Stores know how to manipulate checkout lines to make us spend more money. Because the longer we wait, the more committed we become to what’s in our cart. So, here are three tactics that stores use to keep us in line: 

  • First: Studies show that once we’ve been in line for 3 minutes, we start to get frustrated, lose track of just how long it’s been, a feel like we’ve been waiting forever. But it turns out we get less frustrated when we know how much time is left. That’s why stores with super-long lines, like Whole Foods, now send employees around to estimate wait times, and reassure customers. Because if we know we have 10 more minutes, we’re more likely to stick it out and grab impulse buys by the registers. To outsmart the store: Use your time in line to “edit” your cart, and eliminate anything you don’t absolutely need. 

  • Of course, stores know that 60-percent of us tend to “offload” items we decide not to buy while we’re in line. That’s because our brain chemistry changes while we’re waiting, we snap out of the dopamine high of putting stuff in our cart and think, “Nah, I don’t really need this.”  That’s why stores have made it as inconvenient and embarrassing as possible to leave items behind while in line. To do that, they create narrower checkout lines with limited shelf space, because they know, if it’s hard, or draws attention, we’ll just bite the bullet and buy it anyway. To outsmart the store: Pay attention to that clear-headedness you get once you’re in line and just hand the item to the cashier and say, “I’ve decided not to get this.”

  • The final way stores get us to spend more: By getting us to buy more even after we’ve checked out. First, when we pay, they give us a bunch of ones as change. Then, they’ve conveniently placed vending machines by the exits, filled with candy, gum, toys, and cheap DVDs. And because we’re more likely to part with a one-dollar bill than a five, we’re more likely buy something at the vending machine. To outsmart the store: Put your change away immediately, so your money’s not easily accessible, and you snap out of spending mode.