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Bah, Humbug. Where Do I Pay?

Stop the music already! I’ll buy the damn Wii.

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I’ve always loved the retail experience at Christmastime. The lights, the music, even the crowds. It’s festive and happy, people are generally smiling, strangers talk to one other. So keep piping “Silent Night” through your sound system. We love it. Or do we?

British journalist Oliver Burkeman, a U.S.-based columnist for The Guardian, insists that we don’t, in fact, love it. In fact, we hate it. And retailers, he says, want us to hate it.

He wrote, in The New York Times on Sunday (“Suffer. Spend. Repeat.”) that “stores crank up music, repeat the same songs, over and over again, pipe in smells, race shoppers around to far-flung points of purchase and clog their heads with confusing offers. All of which makes it more likely we’ll part more readily with more money.”

Ah, the holiday music. Festive backdrop or strategic ploy? “Music played at high volumes . . . may be irritating,” writes Burkeman, “but researchers from Penn State and the National University of Singapore concluded it was one of several factors that lead to overstimulation and ‘a momentary loss of self-control, thus enhancing the likelihood of impulse purchase.’ ”

What about those aisles filled with boxes, cartons and p-o-p displays? Don’t we all know they poison the shopping experience? Well, we thought so. Actually, says Burkeman, “Customer inconvenience can also work to retailers’ advantage. … In a department store, designers create store layouts that make it impossible for customers to move far without stopping — to let others pass, for example — thereby increasing the chances that their eyes will come to rest on products they can’t resist. Products that seem conveniently placed, including low-cost items in bins near the entrance, are probably there to coax you through the initial ‘deliberation phase’ of shopping.”

And then there are all those merry salespersons, smiling and humming and giving personal gift advice. “A reliable way to turn negative emotions into sales, it’s known as ‘disrupt-then-reframe.’ The idea is to confuse a potential customer, so as to evoke uncertainty, then rush in and offer a reassuring path through the resulting confusion.”

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In fact, Burkeman says that confusion is the holiday retailer’s best weapon! “The music’s too loud, the lights are too bright, the streets, subways and buses are sardine tins. The relentless sensory overload — from the cinnamon smells to the Salvation Army bells — fuels agitation and an impulse to escape. How convenient, then, that there appears to be one obvious route through the chaos? Buy that Nintendo Wii or that iPad or that designer perfume — whatever you’ve been wavering over — and be done with it.”

Is this the wrong time to wish you all the happiest of holidays?
 

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