You might be feeling that holiday cheer right about now. You're stuffed with turkey and sweet potato pie and invigorated by all the togetherness to participate in the wholesome American tradition of consumerism. It's called the Santa Claus rally for a reason. But shopping this season is full of wire trips and booby traps. You need to be careful out there.
Given the fact that millions of Americans will began that ubiquitous, and often manic, pastime of hitting the shops and malls for that perfect holiday gift this year, being prudent is all the more necessary.
Good luck with that, especially given how retailers, both online and off, will pull out all the stops to trick or trap.
Those tricks and traps are everywhere, says Nick Clements, co-founder of MagnifyMoney, a New York City-based consumer financial services site that specializes in reading the fine print for financial consumers. "Be ready," Clements says. "For example, stores will start aggressively pushing store cards at checkout, so be prepared to hear '10% off if you open a store card.' But these can be horrible -- and horribly expensive -- deals for consumers if they aren't careful."
0% financing offers are everywhere, Clements notes, but that can be a trapdoor, too. "Not all 0% offers are the same," he says. "For example, Apple has teamed with Barclaycard to offer 0% financing on phones. But if you don't pay off the balance in full, before the end of the promotional period, you'll be charged interest retroactively at very high interest rates. There is a big difference between deferred and waived interest."
Lisa Chu, owner of Black N Bianco, a Los Angeles-based kids clothing company, also reveals some insider industry tricks that retailers routinely trot out during the busy holiday season, when you'll likely not notice.
"As a small business owner I learned a few tricks to get shoppers sending a little more money than they intended," Chu says. "For instance, by offering something in a bundle, a consumer will most likely be willing to spend a few more dollars if they feel it's a better value."
Another way to get shoppers to send more money is by offering free gifts if they spend over a certain amount of cash, she adds. "If they're only a few dollars away from the free gift, consumers will be more likely to purchase another item so they can receive the free sample or gift," Chu says.
"It's all about provide value to your customer," Chu adds. "If they feel it's a great deal or if you can provide value to their spending, they're more willing to spend more money."
Cue all of your five senses when out at the shops and stores over the next few weeks - retailers are counting on the fact you won't.
"Many studies have been done around how music affects the shopping experience," says Mari Corella, a retail and ecommerce industry expert who has worked for major fashion and beauty retailers, including Gap, Saks Fifth Avenue, Williams-Sonoma and Avon. "Loud dance music has been shown to invoke trendier purchases. Classical music has been shown to drive sales of higher-priced and luxury items, perhaps due to its association of affluence. The holiday season is not immune to this and retailers pump Christmas songs through their stores to invoke emotions of nostalgia and generosity, all leading to a greater basket size."
Be aware that retailers are playing on your heart strings: identifying these tactics and diagnosing how they're influencing you can prevent them from having the influence take a dangerous and unconscious effect.
Your nose should know, too, that tricks and traps are in play. "Retailers often scent their stores during the holidays with seasonal fragrances such as gingerbread and pine," Corella says. "Similar to Christmas music, this tactic invokes a sense of warmness and generosity, all leading to larger purchases."
Watch for product placement, too. "Items at eye level tend to have higher price points than those on the top or bottom shelves," she adds. "These gain more visibility. In fact, many distributors pay for this space. The added cost is passed to the consumer on the price tag."
Online, don't fall for free delivery offers until you read that fine print. "We call those 'threshold offers,' Corella says. "A popular practice for online retailers is to offer free shipping, a discount, or a free gift once a certain order value is reached. This order value is often up to 50% more than the average order value."
Some gambits to get you to overspend are already baked in the cake, especially if you are a member of a big box store or two. "Brick-and-mortar retailers use all kinds of tricks to entice shoppers, using science and psychology to optimize spending," explains Benjamin K. Glaser, features editor with DealNews. "By being aware of some of these practices, shoppers can try to think rationally and stick to their budgets."
Warehouse stores like Costco and Sam's Club are great examples of how retailers can get people to spend more, he adds. "Ironically, their membership fees and low prices both encourage people to spend more, to "get the most" out of their experience."
Touch and feel are potential spending temptations drivers, too. "Have you ever found yourself entering an Apple Store, immediately walking up to a laptop, and adjusting the screen?," asks Glaser. "You're not alone. That's exactly what Apple wants you to do, and it's why every single laptop screen in the store is set open at a 70-degree angle. With the screen tilting backwards just a bit, shoppers can see the display and get interested, but must adjust it for an optimal viewing angle. And just like that, you've touched the product and are engaging with it."
There's seemingly no end to the strategies, above board and below, that retailers will employ to separate you from your money this holiday season. So be wary, and know what tricks and trap doors might tempt you to overspend over the next six weeks or so.