About Your Privacy on this Site
Welcome! To bring you the best content on our sites and applications, Meredith partners with third party advertisers to serve digital ads, including personalized digital ads. Those advertisers use tracking technologies to collect information about your activity on our sites and applications and across the Internet and your other apps and devices.
You always have the choice to experience our sites without personalized advertising based on your web browsing activity by visiting the DAA’s Consumer Choice page, the NAI's website, and/or the EU online choices page, from each of your browsers or devices. To avoid personalized advertising based on your mobile app activity, you can install the DAA’s AppChoices app here. You can find much more information about your privacy choices in our privacy policy. Even if you choose not to have your activity tracked by third parties for advertising services, you will still see non-personalized ads on our sites and applications. By clicking continue below and using our sites or applications, you agree that we and our third party advertisers can:
  • transfer your data to the United States or other countries; and
  • process and share your data so that we and third parties may serve you with personalized ads, subject to your choices as described above and in our privacy policy.


Experts Reveal Why It’s So Hard to Only Buy One Thing at Target—Yes, There’s a Scientific Reason

M. Spencer Green/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Posted on

Most people who have ever set foot in a Target can understand the struggle of trying to go into the store and walk out with only one item.

This phenomenon has become known to some as the “Target Effect”, with Urban Dictionary—a website which aggregates user-written definitions for slang words and phrases—describing it as “the result of going into a store, intending to buy a few things, and leaving with much more. Frequently happens while shopping at Target.”

However, Refinery29 reports that this phenomenon isn’t just a slang term or Instagram hashtag—experts confirm there’s a scientific reason behind the impulse buying while in chain stores.

Tom Meyvis, a professor of marketing at New York University, told the website that because stores like Walmart and Target have such a large inventory, they can place products strategically to trick your brain into make cross-category associations.

“Stores have an idea about the path [shoppers take],” he said. “Walmart was once famous for doing things like putting like Band-Aids next to fishing hooks and things like that. Something you don’t naturally associate, but once you see them there, it makes sense.”

Kentucky-based psychologist Dr. Kevin Chapman told Refinery29 that another reason Target in particular can make people break out their wallets and pick up more products than they need is because of the store’s happy aesthetic and design style.

RELATED: First Look! Here’s Everything We’re Shopping from Target’s Brand New Home Collection

Chapman also noted that Target also reaches their customer base through their “Bullseye's Playground,” which offers discounted products and is typically placed at the front of the store near the checkout. The idea that you’re getting a steal might entice you to throw a few items in your cart even if you don’t actually need them.

He calls this marketing strategy “psychological pricing,” and said that it’s also used in most stores nationwide when the retailer marks their price at $9.99 instead of rounding up to $10.

WATCH THIS: Joanna Gaines Announces Her Target Summer Collection

Target is no stranger to the idea that people typically impulse buy in their stores, and they’ve even leaned into the idea that it’s a part of their brand. Joe Perdew, Target’s Vice President of Store Design told Refinery29 that they understand their customers go to Target for an experience, and enjoy grabbing a coffee to peruse the aisles. “That whole ‘I came in for shampoo and left with two carts full of other things’ phenomenon is real!” Perdew said.

RELATED: This One ‘Beautiful’ Item Will Make Your Bathroom Joanna Gaines-Approved — And It’s Under $4

Meyvis added that the tactics used by Target and many other big brands aren’t necessarily considered tricks, and the purchases often bring people joy rather than guilt—assuming they don’t have a major spending problem.

“I don’t want to say that the stores are making us buy things that we don’t want, that we don’t need,” Meyvis says. “These unplanned purchases are often things that we do like and that we do want. We just didn’t think of them.”