4 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 were $619.9 billion in 2014, according to Statista.com. 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 people 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 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 colors during the Christmas season. But some colors have a big influence on how we view a product or shopping experience. Take red, for instance. 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.

Related: Want to make an impulse purchase? Find out how to work it into your budget with no guilt.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Music affects our heart rate and influences our mood. Studies have shown slow music makes us shop longer, spending more time and . . . more money. And 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 more 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 emotional scent with their products, sales go up. A study by neurologist Dr. Alan Hirsch found shoppers would pay $10 more for a pair of Nike shoes in a scented room than for an identical pair in an unscented room. 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 Touch It, You Buy It

You see a cashmere sweater in the mall and just have to reach out and touch it. 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 study from Ohio State University found shoppers can develop a sense of ownership before they even buy a product—especially if they touch or hold it. 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 how store (and online) shopping experiences are thought up, so you need to stick to your budget. After all, the holiday season alone accounts for 20–40% of a retailer’s annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation. 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 here!

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