Make a list, and check it twice

Make a list, and check it twice

8 min read

Buying gifts is not as simple as walking out the door, picking up what your friends and family want (or need), and being back home within ten minutes. It’s a complicated and overwhelming happening. Often exploited by shops and their marketers. Why? Stressed out shoppers are easier to persuade into buying goods.

Here’s a list of how to stay calm, focused and prepared. More importantly, how not to fall for persuasions when you shop. Subconscious forces like emotions and memories are at work here. Shop owners know exactly how to activate the brain areas that put you in the best shopping state. These tips will help you through the Christmas shopping this year.

Christmas shopping is not easy.

The scent of cinnamon and pine tree gets shoppers in a jolly holiday mood and ready to spend money. The colour red, associated with Christmas, causes natural psychological arousal. Christmas music triggers our hippocampus and brings up warm memories of Christmas.

Christmas time embodies the climax of sensory overload especially when you're out shopping. We know the brain has a busy time processing everything that goes on around us even in normal situations. That's why it has developed shortcuts to cope with sensory input. Especially during the season to be jolly.

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There is Christmas music everywhere, the smell of baked food, hundreds of people, thousands of lights and millions of gifts to sift through. It can all be a little much. Moreover, this can cause your brain to overload. As a result you will do what you don't want to do; buy everything!

Get ready this year!

  • Stay calm at all times. When you feel stressed, you make bad decisions.
  • Make a list. You won’t need anything else than what’s on there!
  • Watch out for confusing deals. We are not rational, so do bring a calculator.
  • Don’t buy something only because someone bought something for you.
  • Don’t believe slogans that rhyme.
  • Ignore anything that is next to the register. These are there for a reason.
  • Wear your headphone and listen to your favourite playlist.
  • Hold your breath as long as you can.
  • Look left, instead of right.

Christmas dinner

Our biggest problem this time of year is that we are all too easily persuaded into buying things we don’t need. We turn from calm beings into hysterical shoppers. Take the next facts into consideration when you go grocery shopping for this years Christmas dinner.

A positive state of mind

Ever noticed how fruit and vegetables are always at the beginning of the store. When you think about that, it doesn’t make sense. These products get damaged easily in your cart. It makes more sense to place them at the end of your shopping route so you can safely put them on top. They do this to make you automatically feel healthier and put you in an uplifting and positive state of mind when shopping.

Spot new products

The things you need every day like bread and milk are usually at the back of the store. Also, for a reason. This way you have to go through the entire shop. You'll most likely come across other products you don't know you want or need so you can add them to your cart. They make you spend as much time in the store as possible to increase the chance of spontaneous purchases. Sometimes you can even find a table with a coffee stand in the middle of the store with free cookies.

Christmas cookies

Enjoy the cookie

Your brain needs sugar to function. We get cranky when we’re tired and hungry. Our mind is not able to suppress negative emotions that come from small annoyances especially in a busy environment like a grocery store. When you eat sugar, your brain can function properly again. Take a coffee and a cookie and give yourself a fifteen-minute break to allow the glucose to kick in. You are now ready to control impulses and suppress your subconscious desires again.

Smell the bread

You are probably aware that the smell of freshly baked bread, which you notice well before you can see the products, is also there for a reason. We've seen in research how powerful the use of smell can be in retail environments. Scents are hardwired into the brain’s limbic system; this structure is associated with emotion. Scents can automatically stimulate very vivid memories. They can evoke an emotional response and, when used correctly, they can enhance mood and happy feelings. Studies have shown a 40% improvement in mood when exposed to a pleasant scent. Subconsciously we associate these scents and happy memories with the rest of the shopping experience.

So now that that’s over. You have all your ingredients. It would help if you had gifts.

Christmas gifts

Christmas gifts

Getting gifts means you are going to have to enter that busy shopping street or mall. Ever walked out of a store with a sombrero you didn’t immediately need? Let me guess they played Mexican music.

Another sensory cue that is hardwired in the brain is sound. The type of music that is playing in a restaurant or shop is critical. Restaurants will sell more French wine when French music is playing and more German wine when German music is playing. So be aware of the songs you hear to find out what they want you to buy. Alternatively, put on your headphones before you enter.

We like shops more when there is Christmas music playing combined with a Christmas scent. As a result, we are tempted to buy more. Only removing the Christmas scents will result in us liking the shop less. So to keep the experience enjoyable and you only buy what you need, plug both ears and nose.

You can rely on your eyes, right?

Most people are right-handed, and because of this, most people's eyes drift to their right. Thus, most popular products are on the right-hand side, on eye-level. Branded products from famous companies are arranged at eye-level while cheaper ones are lower down. This goes for all types of stores. These products are also often halfway down the aisle, ensuring you go through the least favourite items first, from whichever side you enter.

So, when possible, make an immediate left instead of your regular right as you enter a store.

The real value of a deal

Finally found something to buy? Now is the time to pay extra attention to the price. People are terrible at making judgments about the value of a deal. There are many ways stores make use of our inability and make prices appear less than they are.

The psychology of pricing is science on itself. A well-known tactic is to lower round prices with one cent, turning €10 into €9.99. It is called charm pricing. A one-cent difference between €10.80 and €10.79 won’t matter that much. However, a one-cent difference between €10.00 and €9.99 makes a huge difference, subjectively. Even though it’s only a cent’s difference, the perceived value is much less than that because the brain automatically scans the '9' so fast it forgets the €0.99 cents.

More advanced tactics make use of findings from psychological research. Displaying prices in a small font will make them seem cheaper because your brain has a universal conceptualisation of size and there is an overlap. Arm yourself against these tactics and read more about price-pain here.

Don’t let them get in your head

Think about why you are buying that gift. Because after all, Christmas is all about giving and receiving.

It's the most wonderful time of the year

With the kids' jingle belling

And everyone telling you "Be of good cheer"

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Rhymes are true

Watch out for these catchy slogans and lines. They are dangerous. People believe statements that are in rhyme form more than if they aren’t. So be careful; they are not necessarily true! Research shows that the statement "What sobriety conceals, alcohol reveals" was judged to be more accurate than "What sobriety conceals, alcohol unmasks".

Back to buying gifts. A powerful persuasion principle is that of reciprocity. Robert Cialdini explains this in his book Influence: humans are wired to want to return favours and pay back debts. We want to treat others the way they’ve treated us. /*Make sure you want to get your uncle Robert that present. Because you think he will like it and it will make him happy. Not because he got you that awful sweater a year before and you feel obliged to get him, well, just anything.

Don't get distracted

There are enough distractions around you as it is. It isn’t easy to stay focused even when you are doing nothing at all. The busy Christmas season is the absolute peak. Your brain is running overtime to cope with all the input resulting in stress and potentially terrible gift decisions. Just write these tips at the top of your shopping list when you go out for your Christmas shopping to be as effective as you can be!

Don’t know where to begin? Too afraid to venture outside? Simply stay in! Here’s our list of the Top 20 Neuromarketing books you can order online!


Ian MacCorquodale

Ian MacCorquodale

After studying Brain & Cognition at the University of Amsterdam I knew I wanted to try to make neuroscientific findings applicable in some way. This idea led me to Neurofied. Marketing is an art. A creative pursuit based on assumptions. I add the science of how our brain and psychology works. We (humans) know a lot about our brain but we don’t apply it to get better results. That’s what I do. Mostly in three areas: websites, online marketing, and education through workshops. With the rise of research areas like Consumer neuroscience, Neuromarketing, Behavioural economics and Artificial intelligence, it is a great time to be alive :)

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