A Trade Magazine for New Age Retailers

The Psychology of Shopping

Seven people walk into an indie shop (no, this is not a lead-in to a well-worn joke). One zips around, frantically looking for a specific something they came in for. One moves slowly, eyeing and handling everything, hesitant about what to purchase. One abruptly leaves after being approached by a friendly salesperson. One goes immediately to the sale table and starts gathering discounted items. One goes over to the reading section, picks up a book and makes herself comfortable for 45 minutes of reading. One finds her way to the body products and starts sniffing, sampling, checking ingredients. And there’s that one who does a quick scan and exits, clearly in the wrong shop. Recognize any of them? Question: Which of these archetypical prospective customers will end up making a purchase? Better question: Why?

Here’s a detailed description of these potential purchasers with some psychological explanations as to why they may or may not whip out their credit cards.


The Undecider

The person randomly wandered in with no particular goal or shopping need to fulfill. The one that says, and means it: “I’m just looking!” They generally want as many options as possible, but, at the same time, they want to be able to easily decide what to buy.

Research shows that large stores may get oodles of customers in their doors due to great selections, but customers may not buy as many items as they would in a smaller store simply because the decision process is too complicated.

The lesson is >> Have a strong mix inventory, but a reason for each item; have enough but not too much.


The Loves to Shop-Per

This customer cruises in to peruse everything that’s new, check out the latest fads, try something they’ve never tried before. Whether it’s a new line of body products guaranteed to erase wrinkles; a fresh display of whimsical holiday merchandise; an unknown local author’s new book of poetry – they will be frothing at the mouth, credit card waving. They may not come in specifically to make a purchase, but they will often leave with arms full.

The lesson >> Make sure merchandise is always fresh and innovative. Psychologically, they need to be the pack leader, boasting to friends about their unique finds at your unique store.


The Gotta Get a Deal-er

Unless money is literally not an object, everyone has a budget in mind when shopping. There’s a “comfort zone” customers don’t want to go beyond. If they do journey outside of that zone, anxiety hits. The price of a product represents the size of a risk someone is willing to take on.

Nowadays, there are some who absolutely refuse to purchase “full price” with ever-present discounts available everywhere. Psychologically, this could stem from a need to feel in control by taking advantage of others.

The lesson >> Always provide an area with markdowns. Be open to “negotiate,” sensing as to whether that could help land a sale. To the Gotta Get a Deal-er this could become a feel-good reason to shop your store.


The De-Stressor

 They use shopping as therapy, a place to unwind, forget about their problems or just fulfill themselves with what you sell. Keep in mind that shopping IS therapeutic for many, so rather than resisting those “Lookie-Loos,” encourage them with ways to feel good in your shop.

The lesson >> Have mellow ambiance, relaxing music, sitting areas, non-pushy sales staff, posted vendor stories, and maybe a “happy hour” cheese and wine treat.


The Landed in the Wrong Place

 Sometimes people simply end up walking into a shop and have no idea what it’s even selling. They look around and see a rack of incense or some crystals and know it’s not a fit for them. However, if they had looked further, they may’ve discovered something that would be perfect.

The lesson >> Make sure to always have a good representation of your shop’s products right in the front entryway.


The I want to be Alone

Some customers are looking to not be bothered by anyone and, no matter how polite, helpful or caring you are, they resent the intrusion. They perceive shopping as a solo experience and may even need it to feel meditative and sacred. They might be escaping from a chaotic home or stressful work environment; they might be an extreme introvert.

 The lesson >> Honor their privacy; give them space; only help when asked; be casual with your questions, if any. Make sure to let them feel safe and loved, even silently.


The I Hate Shopping Get Me Outta Here

Without sounding sexist, this often describes those of the male persuasion. Without a moment of browsing, they scan and find exactly what they came in for, bringing it to the counter without hesitation. Done.

The lesson >> They are a hunter not a gatherer, so make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for. Make sure to always carry your “old favorites” and you’ll have a life-long customer.



Let’s admit it, we are all human and have some common, primal needs. We all want to be loved, get attention, feel safe, be understood, and yet feel unique. This may sound crass, but as a shop owner, your goal is to use targeted or subliminal psychological tactics to tempt a customer to part with their money. Even setting prices using the age-old .99 is a time-proven device to trick customers into thinking something is less expensive than it is.

