How to Avoid Overspending this Holiday Season (and Beyond!)

How to Avoid Overspending this Holiday Season (and Beyond!)

Retail psychology is a very real, and very tricky form of psychological warfare that’s utilized in order to get you, the consumer, to spend more money than originally intended. Don’t fall victim to these tactics during the holidays, or anytime, with our tips for identifying and overcoming overspending.

Besides avoiding stores altogether, and opting for alternative gifts and holiday items by way of some awesome DIY projects, it’s best to face the opposition head on with your own know-how designed to shut down the black magic sorcery that I like to call advertising. (Queue daunting music and ominous thunder.)

Yes, shopping can be scary (fast fashion, for starters), but the damage done while shopping can be downright terrifying. Not only does it instill fear in a budget-conscious partner, like only a deranged axe murderer could replicate, but it also wreaks havoc on your bank account, giving your panicked partner permission to say, “Told ya so!” And even if you don’t have anyone around splitting the bill, it’s important to hold ourselves accountable and live within our means.

So, in order to save your sanity, wallet, and possibly your relationship this holiday season, let’s discuss some of retail’s trickiest advertising strategies and how to avoid them!

The Psychology of Retail

Retail psychology is essentially the in-depth study of consumers, like you and me, and all of the things that make us tick. They want to know how you think, what you like, how you feel, and sometimes what you had for breakfast. Marketers then use this data to design their advertising campaigns, store layouts, and merchandise placement in ways that make it difficult for us to say no. As you’ll soon learn, this leads to overspending, feelings of missing out, impulse buys, empty pockets, and cluttered closets.

The Store Layout

As a former visual merchandiser, I can attest to the expense and thought that goes into what is essentially “decorating” a retail store. Corporate wants it stylish, fresh, appealing, and to depict whatever company executives believe is a reflection of what the customer wants.

Before you even walk through the entryway of most department stores, you can preview the merchandise through a freshly washed window. Upon entering, some locations ensure that you’re immediately greeted by a grouping of well-dressed mannequins that are changed every few days. They’ll sometimes be flanked by a couple of colorful, eye-catching tables that are packed to the hilt with merchandise, like boxed jewelry, or some other bauble that draws you in. Above the mannequins’ heads, you’ll likely see a larger-than-life sign alerting shoppers to the latest sale.

And this is just the entrance of the store!

In addition to that, floor plans are constantly being changed–the ends of aisles updated with the newest merchandise to keep things current, and displays are strategically planned to draw you in with pretty colors and shiny objects. 

According to Entrepreneur, these grand displays, colors, and merchandising strategies are apparently meant to help the customer stay longer, shop more, and indulge in those pesky impulse buys. I don’t know about you, but when I’m sandwiched in that claustrophobic grocery line, the candy section is coincidentally right within reach. Eek!

The POS Impulse Buy

The POS (point of sale, not piece of you-know-what) impulse buy is usually the last minute purchase you make after loading all of your items onto the conveyor belt, or handing that armful of goodies to the sales associate behind the counter. Sometimes you have a little time to wait and absorb all the colorful products and glossy magazines, other times there’s just a single box of chocolate bars calling out your name. “Jaaaamie, Jaaaamie!” Crazy, right?!

Either way, according to Specialty Retail, these POS areas are specifically designed to trigger two “primal human motivations” which are said to be a consumer attempting to avoid pain, or one trying to experience pleasure. Those are some serious emotions at play! But the important thing to remember is that unless you are truly suffering (like you need a BandAid or an actual pain reliever), then those items at the checkout are actually there to sabotage and manipulate your spending. Besides, do you really need to add anything else to that junk drawer?

The Mega Sale

Labor Day, Independence Day, day after Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, and pretty much any hint of a holiday or major occasion, is an opportunity for retailers to hold that mega blowout, prices-so-low-it’s-ridiculous kind of sale. And according to Psychology Today, there’s a lot of, well, psychology, behind those campaigns – six specific tactics to be exact. Let’s take a look.

  • Fear: By putting a time limit on sales, like a “50 percent off this weekend only” sort of ploy, retailers instill a fear in shoppers that they will miss out on getting those great deals.
  • Emotional Investment: When you trudge through the jam-packed sales racks and bargain bins, you are investing precious time and energy into your shopping excursion, making it more likely that when you finally do unearth your size, the hunt and the investment will make the product seem like it’s worth so much more.  
  • Competition: If you’ve ever compared prices or exchanged shopping stories, then you know that there can be a bit of competition among shoppers. Retailers love to capitalize on this by, as one woman shared, marking down a product that rarely goes on sale, offering a very limited window of time to buy it (two short hours in her case), and then arriving to find it completely sold out. Now, she claims to be always looking for the next email announcing another flash sale in order to buy this product at half-off.
  • Assumed Value: If a product’s sale price was actually it’s full price, then shoppers may invest more time into considering their purchases, rather than buying it simply because a formerly $200 product is now $100.
  • Easy Shopping: Apparently, sale racks offer fewer choices, which is exactly what overwhelmed shoppers are looking for. Rather than being inundated by so many choices (of which men are said to sometimes bail on entirely), sale and clearance racks naturally narrow down the selection.
  • Saving Not Spending: If you’ve ever been handed the receipt and then the cashier pointed out how much money you saved, rather than spent, then you have already been acquainted with this tactic. Retailers like to emphasize how much you’ve saved, as opposed to the hundreds of dollars you may have shelled out.  

The Purposeful Shopper

If retail psychology doesn’t scare you into wanting to become a purposeful shopper, well, then I don’t know what will, but I can help you incorporate some better habits to avoid, or at least, minimize, overspending.

  • Make a list of what you need before you go – and stick to it!
  • Have a firm budget allotted in advance, and don’t waiver.
  • Really think about what you’re about to buy. Don’t stress yourself out, but consider the impact it will make in your life, both long and short-term.
  • Know the tricks retailers use to increase your spending and don’t fall for them. Understand that this truly is a tactic to earn them more money by taking yours.
  • Spending is not saving, regardless of what your receipt says.
  • For gifting purposes, try your hand at homemade presents, and for some food items, try growing your own.

I know the strength it takes to resist what you might consider to be a “great deal.” But the more you exercise that restraint muscle, the bigger and stronger it will get. Don’t let retail psychology get the best of you during the holidays, or anytime. Your bank account will thank you!

Do you recognize sneaky retail tricks? Share your thoughts with us on the EcoSalon Facebook page!

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Jamie Duncan

After starting out in public relations, Jamie finished college with a BFA in interior design. This combination of writing and design knowledge, coupled with her fashion and lifestyle expertise, has paved the way for an exciting freelance career. Her work has been published in magazines and online, plus she’s managed PR campaigns, and is no stranger to copywriting. Jamie’s a vegetarian and cruelty-free product fanatic. Connect with her on Twitter and check out her website to learn more.