The Psychology Behind Why You Spend So Much In Shopping Centres

why you spend much in shopping centres

Picture this: your friend's birthday is coming up, she's been eyeing this knife set for quite some time and you've been really good with your spending so you have money to spare. You get into the shopping centre and your senses are just bombarded with a dizzying array of smells, sights, and sounds. You walk around, trying to find the store where the knife set is in, and then all of a sudden the voices in your head go like this:

Ugh, it's so noisy in here.

Wait, what's happening there? Why are there so many people?

Aqua shoes are on sale. That's a steal! I am going to the beach next month, I actually need this.

Oh that flat screen TV looks amazing. It's at 0% interest for 3 months. Movies at home are going to be incredible.

Didn't my wife/husband want that shirt? It's only $40. I should get her/him something.

Wait, what was I supposed to get for (insert friend's name here) again?

Oooh, free tastes!

See what happened there? Whether you're a self-proclaimed shopaholic or you just popped in the mall to get a couple of things for the house or your mates, NOT wandering around and buying impulsively in a shopping centre requires a lot of self-constraint. Why exactly is that?

The Gruen Transfer

No, I'm not talking about the television show, although it seems to be based on the actual Gruen transfer or Gruen effect. Before we get to that, you have to understand where it's from so meet Victor Gruen.

Victor Gruen

Okay, his birth name was actually Viktor David Grünbaum and he was an Austrian-born architect who advocated prioritizing pedestrians over cars, and designed luxury housing developments, towers, and plazas from the 1930's to 1980's. But what he was most known for was his design of the modern shopping centre or mall we have today. However, his original designs for shopping centres were hardly ever fully realised. His original design was more than just a commercial centre, it was intended to have apartment buildings, schools, medical facilities, lake, and park built.

Now the Gruen effect or Gruen transfer was named after this man, but what exactly is it? The Gruen effect is that moment when consumers respond to "scripted disorientation", a condition where consumers become more likely to impulse buy due to being intentionally bombarded by a confusing layout, bright and bold lights, and noise, to affect critical decision making processes.

The Gruen Effect At Work

The Gruen Effect

Have you ever gone to a shopping centre with a single purpose, only to leave with loads of bags on each arm? That means that the Gruen effect has truly worked on you. Think back, how did you end up shopping for things you probably don't need?

Getting You Ready

It all starts when you walk through the entrance. Notice how there's nothing there for you to purchase, it's a way to acclimatise you to the space and get you into that money-spending zone.

Time Perception

Have you ever noticed how time seems to fly by without you noticing it in a shopping centre? This was done intentionally by the designers. Notice how there are typically no clear views to the outside world, and how there are no clocks inside. The longer you're in the centre, the more likely you are to spend. This is why they try to skew your perception of time by creating evenly  balanced lighting throughout the centre, and hiding the natural light (indicating time) outside. Before you know it, you've been walking around the centre for over 3 hours.

Going Through a Maze

When you're out shopping for a specific item without a particular brand in mind, do you ever notice how confusing it is to find shops? Sometimes, walking through a shopping centre kind of feels like finding your way through a labyrinth, doesn't it? Before you get to a specific store you're looking for, you've probably passed through several boutiques, all with specials and promos and you might have already bought a knickknack or two, before purchasing what you really need. You know how things that you typically need are so far from each other in a supermarket, and you end up picking up a few more things on your way to the (let's say) bread section? It's kind of the same concept with a shopping centre.

Design and Comfort

When you're walking through the centre, notice the bright and bold lights, the tiled reflective tiles, the loud colour schemes, and even louder people talking and children playing. It kind of makes you want to run to safety, doesn't it? Then try going inside one of the stores. See the stark contrast from the outside? The lights are softer, the music quieter, the floor soft and carpeted or hardwood and cosy -- much more inviting, isn't it? The more comfortable you are in a store, the more likely you are to walk around; and the more likely you are to walk around, the more likely you are to spend on things you don't need.


Now that you know, you shouldn't fall for these traps the next time you shop. Bring a shopping list with you and stick to it! If you are able to recognise the persuasion tactics being done, then you're less likely to overspend. Spend smartly and good luck!