The sales pitches you need to resist
These seven clever come-ons often push holiday shoppers to overspend.
The road to the mall may be paved with good intentions, but retailers know just how to get inside that part of your brain that yells, “Buy me!” And this holiday season, they’re rolling out more tricky marketing strategies to encourage recession-scarred shoppers to spend. “Shoppers are dealing with a whole new arsenal of tricks,” says Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing and Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
Merchants have always used marketing tricks and rotating sales to encourage consumers to open their wallets, but this year, they’re pushing every psychological button they can, retail experts say. Competition for shoppers, plus a tepid holiday shopping outlook, means retailers are doing whatever they can to attract deal-hunting consumers’ attention — all in an effort to entice them into spending more than they’d planned. That means adding worry-inducing purchase limits to indicate scarcity, promising free gifts to shoppers who spend just a little more, and offering rewards today to redeem later just so people will come back to the store.
These strategies work in part because they tap into hard-wired behaviors that go back to our days in caves. Long before we were confronted with half-off Merino turtlenecks or buy-one-get-one-free smartphones, we learned to stockpile in the event of shortage and to compete for scarce resources, psychologists and neuroscientists say. The stakes are considerably lower when you shop, but studies have shown our brains react similarly nonetheless. The effectiveness — and proliferation — of these mind games are a big part of the reason you’re apt to look back and wonder why you thought that buying three itchy sweaters for $50 or a $200 no-name television was such a good idea.