#2. The Mall
Ah the mall, the Mecca of North American culture. What makes it, and its shops, so enticing that people will refuse to stop shopping for anything, even at the risk of being consumed by flames?
"We just got a shipment of half-a-dozen Wiis in, now if you could all line up in an orderly fashion..."
Rats in a Maze Part 2
Like the supermarket, malls aren't actually designed for convenience, but to force you to do as much walking past as many storefronts as possible. This is why the up escalator is often on the opposite end of the floor from the down escalator.
Stores appealing to certain demographics are spread around the mall; you manly men will never find the beef jerky store next to the shiny new electronics store, nor will nerds ever have their dreams of a Taco Bell next to the Gamestop realized. On the plus side this extra walking is probably the best exercise most Americans get these days.
Malls are also filled with mirrors, which slow us down then make us feel like shit since we're all vain, self-loathing bastards at heart. That "oh God, I look terrible" moment has sent more than a few people scurrying into shops for new clothes.
Also, when you first enter the mall just keep moving for the first hundred feet or so. There are two phases to shopping, deliberation and buying, and they've found that buying even a minor item will break us out of the deliberation mindset and get us spending freely, thus chintzy impulse items are kept near the entrance. That trip to the dollar store may be the foreplay leading to a spending orgy that ends in you tying a cashmere sofa to the roof of your car.
She actually just came in to use the bathroom.
Little Retail Shop of Horror
Things don't get better once you enter the stores themselves. First off, go left when you enter the store. Research has shown that most people go right, and thus the items most profitable to the store are on the right, with the best bargains hidden off to the left.
A lot of "deals," especially around the holidays, are blatant bait-and-switches. A low price is advertised for a particular item, often one that they only have three of in stock. Salespeople can then "upsell" you on another replacement item... that costs more.
They also use the "disrupt-then-reframe" sales technique, hitting you with sales pitches so complicated they may as well be speaking a combination of Pig Latin and Swahili, then reframing it in an over-simplified way that makes the "right" buying decision seem obvious ("Look, all I'm trying to say is that this system is like a Cadillac, where the cheaper one in the window is like feeding your children hobo turds.").
Electronics salesmen are masters of this, but then pretty much everything they say is a constant stream of verbal diarrhea.
Leading us by the Nose
Traditionally overlooked (except by uncles with fingers that chronically require pulling) our sense of smell is being preyed on by retailers with increasing frequency. Notice how you can smell the wonderful toasted coffee beans a good two hundred feet from the actual coffee shop?
Smells are impossible to escape or ignore, and scent marketing has been shown to increase buying by up to 300 percent. As a result most stores now have their own carefully researched scents.
Scents have even been shown to increase gambling by up to 45 percent, speaking of which...
#1. The Casino
Casinos are the kings of making ordinary people spend like MC Hammer at the billowy silk pants store. They kind of have to be, as they don't actually offer any, you know, goods or services for your money. So how do Casinos get you to blow the kids' college fund when clearly the hookers out front offer a far better value for your dollar?
Outside World? What Outside World?
Sunlight, fresh air, remembering the fact that you have a house payment to make this month; these are the enemies of the big casinos. Most have few windows and no clocks, and attempt to artificially simulate a daytime or outside environment, creating a world where time has no meaning.
The interior of The Venetian in Las Vegas could be mistaken for Venice until you notice there's no sewage floating in the water.
Some even block cell phones; tearful calls from your kids asking where you've gone and why you're not at their birthday party can really kill your mojo.
The Gambling Trance
There's a specific fast-paced rhythm to everything that happens in a casino, making it difficult to break from the money-hemorrhaging haze (especially when you're half-wasted on free drinks). Oh, and there's a reason every casino you hit in Vegas is packed with hot women, and it's not your raw animal magnetism.
Casino managers don't let any of your senses go neglected. Music is soothing and loops frequently contributing to your trance and loud ugly carpets and low hanging canopies keep your eyes focused on the one-armed bandits in front of you. Casinos pump up the oxygen levels to keep you alert and some have even been accused of spreading pheromones through the ventilation system (possibly explaining why people still get way too damn excited over Wayne Newton).
You Can Beat the Casinos. Really! You Can!
There's no way to beat the casinos that won't land you in jail or under a bright light in a backroom with a broken hand, but casinos love to make us think we can.
Seconds after this photo, he filed for bankruptcy.
Why else would Vegas fund and stage glamorous showings for movies like 21, a film built on the premise that your "A" in math class could allow you to legally scam casinos out of millions while having sex with Kate Bosworth?
The floor is filled with the sweet (and these days, usually artificial) sound of jangling coins and "loose" machines are placed in high visibility areas to give the impression payoffs are more frequent than they are. Slot machines are also designed to deal out a high number of "near misses" with, for instance, the first two reels set to land on the "Jackpot" far more often than the third reel, dealing you more false hope than your high school girlfriend.
Finally, don't be fooled by posted payout percentages. A machine might say it pays out 97 percent of the time, which sounds low-risk, but that's a hypothetical number based on an infinite number of spins. Spin 10 times and you may lose nine, spin 100 and you may lose 50; you would have to pull that handle a massive number of times for it to finally even out at that 97 percent (a theory being put to the test by blue-haired slot jockeys nationwide).
So now that you know what kind of dickery our economy is based on, get out there and hold your head high knowing every time you're screwed over you're doing your part to fight the recession. Maybe, if we're all just gullible enough, we can get through this thing.
Nathan Birch also writes the comic you can't afford not to read, Zoology.
For more things to make you angry about your lack of money read about 6 Famous People Who Pissed Away a Fortune. Or check out our readers' ideas for How to Make Money Now That The Economy's Crapped the Bed.