Smart shopping

Amidst the tinkle of tinsel, the bobbing of baubles and tinny renditions of age-old carols, the average consumer might be forgiven for misplacing their well-intended shopping list as their internal impulse mechanisms signal high alert. With most shops ablaze with more glitter than a night at the Oscars, large retail outlets are draped and geared to trade on consumer impulsiveness and a sure season of over-spending. If knowledge is indeed power then, in order to ensure that we remain smart shoppers, we would do well to understand how our emotions and psyche can be manipulated into forsaking the budget and blowing the bonus long before it reflects in our bank accounts.

The wily art of product grouping has long been used by retailers to help trigger one’s impulse needs. There is little coincidence in the visually pleasing collaboration of Christmas crackers, tea candles, silver place-mats and after-dinner mints. Each item’s existence in the careful assembly of products is both intentional and adroit. Using a pallet of this season’s must-have hues, this artful collection of products becomes inseparable and irresistible to the off-guard consumer.

With cost being an ever-present factor in the mind of most consumers, many retailers rely on the ruse of product contrast to further boost sales. In order to make a product look more attractive, retailers often place a similar, but more expensive, product next to it. This manoeuver appeals to human logic, leading many consumers to believe that they have made a cogent choice by purchasing the less expensive product, regardless of whether they actually needed the product in the first instance.

The Achilles-heel of any consumer driven to keep up with the Joneses, the promise of exclusivity is often too strong an offer to withstand. Catch-phrases such as exclusive offer, limited edition and for premier customers only are considered irrefutable invitations to those who simply have to have. Led by the desire for elitism, the real cost of buying status often far exceeds the purchase price.

Close on the heels of the exclusivity promise is the threat of a time-limit – that well-timed window of opportunity that consumers are gifted ‘while stocks last’, ‘for a limited period only’ or ‘this weekend only’. The fear of regret is one of the most powerful human emotions in the field of behavioural finance, to the extent that it can lead consumers to take greater risks than they normally would. It’s a bit like FOMO (the fear of missing out), but with financial implications for the risk taker. Retailers know that, when it comes to money, us seemingly rational humans have well-established track records of anything-but-rational spend trends.

And if the dauntingly decorative displays and lavish lights don’t disorientate you while wondering the aisles, the careful art of product organisation may well leave you lost mid-mall. Anxious that their customers may become too familiar with the shop layout, retailers regularly re-organise their shop interiors so that consumers are forced to go in search of their trusted favourites. This expedition inevitably leads consumers through areas of the shop they don’t normally explore, exposing them to more products and thereby increasing potential sales.

No less important than product organisation is the positioning of products on the shelves – the sweet aisle at any point of sale being a good case in point. Whilst those tempting treats are waist-height to an adult, they’re perfectly positioned at eye-level to a toddler – causing those narrow aisles winding towards the till points to be dubbed the “walk of shame” by any mother who’s helplessly tried to calm a screeching child while wrenching jelly tots from sticky fists.

Although convincing the customer as to the financial soundness of his purchasing decision is of paramount importance, retailers remain acutely aware of the need to reinforce a set of non-economic rewards. Hand-in-hand with impulse shopping is the ubiquitous buyer’s remorse; and in order to alleviate the onset of guilt following large or unscheduled purchases, retailers have learnt that reassurances such as “you’re worth it”, “you deserve to spoil yourself” or “only the best is good enough” are like sol volatile to a faint heart.

While gift shopping, spoiling our loved ones and splurging out on little luxuries are all part of what makes Christmas special, our advice is to equip oneself with enough knowledge to avoid being taken advantage of by alluring advertising. By recognising clever marketing ploys and identifying the emotions that are triggered within, consumers are empowered to take control of their purchases and adhere to their budgets, content in the knowledge that perhaps their greatest gift this Christmas will be a new year free from the ravages of silly season debt.

Have a blessed day!


Draw up a shopping list, prepare a budget and make provision for a little spoiling!

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