I went to Target for one thing and came out with 8 items I didn't need, and retail experts say I'm not alone

Jenna McGeehenThe entrance of Target in Brooklyn, NY.
  • “TargetSyndrome” is a well-known phenomenon among those who shop there – you go in for one item and leave with a cart full of products you didn’t intend to buy.
  • Target stores are strategically laid out to encourage impulse buying among customers.
  • I recently visited the Brooklyn Target for Tide Pods and came out with eight items I didn’t plan on purchasing.

When you go shopping at Target, you’re most likely leaving with a few items you didn’t plan on purchasing. For me – and I think a lot of people can relate – Target runs have become synonymous with the “treat yourself” mentality. Stressed out? Go to Target. Just got dumped? Go to Target. Don’t have any plans for the day? You do now. You’re going to Target.

I’ve purchased everything from a decorative jewellery holder to a plastic succulent at Target. Still, I do wonder why Target has such power over shoppers. Is it the bright red signage, the low prices, the variety of products, or a combination of all of the above?

“Target has a high cool factor: Its aisles are filled with stylish, on-trend items in apparel and home decor that are well displayed. The in-store signing is fun, and so are the commercials designed to get you to the store,” retail expert Georganne Bender ofKizer & Bendertold Business Insider. “It’s an added bonus that Target partners with top designers to offer their goods at affordable prices.”

A 2016study by CreditCards.comfound that five in six Americans admit to making an impulse buy, and 77% made one in the past three months. The most common impulse buys are purchased in person rather than online, and millennials are the group most likely to buy an unplanned item for themselves.

At 23 years old, I fall solidly into that group, and sure enough, during a recent Target stop for laundry detergent, I purchased eight additional products. Here’s what happened:


My goal was to get Tide Pods.

Jenna McGeehenI bought way more than Tide Pods.

I figured they’d be cheaper at the Target in Brooklyn than at the drugstore by my Manhattan apartment, but honestly, I missed the experience of shopping at a full-size Target.

As soon as I walked in, I looked for “Bullseye’s Playground” (known to some as the Dollar Spot), a front-of-store Target staple that I always make a beeline for when I arrive.

I was both bummed and relieved to discover that there was no Dollar Spot, where I usually end up making the majority of my unnecessary (yet most exciting) purchases.

“Target’s Dollar Spot is designed to attract impulse shoppers. It’s generally right up front, just past the carts, so you can’t miss it. And it’s messy so it feels like a treasure hunt. Shoppers rationalize multiple purchases by thinking, ‘It’s only $US2,’ but those purchases add up,” Bender said.


I picked up items I didn’t intend to.

Jenna McGeehenI bought shampoo and conditioner.

With no Dollar Spot to browse, I went directly to the section where I thought I’d find laundry detergent. It turned out to be only personal care items, but while I was there I picked up shampoo and conditioner, shaving cream, deodorant and Q-tips. It’s good to stock up, and I was running low on everything but the deodorant.


I found the Tide Pods — on sale.

Jenna McGeehenThey were at the end of the household supplies aisle.

“Everyday, basic items are best housed toward the rear of the store. You want shoppers to have to walk through promotional items to get there. The end features house the best deals, and because they are at the end of every aisle, you can’t miss them,” Bender said.

The Tide Pods were on sale, and sure enough, I found them conveniently placed on the end of the household supplies aisle. I had checked off the one item on my shopping list, but obviously I wasn’t going to leave without scanning the other, more “fun” sections.


I fell victim to Target Syndrome.

Jenna McGeehenI made my way to the clothes aisle.

I made it through the shoes without adding anything to my cart. Less surprisingly, I then headed for the clothes. I didn’t end up buying this shirt, which I kind of regret. But it shows just how much people love Target.

“We’ve talked about the Target Syndrome for years: You come in for one item but leave with a cart full of things you hadn’t intended to buy,” Bender said.


Stores are strategically laid out to encourage impulse buying.

Jenna McGeehenI bought two dresses and two tops.

“Store layout, signing, and creative displays work together to encourage shoppers to buy things they didn’t realise they needed until they got there. Layouts are designed to move you easily throughout the store,” Bender said.

This location had a huge clearance clothing section. I spent half an hour looking through the racks and headed to the dressing room with twice the amount of allowed items.

I ended up with four pieces I wanted to buy: two summer dresses, a cute top, and a casual tank top with the words “making pour decisions,” with the first “I” shaped like a glass of wine. It was a little on-the-nose, given the circumstances.


I got to the checkout line with a full basket.

Jenna McGeehenI had eight items I didn’t need.

More than an hour and a half after I got there, I checked out with nine items in my basket: the Tide Pods, four toiletry items, and four items of clothing. I’ve definitely left Target with more products that were far less practical in the past. All the same, my intended $US11.99 purchase turned into a spending spree with a grand total of $US94.

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