Of course, those selling mind-body-spirit products undoubtedly have more Higher Consciousness reasons for being in business: Helping, healing and awakening others and the planet. But what if you could meld the two intentions? Is it possible to maintain your integrity while understanding the psychology of shopping? On a deeper level, what if you could psychologically help people during the brief time they were in your shop?

One way to do this is to understand the psychological reasons people get triggered when shopping (Yes, add therapist to your job description). For example, those who can’t make up their minds may have gotten caught up in a fairly common fear: What if I make the wrong choice? This is because they’ve lost touch with their wise, intuitive voice that allows them to know and trust.

Your job might be to help them regain their trust. How? By helping them remember what their first instinct directed them toward by listening to what they say, observing what they do, and reflecting it back to them. “I’m noticing you seem really drawn to that pair of earrings…”

Universally, what makes people hesitate to make a purchase can be bottom lined into one reason: deservingness issues. Because of this key obstacle, many shop subconsciously afraid of spending money, using the excuse “Do I really need this or is it an impulse item?”

On the other hand, there are some core reasons people do make purchases: need for approval or acceptance; the statement the item makes or a cause it supports; to fill an emptiness of some kind; the notion that it will make them a better person; believing it solves a problem or makes them feel safer.

A strong attraction to, an emotional reaction toward, an intuitive sense that they’re “supposed to” own this, if listened to and trusted, should be their final vote. Your role might be to gently help them get there.



Here are some suggestions you and your sales staff can master to help inspire a sale without being manipulative.  Sprinkle these psychological techniques based on what’s a good fit for your customers and watch sales go up!


Read Moods

Correctly reading the attitude and non-verbal cues of customers is key. Rather than being the perpetually (usually fake) friendly, upbeat sales person, match their mood and tone down the perkiness meter. Customers don’t always want an over-the-top happy salesperson, especially if they’re grabbing some reflective escape time. Insisting they chat, asking questions about their day, or even small talking about the weather might just push them out the door. However, if someone is slumped in the doldrums, you never know what a momentary, positive, compassionate connection, even from a stranger, can generate. Keep in mind they might be completely stressed out about work, anxious about a home situation, or depressed about financial concerns. Being in a shop may trigger their anxiety even more, so be sensitive.


Fear of Overindulging

Impulsive purchases that provide little more than short-term emotional fixes can cause long-term problems: regret, debt, and even more emptiness. Shopping addiction is a psychological condition that plagues many in our materialistic society. Studies show that over half of purchases may be considered impulsive, with marketers’ main aim to stimulate mindless spending.

Sales associates are trained to nudge customers into buying things they don’t need, but still want. Statistically, online purchases are driven more by impulsive buying than rational, planned, controlled behaviors. Shopping with friends tends to encourage buying things they don’t need, however shopping with relatives does the opposite.

Encouraging overindulgence might be good for your bottom line, but your conscience will ache. The desire to leverage overspending at the expense of a consumer’s better judgment is definitely a karmic no-no.  However, if we were all rational consumers with great self-control and frugal shopping habits, our economy would suffer. Strive for balance!



Products are purchased based on their symbolic value and the personal meaning they have for a customer. Functionality, utilitarianism, investment and need lag way behind. When the product they’re considering matches their attitudes and self-views and helps them express their own sense of identity, sales happen. For example, if you think you’re cool and it’s important to look cool, you’ll happily pay more to buy an item that fits the “cool factor.” Merchandise is a symbolic trophy used to boost self-concept and showcase it to others.


Obsessive Shopping

The more individualistic a culture, as in Western society, the more compulsively people tend to shop. We are also more likely to shop impulsively when stressed or when we feel a lack of control over situations. Those feelings increase after extreme events such as natural disasters.

People who are more prone to buy things impulsively tend to be more sensation seekers, fearful of boredom and have a strong appetite for novel and unusual experiences.



Narcissism levels have risen over the past decades. Self-absorbed people spend more money and time cultivating their “look” and accumulating material possessions, so it’s not surprising that impulsive consumption has skyrocketed. However, individuals who feel superior or more important than others tend to exercise more self–control and are less vulnerable to impulsive purchases.

