Stores Make Holiday Shopping Awful On Purpose

Oliver Burkeman explains how stores make you miserable to make you spend
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 9, 2012 3:57 PM CST
Stores Make Holiday Shopping Awful On Purpose
People walk through the River Ridge Mall in Lynchburg, Va. on Black Friday, Nov. 23, 2012 in search of holiday sales.   (AP Photo/The News & Advance, Sam O'Keefe)

Do you hate holiday shopping? Does it sometimes seem like the entire experience—from the lights, to the confusing sales, to the incredibly loud endless renditions of "The Little Drummer Boy"—is designed to make you miserable? Well, that's because it is, Oliver Burkeman writes in today's New York Times. Studies have shown that sensory overstimulation leads to "a momentary loss of self-control," and an increased likelihood to buy things. Likewise, slow tempo carols make shoppers more likely to linger in stores.

Stores also use psychological techniques like "disrupt-then-reframe," giving customers intentionally confusing options, then reassuring them with a "bargain" that cuts through fog. "We might and probably should, rail against such techniques," Burkeman writes. But even those of us who don't enjoy holiday shopping "might be forced to admit that we enjoy disliking it." We don't have to wait until December to buy, but we do it every year, "plunging with abandon into the precisely choreographed awfulness the retailers work so hard to perfect." (More Christmas shopping stories.)

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