Marketing Secrets Retailers Use That Cause You to Spend More

4 Minute Read

Think about the last time you went Christmas shopping. You walk into the mall. You’re greeted with festive red and green decorations. You hear classic carols. You smell faint scents of nutmeg and cinnamon. And suddenly you loosen your grip on your wallet—in the spirit of Christmas.

Holiday retail sales in the United States hit $658.3 billion in 2016, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).(1) That’s a big chunk of change! With that much money on the line, is it really any surprise retailers are intentionally marketing to us with more than just a large "Buy One, Get One" sign at the front door?

Enter multisensory marketing—or nostalgia marketing. The general idea is that we are emotional consumers. If a product gives us warm, fuzzy feelings or triggers happy childhood memories, we’re more likely to buy it. When retailers play to our emotions—especially by appealing to more than one of our five senses—we could end up spending much more money than we planned.


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This kind of marketing isn’t bad, but you should be aware of it. Here are some sensory-retail techniques you might encounter while shopping for Christmas this year.

Color Your World

Let’s be honest—it’s going to be a little difficult to avoid red and green during the Christmas season. But some colors have a big influence on how we view a product or shopping experience. Take a look at the color red: It indicates urgency, and is often targeted at impulse buyers. Blue and green, on the other hand, are calmer colors that attract careful, cautious customers. Next time you’re at the mall and see a red sales tag, take a step back and decide if you really need it, or if you’re about to make an impulse buy.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Music affects our heart rates and moods. Studies have shown slow music makes us shop longer—spending more time and more money. Upbeat music (which is often played during sales) raises our excitement and encourages us to spend. During the holidays, Christmas classics might make you more nostalgic and willing to spend your paycheck on things you didn’t actually plan to buy.

The Nose Knows

The part of our brain that recognizes smells also handles our emotions and memories. So, if a company can get us to associate a positive scent with their products, sales go up. Department stores are good at using scents to manipulate our spending behavior—see if you can smell sunscreen in the swimsuit section and baby powder in the infant department next time you’re there.

You Can’t Touch This

You may see a fluffy blanket in the mall and suddenly feel like you just have to pick it up. Or what about that sleek, silver laptop? We’ve all done it. It turns out that’s exactly what retailers want you to do. A research study from Ohio State university and Illinois State University found shoppers can develop a sense of ownership before they even buy a product—especially if they touch or hold it.(2) Moral of the story? If you touch it, you’re more likely to buy it.

There’s nothing wrong with getting caught up in the holiday cheer! Just remember, there’s a lot of planning that goes into a store’s shopping experience (both retail and online), so you make sure you stick to your budget. After all, the NRF found that the holiday season alone accounts for as much as 30% of a retailer’s annual sales.(3) But if you keep these marketing techniques in mind while shopping, you can save yourself from a season filled with buyer’s remorse.

Want to learn how to budget? Looking for ways to get out of debt? Or maybe you want to bless someone else? Check out our Dave’s Deals happening right now!

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