Here’s How To Defeat The Target Effect

There are reasons why it is hard to buy just one thing, and ways to overcome it.

Target
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There are reasons why it is hard to buy just one thing, and ways to overcome it.

If you want to know what the Target Effect is, just think back to that old Lays potato chip commercial that highlighted the fact that nobody could eat just one. Scale that up to big-box retail and what you have is the Target Effect.

When you go to Target, or any store like Target for that matter, you may have the intention to purchase just one or two items. But in reality, you end up driving away with no less than $100 worth of shopping. If this sounds like you, just know that you are far from alone.

This effect is no accident. It is fair to say you are being targeted from the moment you walk in, if not before. Everything about the design of a large retail space is there to encourage you to buy more things than you need. It is why the milk is always in the back. You have to walk through the entire store to get the one item you really need. Unless you walk with your eyes closed in both directions, it is likely you will encounter something else you just can’t live without.

NBC News talked to clinical psychologist Kevin Chapman who provided a number of insights.

“First, we have to understand how this effect works: in short, it just feels good to be in Target. ‘The lighting, the bright colors … it brightens your affect and you tend to have a pretty good time so it’s conducive to buying,’ Chapman said. Of course being able to stop at Starbucks for a vanilla crème cold brew can also induce us to spend more time, he said. Spending more time translates to spending more money — and buying things we didn’t intend to.”

full shopping cart
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Chapman suggests a strategy of self-talk before leaving for the store. He recommends using a mantra like, “I can just by one item” or “All I need is detergent.” This type of self-talk can reinforce behavior when practiced over time.

Beyond self-talk, there is the practical deterrent of simply not going when you don’t need to. If you are going for a single item but have time to window shop, simply don’t go. Extrapolating from Chapman’s advice, one should go someplace smaller and less conducive for aimlessly wandering the aisles. You are not going to run into those must-have center candles at a convenience store when all you need is milk and butter. At the very least, the damage would be minimized.

Chapman suggests that the real underlying problem is psychological. And we are treating emotional issues with retail therapy. In cases of emotional issues, real therapy is always better. Address the underlying problem and you address the symptoms.