprucing up the warehouse and all the money saved is being passed along to you, the shopper. It's clearly a Jedi mind trick designed to separate you from your money and make you think you must always be getting a great deal. Don't be fooled.
Read More: “Shop in stores with concrete floors.”
3. The Center Aisle Is a Trap
The center aisles at Costco, especially toward the front of the warehouse, are full of items that you had no idea existed but clearly cannot live without. If you're like most, and easily tempted to wander those aisles and throw a couple "must haves" in your cart, I have a tip. When you walk into Costco, keep your shopping cart in the outside aisle around the exterior of the store and shop from there. The best way to not be tempted by items you don't need is to stay out of the center of the store whenever possible.
4. Free Samples Can Play Mind Games
Costco doesn't offer free samples out of the kindness of their hearts. The do it because it helps pad their bottom line. Offering a sample creates a sense of reciprocity in which some shoppers feel obligated to buy something. Often it might not even be the product being sampled, but something similar. For example, maybe the orange juice you sampled is not your favorite, but you decide to pick up some apple juice instead.
Also, there is an interesting psychological effect that takes place when you indulge in a free sample with a bunch of people standing around you. It's as if you don't want to look like a cheap freeloader in front of everyone, so you'll throw a box of the cookies in your cart. The obvious solution to these psychological tricks is to quickly walk past the sample stations and stay focused on why you walked into the warehouse to begin with.
5. Large Quantities Don't Always Signify a Deal
Whenever you're shopping, and see a large pile of a particular item, most brains will automatically associate it with a deal. After all, just think of the quantity discount Costco or Sam's must have received by ordering such a huge amount of product. Surely that saving is being passed along to us shoppers. Right? Wrong.
Read More: 15 Things You Should Buy at Costco
6. Buying in Bulk Isn't Always a Deal
There are clearly some items that will save you money by buying in bulk. But don't assume that just because you can buy in bulk from a warehouse club, it makes it a screaming deal. The take-away here is to always do the math and figure out the per unit price to determine if it's a good buy.
7. Expect Highly Targeted Marketing
Sam's Club is famous for looking closely at your order history and sending out targeted marketing campaigns via email and snail mail to get you back in the warehouse. By being aware that they're coming after you directly, you can better decide if the incentive or coupon they're offering really does give you the best value. Bottom line, it's not a coincidence that you just ran out of diapers and within a couple days you get a Sam's Club email with a coupon for diapers inside.
8. Beware the "Fear" of Missing Out
Perhaps the greatest psychological trick that warehouse clubs use is planting the seed in shoppers minds that once an item is gone, you'll never see it again. While this may be the case on seasonal items, it shouldn't be the deciding factor when deciding on a purchase. Do you actually need the item? Or will you end up storing it in the hopes that you might someday use it? If it's the latter, walk by the item like you have blinders on and your budget will thank you.