Combatting Your Little Consumer: 3 Tactics for Shopping with Kids

Move over, Madison Avenue, you’ve got some serious competition when it comes to PR & Marketing, and that’s kids.

Kids are amazingly adept at getting parents and caregivers to purchase almost anything for them. I feel like they must have read Getting to Yes and The Art of War in the womb (I mean, what else are ya gonna do cooped up for 9 months?).

Plus, let’s be honest. The deck is totally stacked. I mean we already (usually) love the little critter and want to give them everything. This is natural (thank you, Evolution!). Plus, they already look cute and pack two very powerful weapons on them at all times: Big Puppy Eyes (the carrot) and Exploding Tantrum (the stick). Unfortunately, neither a red phone nor launch codes are needed to use either one. And as much as we would like to remind our little one(s) about mutually assured destruction (“Honey, we are going to leave if you ask one more time!”), we often don’t want to leave the store because ya know, we’re completely out of milk and bread, which means we have to get it now. But I digress.

Regardless of how sweet or conniving the little critters are, there will be times (sometimes many, many, many times) where they ask for things. Here are three techniques I have used to reduce the number of mommy-can-I-have-it’s in the store.

  1. Use hedonic adaptation to your benefit.  Let the child hold the item while they are in the store. This seems counterintuitive at first, but I have found that if I let Junior hold the item or put it in our cart, they will eventually get bored with it (and I can put it back). I feel this also teaches them (indirectly) about hedonic adaptation – things that are so cool eventually seem not as cool over time. Plus, it’s easier to put the item back on the shelf once their death grip on it loosens.
  2. Model choosing not to buy. Kids don’t realize that there are many things we adults see in a store that we think are cool but do not buy.  We can make them aware of this by showcasing our thinking process. For example, I like to proactively find things in the store to praise (“Oh, isn’t this egg shaper so entertaining? What a hilarious way to start the day!”). Then after about 5 seconds of admiring it, I briefly explain why I will not buy it (“But I am going to put this back because I would rather buy a monogrammed steak branding iron, which I need.”). And then I put it right back on the shelf and happily skip away. At first I kind of felt like an idiot doing this in public, but now my preschoolers have caught on and they have started doing the same. Win!
  3. Teach your little consumer about constraints. We adults know that regardless of how much stuff we want, we can only purchase so much.  Like we can’t all own property in the Cayman Islands not just because our credit card issuer will decline the purchase, but also because there is only so much Cayman Island to go around. With kids, we can point out that there are more people than there are <name-of-toy>. They can count the toy (“Look, there are 1-2-3-4-5 lego sets on this shelf”) and then count the number of people in the store (hopefully, this will entertain them for a while). Then explain that clearly there aren’t enough lego sets for everyone to have one. You can then blow their mind with other product-related trivia, like the fact that even though they wear underwear everyday of the year, they don’t own 365 pairs of it (see if they can find 365 pairs of their underwear in the store. They probably can’t). Once their mind is blown, they will stop asking for that impulse purchase – probably because they are now thinking about those 365 pairs of underwear.

I hope you find these tips helpful. And if you do go to the store and it is a total disaster, pat yourself on the back for trying and pour yourself a glass of wine. We’ve all been there.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Claire says:

    Hilarious as well as great advice!

    Next time I’m at the store with my children, I will remember your advice and act accordingly.

    Personally, I think it could be just as entertaining for me as it would be for the children.

  2. Naomi L Klein says:


    Carpe Diem!


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