Accumulating certain products can provide meaning to life for some. Like religion, philosophy or a political ideology, “I shop, therefore I am,” is their statement. However, unless we are monks sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop, most human activities are as meaningful as we decide they are, including shopping.

Impulsively or not, consumerism is a source of psychological identity and a critical symbol in interpersonal communication.


Power to the People

It’s a fundamental need for people to feel they have power. The simple act of shopping can feel disempowering since, by its nature, customers are at the whim of what’s available, prices, staff, and of course, their budget constraints.

Providing discounts allows the buyer to feel some semblance of control. However, this level of empowerment can cause confusion due to their now muddled ability to judge whether something is actually a good offer or not. Plus, there’s concern that once they arrive home with said bargain, they may experience buyer’s remorse.

Understandably, small shops have concerns about the affordability of returns. But, 75 percent of consumers say they would be more likely to buy from a store that has a “no questions asked” return policy. In other words: return policies can make or break your business.

Empower your customers by having a fair, clearly stated policy that allows them to not feel stuck with a purchase. This will psychologically keep them coming back, not to return purchases, but to purchase new items.


Receive & Give

The principle of reciprocity in sales psychology means when someone gives us something, we feel compelled to give something back in return. Like going to the market and feeling an obligation to purchase something because of the free sample you got.

As a retailer, giving a gift-with-purchase or throwing in something extra is a way to utilize this. These are “ethical bribes” to allow people to feel grateful toward your business.


The Gift of Content

Content is an effective way to provide psychological value to customers. For example, create a fun/informative quiz to determine what aromatherapy fragrance would best suit their lifestyle; provide a recipe for homemade soap – using fragrances you sell, of course.



Such things as a special “top customers only sale;” a celebratory night of afterhours shopping, handwritten notes on their birthday, etc. allows your supporters to feel truly cared about.



Psychologically, people go to great lengths to appear true to their word and consistent in their actions. For example, once someone commits publicly to a weight loss program, they’ll be much more likely to maintain that goal.

As a retailer, your goal is to get customers to commit to your brand even by simply signing up for your emails. Once they do, they’re more likely to purchase from your shop. Getting products in their hands, or the “let them hold the puppy” technique applies to this as well.



We’re more likely to say yes to a request if we feel a connection to the person making it. That’s why brands hire celebrities to endorse products; why people post industry experts’ testimonials; why social media encourages “likes,” ratings and reviews; and why “bestseller” pages are added to e-commerce websites. These tactics give stamps of approval that establish authority for your shop, helping customers feel safe in purchasing from you. In fact, consumers readily trust product recommendations from friends and family, and sharing an identity with a special group (i.e. people practicing yoga) can have the same impact on sales!



People are motivated by the thought that they might miss out on an opportunity. Like a rebellious teenager, if someone says you can’t have something, you want it even more. As a small shop, limited supplies are often a reality since we generally order just enough of an item to test the waters with it. Stating “we only have five left” or “discounts will end on Tuesday” or “this item will be discontinued” can trigger the need to buy now, or forever regret. However, be honest!



The age-old battle between certain items (i.e. Apple vs. Microsoft) fuels fierce brand loyalty. As a small shop, think of ways you can take advantage of this tribal human nature in some way. Perhaps take a stand (environmental, political, societal, spiritual), and don’t be afraid to spout it. Foster a positive position for something in this ever-growing world of divisiveness. It may turn off some, but it will strengthen the connection with those who share that identity.


YOU ARE NOT Just a Store

Your story and personal reason for being in business connects you to strangers, turning them into customers. Create a brand personality, one that’s cohesive with your target customer. Every element should reflect this (colors, fonts, photo styles, copy, music, décor, etc.), expressing the why of you and your shop.



Royce Morales
Author: Royce Morales

Royce Amy Morales is the founder of Perfect Life Awakening. Morales is also a transpersonal development speaker and author of Know: A spiritual wake-up call. Royce was an independent retailer for two decades in Redondo Beach, CA. To know more about the author, visit her website.

Website: https://www.perfectlifeawakening.com