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5 Marketing Tricks Retailers Use that Cause You to Spend More

Picture your typical Christmas shopping experience. You walk into the store, and it pretty much looks like a winter wonderland. You’re greeted with festive red and green decorations on every surface. You hear classic yuletide carols that warm your heart. You smell faint scents of nutmeg and cinnamon in the air. It’s almost like you’ve been transported back in time to Grandma’s house. And suddenly you loosen your grip on your wallet—in the spirit of Christmas.

Whoops! You just fell for some (very well thought out) holiday marketing tricks, friend.

Marketing Tricks = Big Bucks

Christmas retail sales in the United States hit $687.9 billion in 2017 according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).1 That’s a big chunk of change! And Christmas 2018 is projected to cross the $700 billion mark. Yes, that’s billion with a “b.”

With that much money on the line, is it really any surprise the lengths retailers will go to just to get us to buy something? At Christmastime, they pull out all the stops.


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Enter multisensory marketing—or nostalgia marketing. The general idea here is that stores know 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.

Here are some sensory retail schemes you might notice while Christmas shopping this year.

5 Marketing Tricks to Watch Out For This Christmas


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 creates a sense of 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 the item that caught your eye, or if you’re about to make an impulse buy.


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. A little “White Christmas” will do that to you.


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—especially at Christmas. Take a deep breath and see if you can smell peppermint and Christmas tree balsam the next time you’re in a department store.


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. It’s like mom always said: Keep your hands behind your back.

Impulse Buys

You can see it. The end is in sight. You’ve almost made your way to the checkout counter when . . . there it is. The shelves of goodies you never knew you needed—otherwise known as the impulse buys. These items are usually affordable and even somewhat practical, and you tell yourself you might be able to use them one day. Imagine that. But beware! These eye-catching “can’t live without it” items lining the shelves can $1 and $5 your budget to death. It’s the store’s last-ditch effort to get you to spend just a little more money before you walk out the door. Sneaky.

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 Christmas shopping experience (both retail and online). After all, the NRF found that the holiday season alone brings in as much as 25% of a retailer’s annual sales.3 But if you keep these marketing tricks in mind while Christmas shopping, you can save yourself from post-season buyer’s remorse. So make sure you stick to your budget!

Don’t fall for these slick marketing tricks when you’re shopping this Christmas season. If you stick to the plan and stay true to your Christmas budget with our EveryDollar app, you’ll have a Christmas that won’t come back to haunt you in January.

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners.

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