The 10 Clever Ways Starbucks Tricks You into Spending More Money

Being an educated consumer is exhausting work. You can question every item you buy, but eventually, you’ll run into decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is the idea that the quality of your decision-making deteriorates after so many decisions in a short amount of time. And that’s exactly what Starbucks is hoping will happen when you step up the counter and place your order.

It would be a misnomer to say that only Starbucks uses these common corporate tricks to scrape a few more dollars from your pocket. Indeed, they’re found in almost every other coffee shop around and often exist unintentionally. However, TODAY pointed out these great tips being a conscious coffee-buyer.

1. The Middle Theory

Statistically, we’re predetermined to select the option in the middle when given a choice of three, especially when it comes to money, because we don’t want to seem too cheap. While this also applies to tipping, at Starbucks, it is most applicable to their drink sizes.

It appears that the 16-ounce Grande is the drink in the middle, seeming to be just enough. However, did you know Starbucks sells a Short coffee that’s only 8 ounces? Compare that to what you believe is your Tall coffee, clocking in at 12 ounces, and it’s not a huge leap between the two, averaging only around 10 cents.

However, compare the Short price to that of the Grande and that’s almost 50 more cents for a coffee, and 80 cents for a latté. Every penny counts, no?

2. Limited-Time Drinks

Starbucks has, undoubtedly, mastered the hype machine. From the Unicorn Frappuccino frenzy to other menu hacks, the brand is constantly releasing special ‘limited edition’ drinks that make customers feel as though they have a small window to try them, and try as many as possible before they go away for a whole year.

While the Unicorn Frappuccino ran for about a week, you’d think it was one day judging by the hype on the day of the release. The same build-up can be seen in the fall when it becomes Pumpkin Spice Latté season quicker than you can knock down some tree leaves.

The best part about their hype strategy is that it keeps the customers back inside the doors, specifically during the late afternoon hours that’s typically a Starbucks’ slowest time frame. These fancy drinks are also subject to higher price points, linking to their fancy limited-edition status.

3. The Dollar Trickery

Nothing slows your roll while ordering in a line like seeing a dollar sign next to it on the display boards. No, I’m not talking about the price itself, but the actual use of a dollar sign. Starbucks knows this, and that’s why you won’t see that pesky mood-killing dollar sign next to the menu items. Also, as TODAY pointed out in their interview with Warren Ellish, the president of the Ellish Marketing Group,

Prices at restaurants tend to end in 0, 5 or 9. Ending prices in 5 or 9 lets restaurants make price adjustments that customers tend to notice less than if they were in whole or half dollars.

You’re basically less likely to notice if the price of something increased if it ends in 5 or a 9 since your mind auto-completes the regular price.

4. The Cozy Store Design

Starbucks has become somewhat of an international home base for Americans in the last 10 years with locations popping up across the globe. Each store design looks just about the same with familiar and neutral colors, cozy seating elements, and the warm, yet dim lighting. So how does this trick you into spending more money?

Well, by design, if you know one Starbucks, you know them all. That pays off when you’re in a new place and are just looking for a cup of coffee to get through the long day ahead. Starbucks’ reliability and familiarity will bring you in the door. You can counteract this effect by shopping locally when you’re in a new city or at home.

5. The Seating Arrangements

Have you ever noticed a difference in the chairs between a Starbucks centered in a city versus those in a more suburban area? TODAY reached out to Ray Chung, the director of design at The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry, to learn more about the layout of Starbucks and how it matters from a consumer standpoint.

Essentially, urban areas with high foot traffic will have backless stools as a seating option to encourage customer turnover, therefore allowing more customers to cycle through the store regularly. Suburban areas tend to have cozier and larger chairs, with a few more tables, that are designed for a customer to linger. That probably means you’ll buy a second drink, too, unless you know the handy Starbucks refill policy.

6. The Bakery Case

Starbucks’ bakery counter and ordering station are often one in the same at most locations, meaning you can add on that extra chocolate chip cookie you were gazing at while waiting in line to order and pay. It’s often the brightest area of the story to highlight the options and it works.

Additionally, Starbucks took a cue from the grocery store and places those little candy, mints, retail items, and other packaged snacks near the front of the register and by the area where you typically wait for a drink to tempt you even more.

7. The Mobile App

The addition of mobile ordering to the Starbucks app truly changed the game when it comes to ordering a coffee. While you once might have scoffed at waiting in line for a coffee when you’re in a rush to get to work, the ability to pre-order that drink and save you upwards of 10 minutes has customers singing a different tune for Starbucks.

Effectively, the mobile ordering system means they can take twice as many orders with the same number of customers actually in the store, increasing both customer turnaround and loyalty to the brand that always has your coffee ready on time. It’s a win-win for the Washington-based coffee company.

8. The Chalkboard Menus

Walked by a Starbucks lately? You’ve probably seen those hand-drawn chalk illustrations of the new drink in stock, whether it’s the coveted S’mores Frappuccino or the silly Unicorn Frappuccino. However, those chalkboard drawings work two-fold to tap into your buying impulse.

The first is that Starbucks is encouraging you to try something new, as the more menu items a customer likes tends to mean more visits to the store itself. Additionally, if you like it, you’ll probably share it on social media where you might encourage a friend or two to try it.

The second reason those chalkboard drawings matter is because they are crafted specifically for the location by the team inside. This touch of barista personality makes Starbucks seem like a cozy, local coffee shop instead of the mega chain it is today. For buyers who pay attention to shopping locally, this handmade touch from Starbucks makes it seem more personal.

9. The Customizations

Starbucks gives the customer the ability to customize their drink down to a tee, and sometimes that pays off huge for them. Consider the Medicine Ball, a customer-created drink with crazy immune-boosting properties that became an official menu item after only a few short months.

While ordering exactly what you want is a huge benefit of going to Starbucks, the downfall of this is that those customizations up the price of your drink with every addition. That simple latté can easily go up a few dollars once your customizations are through. It pays to remember this the next time you want that Caramel Frappuccino with extra caramel and a dash of Hazelnut syrup.

10. The Rewards Program

A post shared by Shannon Ratliff (@shanncat) on

Reaching Gold Member status at Starbucks is no easy, or cheap, feat. However, reaching that pinnacle isn’t how Starbucks is trying to get more of those dollars from your pocket, it’s maintaining it that becomes a struggle.

Being active in Starbucks Rewards is required for members to stay connected to the benefits, like a free birthday drink. The Rewards Program also holds contests throughout the year that encourage you to step inside. Starbucks knows that once you’re in, you’re in.

Watch: Our 10 Top Picks for the Best Kolache in Texas