The Art of Selling to Tightwads

5 psychologist-backed techniques to help you seal the deal — and turn reluctant spenders into repeat customers.
couple in store
It's easier to get tightwads to spend more when they come to the store with their spouse. (Photo: ESB Professional/ Shutterstock)

Some people part with their money much less easily than others. But don’t give up on selling to them. Instead, learn what it takes to seal the deal.

“Tightwads — also known as cheapskates — are an underappreciated market, and they make up about 24 percent of adult shoppers,” said consumer psychologist Bruce Sanders, author of “Retailer’s Edge: Boost Profits Using Shopper Psychology.”

Understanding how they’re wired can unlock new sales opportunities at your store, Sanders noted.

“While frugal shoppers find pleasure in saving, tightwads find paying to be painful. They admit to making smaller purchases than they think they should, even though they generally have the money to spend. Lots of retailers don’t have the skill to tap into that, so the small to medium-size retailer can find a great opportunity if they can crack the code in selling to tightwads.”

Here are five ways you can tap into the mindset of tightwads to turn them into spenders — and repeat customers — at your store.

Related: 6 Psychologist-Approved Tricks for Effective Merchandise Arrangement

Emphasize your dependability

clerk with customer

If you want a tightwad to relax their spending restraints, show them you’re a reliable and responsible retailer. (Photo: Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock)

Shopping becomes less painful when tightwads feel their purchases are backed by an accountable retailer.

“Remind tightwads that you’ll be responsible in what you sell to them. Then keep your promise by explaining how the products and services you sell give full value,” said Sanders.

You’ll stand out to customers who feel purchase-related pain if you offer products at a variety of price points, present a fair and transparent return policy and demonstrate that you’ll stand behind your goods, said Sanders.

“When a retailer is seen as responsible and dependable, it’s easier for tightwads to relax those restraints on spending. It comes back to the notion that tightwads are uncomfortable with their resistance to spending. They see it as a shortcoming, so if you can help them overcome that in a responsible way, that in itself is a benefit.”

Related: 7 Tips on Using Customer Testimonials in Your Marketing

Leverage the spouse

couple shaking hands

Since tightwads usually marry spendthrifts, they tend to spend more money when they’re with their spouse. (Photo: Nestor Rizhniak/Shutterstock)

You have a better chance of getting tightwads to open their wallets when they visit your store with a spouse.

“Tightwads tend to marry spendthrifts,” said Sanders, referring to customers who feel little pain when paying and often spend more than they intend to. “This differs from the usual pattern of marriages. People usually select spouses with similar characteristics. But people also are attracted to others who compensate for weaknesses they consciously or subconsciously recognize in themselves.”

This phenomenon can be used to a salesperson’s advantage, as the big spender will often encourage the spending-resistant partner to make a purchase. To increase the likelihood of making a sale, Sanders recommended addressing each member of the couple individually, with friendly eye contact and an appropriate tone of voice, to help them find a product that suits their preferences and budget.

“Then, give such couples sufficient time to work their magic with each other,” said Sanders.

“If one person in a relationship has high self-control and the other has low self-control, the couple generally tilts toward low self-control. People with high self-control, such as tightwads, value maintaining the relationship. Preserving harmony takes precedence over sticking to their guns,” said Sanders.

Related: Boost Sales by Reading Your Customers’ Body Language

Accentuate the small

Want to charge extra for gift wrapping, monogramming, faster shipping or other added features? Slap the word “small” in front of the offer to make it more appealing to tightwads.

One study gave tightwads an opportunity to pay extra for overnight shipping of a DVD they wanted. The results showed that tightwads were 20 percent more likely to pay extra if the fee included the word “small” in front of it (i.e. a “small $5 fee”).

“It loosened up the individual when they were told the fee was small,” said Sanders. “It made the purchase less painful because it was seen as just a little bit more expensive.”

Congratulate careful spending

clerk with customer

Congratulating tightwads on their careful spending and good judgment helps convince them to continue spending money at your store. (Photo: ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

Tightwads are at odds with their own spending habits. While they want to avoid the pain of making a purchase, they also want to overcome their resistance to spending. So when a tightwad makes a purchase, acknowledging his or her good judgement will provide reassurance.

“To have tightwads spend their money with you, reinforce their sense of responsibility.
Congratulate tightwads on how they shop carefully,” said Sanders.

The exchange can also present an opportunity to gather feedback and let the customer reflect on his or her decision-making process, said Sanders.

“To help them appreciate the care with which they’ve made each purchase, say, ‘So that I might better help you and other shoppers make good choices in the future, I’m interested in how you decided on the item you did.’”

Don’t waste their time

Tightwads will feel happy if they score a discount on a product. But the fastest way to kill that joy is by trying to sell them another discounted item, which won’t usually work.

“They’d consider a retailer telling them about it to be a waste of time, and tightwads truly hate to waste,” said Sanders.

Instead, congratulate them for getting a great deal and leave it at that. This will help them feel good about their purchase and increase the likelihood that they’ll visit your store again.

“The fact that you satisfied them makes them more likely to shop with you. There’s that drive to loosen up to not be so tight with themselves. Once they see you as a reliable supplier, they’ll come back,” said Sanders.

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