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Avoid blowing your budget

Published: 
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The road to the mall may be paved with good intentions, but retailers know just how to get inside that part of your brain that yells, “Buy me!” And this holiday season, they’re rolling out more tricky marketing strategies to encourage recession-scarred shoppers to spend. Merchants have always used marketing tricks and rotating sales to encourage consumers to open their wallets, but this year, they’re pushing every psychological button they can, retail experts say.

Competition for shoppers, plus a tepid holiday shopping outlook, means retailers are doing whatever they can to attract deal-hunting consumers’ attention, all in an effort to entice them into spending more than they’d planned. That means adding worry-inducing purchase limits to indicate scarcity, promising free gifts to shoppers who spend just a little more, and offering rewards today to redeem later just so people will come back to the store.

These strategies work in part because they tap into hard-wired behaviours that go back to our days in caves. Long before we were confronted with buy-one-get-another-for-half- off, or buy-one-get-one-free, we learned to stockpile in the event of shortage and to compete for scarce resources, psychologists and neuroscientists say. The stakes are considerably lower when you shop, but studies have shown our brains react similarly nonetheless.

The effectiveness and proliferation of these mind games are a big part of the reason you’re apt to look back and wonder why you thought that buying three itchy sweaters for the price of two, or a “cheap” no-name television was such a good idea. Get to know these seven hidden triggers, and next time you go shopping, you can look at retailers’ pitches with a more critical eye, and maybe avoid blowing your budget.

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