4 Holiday Retail Tactics to Guard Against


Ryan Ong



Every December, someone sets fire to a lunatic asylum. Then amidst the noise and confusion, we all run in, and grab at piles of crap strewn all over the place. That’s how it works, right? Am I getting the right idea of “Christmas shopping” here? I’m picturing an extreme sport, except with a cash register at the finish line. What amazes me is that all this actually causes people to linger and buy more:

Christmas Shopping and Retail Tactics

Any Christmas shopper is statistically as intelligent as a garden slug. I don’t care if said shopper is a qualified nuclear physicist: The moment he’s lost in the mall, his brain’s on leave with the rest of his body.

We’ve mentioned some tactics retailers use in other articles. But come Christmas, the dial on these tactics is set to 11. In fact, they’ll go so far as to deliberately annoy you into buying things. Here are the top five to look out for…and what you can do about it:

  • Christmas Music
  • Deliberate Mess
  • The Checkout Counter Purchase
  • Cognitive Closure
  • The Vaguely Defined Sale


1. Christmas Music


Christmas CD
…and the last customer shoved it so far up, It took the doctor a year to extract it from my bowels.


Christmas mall music was originally a torture device. There’s no other explanation. After 259 rounds of Jingle Bells, you can make someone ram spikes in his ears. Or confess to planning 9-11. Anything, just please make it stop.

And if only retailers knew it was painful, because then they’d stop. Right?

Ha ha, no. They’re doing it on purpose. See, that music is the best way of lowering your IQ, short of having the staff hold you down and lobotomize you.

In a recent study by NUS (National University of Singapore) and the Pennsylvania State University, researchers found the music causes “a momentary loss of self-control, thus enhancing the likelihood of impulse purchase.”

To summarize: The loud, repetitive music causes the thinking part of your brain to slow down (which also explains Justin Bieber fans). The part of your brain left working is the primal part, which has no concept of money. But it does love hoarding shiny crap.

End Result: If I wrapped dog poop in tin foil, you could probably be persuaded to buy two.


Wear headphones and play your own music. Failing that, avoid the stores where the music is especially annoying. The more irritated you feel, the less reasoned your buying behaviour will be.


2. Deliberate Mess


Clothes Pile
I really hope that was the sales bin and not the neighbouring laundromat.


Have you noticed malls look a lot messier near Christmas? It’s those discount bins every three metres. And the massive pyramid displays, which have fallen and probably killed 11 people by now.

It has nothing to do with crowds, or the staff being too busy to arrange things. Rather, it’s because we associate “messy” with cheap, and “tidy” with expensive.

Have you ever seen Prada or Louis Vuitton stacking Le Grande Pyramid of Discount Sling Bags? On the other hand, cheaper brands like chucking everything onto a table, where shoppers launch at it like hyenas at a deer carcass.

“Robert”, who works for a famous clothes label at Raffles City, says:

The supervisor tells us not to organize the table, whenever some of the clothes fall out of place. That’s to make the things look ‘in-demand’. Also, sometimes there’s no sign or anything, but because the clothes on the table look messy, everyone will just assume they are part of a sale. I can’t prove it, but I think it’s on purpose.”


Just because it’s on a messy table, doesn’t mean it’s cheap or on sale. Check the price tag. Ask how much the discount is.


3. The Checkout Counter Purchase


Candy canes
If you have another five, it cancels out the five you ate. That’s medical science.


Notice how supermarkets put Christmas candy near the checkout? There are two reasons for this:

First, you have to stand in line. That makes you a captive audience. You’re forced to stare at all the colourful candy while you wait.  And by the time you’re near the cashier, you’re reaching for chocolate, candy canes, and a diabetic coma.

Second, there’s something called shopping momentum. You’ll hesitate a lot on your first purchase. But for every purchase after, you’ll hesitate less. By the time of your last purchase, your arm is a piece of meat that only exists to swing credit cards.

This is important for candy. Most people will reject sweets as an initial purchase, due to health reasons. But make it the last purchase, and they’ll buy enough to wreck both kidneys.


Avoid the supermarket, and buy groceries online. Otherwise, just stay aware of the manipulation.


4. Cognitive Closure


Eyes closed tight
You have to sign this medical waiver, if you want the installment plan explained again.


Cognitive closure is about our response to ambiguity. It means we don’t like uncertainty, and will settle on the solution that seems most concrete. However irrational or expensive that solution is.

Watch for this in consumer electronics (TVs, tablets, laptops, etc.) Sales staff will try to bombard you with a range of options first. Once you’re more confused than a baby in a topless bar, they’ll provide you with a conclusive statement:

Yes, I’ve shown you six million alternatives. But now, I can tell you that this is the best TV / Microwave / Laptop etc. for you!

Most often, the sense of relief will cause us to take the salesman’s word. No further questions.


Do your research before buying, and don’t rely on the sales staff. Otherwise, refuse to buy anything until you come back a second time (at least).


Image Credits:
happy_serendipity, swimparallel, Pen Waggener, democlez

Know any retail tactics to watch out for? Comment let us know!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.