How Malls Trick You to Spend More ~ and what you can do about it!

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by Ed

Shopping malls are cleverly designed to make you stay longer and spend more than you ever planned.  

You may have already spent more time than you wanted on holiday shopping and have sworn off malls for good, but we all know we’ll end up back there sometime. For many of us, that “sometime” may be as soon as Boxing Day.  Or maybe you're still out there fighting the mobs for holiday gifts?  The Mall is, after all, the new Main Street, where we spend time shopping, socializing, eating and being entertained.

And all that extra time we spend hanging out is no coincidence.  Understand these shopping mall design tricks and you could save yourself from over-spending...

Mall Trick #1: Scripted Disorientation

In plain-speak, Scripted Disorientation translates as “deliberately confusing you and making you want to spend more time and money”. Malls accomplish this by having more in common with a Las Vegas casino than a Main Street General Store.

First off, try and find a clock – they are practically non-existent – and those you will find are likely small or only scroll through the time periodically.

While you’re at it, try and find a clear view of the outdoors. Once you are in the mall, you will find that you rarely get a clear view of the outside world. Is the sun up or down?

Both of these things are deliberate choices by the designers to limit your ability to tell space and time, which leads to you to stop shopping for something specific and start shopping at random. When this happens, it is called the Gruen Transfer, but it could be just as easily called a Zombie virus, as the symptoms are slow, aimless walking and a glazed expression.

What you can do about it: Keep your watch handy or set a timer on your phone to keep you oriented to time.

Mall Trick #2: The Mall is nice, but the Stores are nicer...

Even the actual materials the mall hallways are decorated with are working against you. How so?

The tile floors and high ceilings are acoustically harsh, increasing echo from the background music and people talking. The lighting, similarly, is also bright and glare-y.

These design choices mean that even if you do find a spot in the very limited seating provided, it isn’t nearly as pleasant as it could be. The net effect is that entering a store - any store – feels soothing and somehow more welcoming than it normally would. You go into a store for relief and spend more time and money in there.

What you can do about it: Awareness helps. Pay attention to this factor, and you could keep more of your money in your wallet.

Mall Trick #3: And on your right – the best deals in the whole place.

The Invariant Right – our tendency to turn right when we enter most stores – means you should see the store’s best sellers, newest arrivals and other eye-catching displays immediately to your right upon entering. This subtly encourages you to stay in the store and spend more time and money there.

There may be some other hidden gems in the back, but know that the real “hooks” at the front are likely some of the best things they actually have to offer. Browsing further will likely just produce impulse buying.

What you can do about it: Know the best deals are usually right (or the clearance rack at the back). Just shop there if you don't want to spend time exploring the whole store (and getting sucked into buying more).

Mall Trick #4: Time to leave… where did I park?

The parking lot at the mall is a cliché punchline, but the joke might actually be on you. Mall parking lots are purposely designed to not be easy to use. Why?

If you are shopping and the idea of going outside to your car is intimidating, you are more likely to continue shopping. Subtle, but true.

What you can do about it: Combat this by developing a parking and exit strategy for your mall visits and you will likely benefit from reduced stress and unintentional spending.

Consider yourself warned...

Do you know any other shopping mall tricks? Please share and help us all!

If you're looking for more great Saving Money tips - we've got you covered here!


  1. Malls don't "make" you do anything. If we all had personal responsibility we'd not have to blame others, including things, for forcing us t do things.

    Don't blame others.

  2. I believe what is being discussed here is "subliminal advertising" in a sense. Not a new topic, and not placing blame. Great article for making us more aware - Ed. Thank you.


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