The Secrets of Xmas Sales

December 8, 2012

David Lifts The Lid on Retailers Persuasion Tricks


Persuading a customer to spend their hard earned cash on merchandise is the holy grail of the retail sector.  In this article and video, produced the insanely talented BBC NI in house team, and in particular Laura Burns (Laura’s Twitter) I give my take on what’s happening in those stores when they try to flog their wares this festive season.

Whether it’s the comforting scent of cinnamon, the warm glow of soft lighting, or the oh-so-irresistable special offer, they know how to push our buttons to makes their cash registers sing.  My friends will know I’m a SUCKER for a bargain – 50% off, 25% extra free – I just can’t resist a deal and have been known to negotiate at every single sales juncture I’ve ever engaged in.  (My wife continues to make fun of me for refusing to pay the delivery charge a few years back when we had to replace a wheelie bin)


Martins Banbridge: “The bin is £38, and delivery is £2.50”

Me: “Could you deliver for free?”

Martins Banbridge: “No, delivery is charged as standard”

Me: “But it’s only £2.50, surely you could throw in delivery in to my price for me -just stick it in the van when you’re delivering something else to someone else”

Martins Banbridge: “Sorry Mr Meade it’s £2.50”

Me: “But how can you not take it off – it’s only £2.50”  (drawing attention to the fact that the fee is so small they should easily waive it for me)

Martins Banbridge: “Exactly Mr Meade, it’s only £2.50” (drawing attention to the fact that the fee is so small that I should stop being a prat about it)

Me: “I just don’t understand the £2.50 change – I mean you already own the van” (I’m cringing even writing that)

Martins Banbridge: “It’s £2.50”


I paid the £2.50, and as Karma would have it, our original bin mysteriously reappeared back in it’s place on the same day we had the new bin delivered.  I have no idea what the life lesson is here. Clearly I’m an insufferable tube, but happy to have your suggestions in the comment box below.

According to the National Post, shoppers might think they buy a particular item because they decided on their own that they want it, but they also buy because stores use tactics that make it almost impossible for them not to: From the oversized shopping carts proven to make us spend more, to the escalators that take us deeper into a store only to force us across the entire retail floor to go back up or down, to the pie crusts in the grocery store fruit section that inspire us to bake on a whim, to the placement of staple foods toward the back of a supermarket so we have to pass everything else on the way.

A feast for the senses

In new research , a University of Alberta team has proven that what we smell and hear affects what we buy: When a sample group smelled the relaxing scent of lavender, 77% wanted a soothing iced tea, but when the same group smelled the arousing aroma of grapefruit, 70% reached for an energy drink. When the researchers played Mozart’s Sonata in D Major at a slow tempo, 71% wanted iced tea, but when the piano piece was sped up, 71% wanted an energy drink — an exact reversal.

“We found that we could change people’s preferences enormously based on the type of music we played and the scents we released into the atmosphere,” said Prof. Kyle Murray, the director of the university’s School of Retailing. “When you’re more excited, you’re more likely to buy exciting products because you want to stay in that positive, high-arousal mood.”

Stores are already testing what was only recently just a theory, and a whole industry has sprouted to deliver what one company calls “scent delivery solutions.” According to ScentAir’s website, it helps Bloomingdale’s U.S. locations capitalize on the power of the nostril: “The soft scent of Baby Powder speaks to a mother’s memory in the infant department. The intimate apparel department is inviting with the soothing scent of Lilac, while Coconut wafts through the swimsuit department.”

But Prof. Murray said perhaps the most classic example of a retailer’s use of scent and sound is Abercrombie & Fitch, where upbeat music blares, the clothing is spritzed with perfumes and cologne, and where the lighting is almost obnoxiously dimmed.

“They have an atmosphere that is very well-designed for the younger segment they’re aiming for — and it’s almost repellent, actually, to anyone else,” Prof. Murray said. “Everything works together to give the store a kind of nightclub feel.”

It works, he said, because of a key factor called “mood maintenance”: Teens who enter Abercrombie & Fitch in a positive, upbeat mood, will be met with a similarly positive, energetic atmosphere; then, in keeping with the grapefruit and uptempo Mozart findings, they will be more inclined to buy because the environment matches their mood.

To find out more about this fascinating field, visit The National Post’s article on the subject.

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