Ten Ways Target Gets You to Spend More

Not your intended purchase, but likely the first thing you’ve put in your cart.


Michael Beausoleil

3 years ago | 8 min read

I’m going to be honest with you: I love Target. Like many shoppers I will go in there in need of one or two items. Then, I leave the store with a cart full of stuff and a bill that’s three times the expected amount.

This is no coincidence, Target is a retail store and they want customers to spend. The phenomenon is so common it’s now referred to as the “ Target effect.”

The term can be used when a customer enters a store, any store, with the intent to purchase a few items but leave the store with a larger haul.

When your brand name becomes synonymous with a specific experience, you’re doing something right. Target has mastered their customer journey, and this means your shopping experience is well-crafted. Each section of the store is designed intentionally and Target has put effort into their brand experience.

You may not notice this while you’re in the store, but these sneaky details are the reasons you spend so much at Target.

1. The Dollar Section

If you’ve ever been suckered into buying something at the dollar section, you’re not alone. Most people have picked something up in this section which is formally known as Bullseye’s Playground. Very few of these items are actually one dollar and the quality isn’t great, but they’re usually seasonal and visually appealing products.

Bullseye’s Playground. Via Target

Notice how everything here costs an even dollar amount because Target wants you to feel you’re getting a deal. No one enters Target looking to shop in Bullseye’s Playground. They might have small Halloween supplies, but the costumes and candy are elsewhere in the store.

This is where you’d find a felt skeleton decoration or a foam pumpkin. Not your intended purchase, but likely the first thing you’ve put in your cart.

2. Target Wants To Lure All Shoppers In

Target has been redesigning stores with two entrances, one for leisurely shoppers and one for quick trips. The quick entrance will be optimal for grocery shoppers who need a couple of quick items or want a grab-and-go lunch. With self-check outs and an open grocery design, this would allow people to get in and out quickly.

But shoppers are still entering a Target store. If they have tunnel vision they can grab a couple of groceries, but most shoppers will still see seasonal selections.

It’s very easy for eyes to go astray and check out a different section of the store. Even if shoppers remain in the grocery section, it’s not like grocery stores are immune from tricky shopping tactics. It’s possible that your quick grocery trip will result in you leaving with an extra pack of Oreos or box of Cheerios.

3. Navigation is Easier

Target wants to get you in the doors and they want you to see all of their merchandise. This means they need to craft an easier shopping experience where you’re encouraged to move around and fill up your cart. For this reason, Target focused on the size of their aisles and their shopping carts.

Lighter plastic carts at Target. Via Smith Collection/ Getty Images/ Runner’s World

Customers at Target tend to enjoy the wider aisles, at least when you compare them to Walmart. They’re also able to push around a lighter cart.

Starting in 2006 Target began replacing their metal cart with lighter plastic ones. This redesign also allowed for easier repairs to carts, so you’re less likely to get a cart with a shaky wheel or cracked seat. Customers then have an easier time diving deep into the retail abyss known as Target.

4. They’ve Studied the Art of Cross-Selling

Target’s employees have studied the paths customers take around the store. They can anticipate where customers are going and items that compliment each other. This concept is known as cross-selling, and Target uses shelf space so you don’t need to walk across the store to get items you might need.

If you look at the ends of the aisles, you might find items that don’t quite fit in the advertised section but are necessary for using products effectively.

Perhaps you see a shelf of batteries in the toy section or you see extension cables next to the lamps. If customers had to walk across the store to get that cable, it might be forgotten Because the cable is right there, customers put it in their cart and make the purchase.

5. It’s a Seasonal Treasure Hunt

Seasonal items are a huge draw for Target shoppers, and it’s not just because they’re in the holiday spirit. Target stores rotate their seasonal offerings frequently. This means customers can go into a store at the beginning of October and find different Halloween decorations toward the end of the Halloween season. The variety is part of the appeal of shopping at Target.

Target Christmas Section via NBC News

While this means Target always offers something new, it also means items are in limited supply. If you see a decoration you like, there’s no guarantee it will ever come back.

As they browse the store, customers might be excited by the new offerings. They’re also aware that these don’t last forever, so they better make the purchase when they can.

