The Psychology of Christmas Shopping

At this time of year it can be hard to avoid all the adverts and promotions telling us to buy more. With Black Friday, Christmas shopping and soon the January sales, it’s as though there’s more out there than ever trying to persuade us to part with our money. Adverts are also getting more sophisticated, trying to tug at our heart strings to get us to spend more, and the hype around the new Christmas adverts every year doesn’t show any signs of dying down. However this is more than just brand awareness – retailers are using subtle tricks to entice us into their shops and spend our money.

There are several tricks shops can use to attract buyers. One commonly used at Christmas is the presence of Christmas music and a Christmas scent. Research has found that this combination can lead to shoppers having more positive thoughts about the store as well as making them more likely to intend to visit (Spangenberg et al, 2005). Other research has found (perhaps unsurprisingly) that a more pleasurable shopping experience resulted in shoppers spending more money (Sherman & Smith, 1997), which shows why shops take so much care in the overall retail experience.

Shops will also try to make sure you walk round as much of the store as possible to increase the amount you spend (Hui et al, 2013). This can be done in a variety of ways, for example the location of promotional items, changing up the store layout or scattering commonly bought items (e.g. milk, bread), so that customers have to walk round more of the shop. As seeing items on the shelves can remind us about things we wanted to buy, our unplanned spend goes up. Another common trick is called “eye level is buy level” – that is, shops will place the items they want to sell the most of at eye level, as shoppers are more likely to choose those ones to put in their basket. Browsing also makes people more likely to impulse shop, and impulse spend is correlated with the time spent in the store (Iyer, 1989).

Discounts and the psychology of Christmas shopping

Another strategy commonly used to get customers through the door is to have a sale, or offer discounts on certain items. These are then hyped up, either through TV advertising or more often than not, through targeted emails straight to your smartphone. Studies have shown that promotions and offers can have a positive influence on how shoppers perceive the stores, which again in turn impacts intention to spend money there (Faryabi et al, 2012). Interestingly, the researchers also suggest that it is important that retailers emphasise the limited time the offer is available and display the ‘old’ price alongside the discounted one, so that shoppers don’t view the cheap price as an indicator of poor product quality.

So next time you go shopping, try and stick to the list of things you really need. Now you know the tricks retailers use to get you to spend more, you know how to avoid impulse shopping or having to buy this weeks “star offer”. Make sure your shopping involves a set of conscious decisions (do I really need this?), and you might save some money!



Faryabi, M., Sadeghzadeh, K. and Saed, M., 2012. The effect of price discounts and store image on consumer’s purchase intention in online shopping context case study: Nokia and HTC. Journal of business studies quarterly4(1), p.197.

Hui, S.K., Inman, J.J., Huang, Y. and Suher, J., 2013. The effect of in-store travel distance on unplanned spending: Applications to mobile promotion strategies. Journal of Marketing77(2), pp.1-16.

Iyer, E.S., 1989. Unplanned Purchasing: Knowledge of shopping environment and. Journal of retailing65(1), p.40.

Sherman, E., Mathur, A. and Smith, R.B., 1997. Store environment and consumer purchase behavior: mediating role of consumer emotions. Psychology & Marketing14(4), pp.361-378.

Spangenberg, E.R., Grohmann, B. and Sprott, D.E., 2005. It’s beginning to smell (and sound) a lot like Christmas: the interactive effects of ambient scent and music in a retail setting. Journal of business research58(11), pp.1583-1589.

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