6. They Know About Decision Fatigue

When you’ve spent a good amount of time in a store, you start to become mentally exhausted. There are so many options, and you don’t want to pick an ineffective toothpaste or an overpriced brand of toilet paper.

These fears are called decision fatigue, and the longer you’re in the store the more brainpower you’ve used. As you become more exhausted you’re more likely to make impulsive decisions rather than rational decisions.

Think of the items you need when you go to Target; they’re usually deep into the store. You need to pass by multiple sections before you even reach the essentials and you probably see a lot of appealing products. Personally, I’ve never gone into a Target where the paper towels were anywhere close to the front of the store.

So, to get to the paper towels, you pass by a bunch of flashy items and walk past them again to get back to the checkout. By this point, you’ve been in the store for twenty-five minutes and you might just cave and buy something you didn’t need.

7. They Collaborate and Create Scarcity

Sometimes Target brings high fashion to the suburbs by collaborating with high-end brands. Such successes can be found with brands like: Vineyard Vines, Lilly Pulitzer, Hunter, or Converse.

These Target-exclusive products can be super popular and many have sold out within hours of being on sale. By doing this, Target gets new traffic into the store and enforce their quasi-upscale reputation.

Chip and Joanna Gaines. Image courtesy for CultureMaps Dallas.

For Target, this is all about attracting the right audience. People who fall into the right demographic will come into the store and pay slightly more for products with recognizable brands. Recently, they’ve enhanced their collaboration with HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines.

This is for a very specific reason: people know their faces and want to see their products in stores. With the right collaborations, Target can increase foot traffic and get your attention on different items.

8. Target Attracts Wealthier Shoppers

Want to get customers to spend more? Attract shoppers with more money. When compared to competitors, particularly Walmart, Target customers have a higher average incomes.

This is often represented in the design of Target stores where products tend to be brighter and the store tends to be more organized.

For a period of time, during the late 2000’s recession, Target needed to compete with Walmart to retain customers. Now, their sights are more upscale, following design approaches more akin to Macy’s. As a result they’re attracting a younger crowd with more money to spend.

Target knows many customers have some money saved, and that can turn into money spent.

9. They’re Breeding Young Adults to Love Target

Many college towns are seeing small-scale Target stores open up. They’re perfect if you’re in need of something like a towel, fan, or frying pan but you’re not too picky about the brand. For urban areas where many people don’t have cars, this works perfectly. It’s also an opportunity for Target to showcase their prices to young adults building their independence.

A small-format Target on the Boston University campus.

Given the urban setting, customers probably aren’t hauling around huge purchases. Still, this is one step up from a drug store and allows for basic needs to be filled. This serves as proof that Target knows their customers and will adapt to fit specific needs.

10. The Return Policy Builds Faith

Sometime you see an item you like, but do you really need it? Probably not, but Target customers know the store has a pretty lenient return policy. Most items can be returned within 90 days as long as the customer has the receipt, even if the item is opened. This policy becomes a little bit better when you factor in the Red Card, which can extend the return policy.

This encourages customers to make purchases when they’re on the fence. Once the item is purchased and taken home, customers are less likely to make the trip back to the store for a return.

Even if they do bring the item back, they’re also reentering a Target store. Now they’re susceptible to repeat the shopping process.

The Target Effect

It’s no surprise Target has earned a reputation for up-selling its customers. They try to understand their shoppers and make the in-store experience as easy as possible.

Not only that, but they’re always trying new products or collaborating with new designers. This means shopping in the store is a familiar experience, but the products you view are new and exciting.

Target is very dedicated to the customer journey. They recognize how their customer experience can impact sending, so they want to optimize every shopper’s time in the store.

With intentional placement of products and easy navigation, customers will spend longer browsing and see a larger selection of products. Eventually, this will lead to your shopping cart being fuller than expected.

Of course, Target is never forcing you to spend more. Willpower can prevent you from overspending next time you go to Target. For some people, this might mean they need to avoid Target all together.

The store can be very tempting, and they’ve become a leader among other department stores. Customers tend to enjoy their time in the stores, but as soon as they let their guard down they fall victim to the Target Effect.


Created by

Michael Beausoleil

Product designer, educator, content marketer.







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