How Retailers Woo You Into More Holiday Purchases

Retailers spend a lot of money, time and effort getting you to spend more money in their stores. Some methods used are so skeevy it might be more ethical to simply rip the wallet out of your hands. While these practices go on year round, they really get kicked up a notch during the holidays.

England’s BBC pounded the pavement to investigate misleading tactics. Check out their conclusions, and a few of our own, before you hit the mall again.

1. Bigger Isn’t Always Better
We tend to assume bulk purchases provide better prices, but a careful examination of the unit-price fine print may reveal you’re actually paying more for a large-size container. For example, the BBC found a “big value” sized stain remover cost roughly $5 more than three of the smaller containers totaling the same weight.

2. The Amazing Product Shrink Ray invented their shrink ray theory after receiving a nearly endless stream of complaints that containers stayed the same size but the contents kept shrinking. Also, a box, bag or bottle might still be labeled “large,” while the contents have shrunk. For example, one Consumerist reader recently noted the shrink ray zapped away 20 percent of Quaker Granola Bars while charging the same price.

3. Buy NOW!
Ever see signs crowing a product is “now” offered at a certain price? What they don’t say is the previous price might actually have been cheaper. Such labels create a sense of urgency that impels shoppers to grab up “sale” items.

4. Comparing Apples to Apples
Loose produce is priced per pound or ounce, so you know exactly what you’re getting. But those weight measurements are steadily disappearing from bagged and boxed portions. The BBC found a bag of unlabeled apples cost roughly $1 more than if purchased individually. Hoist one of those babies on the weight scale to make sure you’re not paying extra for the container.

5. Free Shipping Come-ons
Online shoppers now demand free shipping offers or they’ll take their business elsewhere. As a result, some retailers display huge website banners advertising free shipping, when actually the minimum purchase required is buried deep within the small print. Or you might reach the final checkout page only to find your item doesn’t qualify for free shipping. The merchant’s goal is to lure you through the whole process until you’ve reached “input fatigue” (to coin a phrase), and will simply go ahead and make the purchase.

The advantage of shopping on Free Shipping Day this Dec. 16 is that each participating e-retailer clearly lists their deals, many of which come with additional savings. This one-day event allows you to shop from more than 2,000 merchants offering free shipping by Christmas Eve.

5. New/Old Low Prices
“Price establishing” is the practice of boosting the cost of a product for a short period, so the retailer can then advertise a return to the original price as a big sale. Unless you have a photographic memory for original costs, you’re best off comparing prices between stores. The app PriceGrabber makes this a snap.

6. Layaway Isn’t Always Better
Layaway plans have made a big comeback this year, as consumers try to avoid charging purchases to their credit cards. Unless you read the fine print, however, you may be blindsided by start-up fees, unexpected interest rates, and payment deadlines that negate all your previous purchases. As with any contract, it’s important to know what you’re signing.

7. Watch Out for BOGOs.
“Buy two sweaters and get one free!” How many times have you seen such ads. You have to question if the price of those two sweaters isn’t actually paying for the third. These deals are often irresistible, but you should resist them until doing a bit of price comparing.

8. Keep an Eye on Clothing Quality
Have you noticed the shrinking-fabric phenomenon this year? Cropped sweaters with half sleeves are advertised as the hot new look, when actually they’re priced the same as the old full-size articles but with one-third less fabric. You’ll also want to consider clothing details before you buy, including finished hems, quality of snaps or buttons, and thickness of the cloth.

9. Fake-out Prices
A pet peeve is the computer printer vs. ink cartridge debacle. You may pay $30 for a printer, only to find the ink costs $25 per cartridge. How is that a deal? Consumer electronics are particularly suspect in this area. Make sure the supplemental products you’ll need don’t outweigh the cost of the original item.

Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert. As a nationally recognized media source, Andrea has been featured on Good Morning America, NBC Today Show, MSNBC, New York Times Bucks Blog, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. For more, visit or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  • While I love Hobby Lobby, I always laugh/cringe at their everlasting “50% off picture frames”. I don’t go there much, but I think a good percentage of their merchandise is always on “sale”.

  • I enjoy how some places have so-called limited time sales, yet then seem to have another comparable sale just the following week. The constant sale phenomenon must work though, as some stores keep doing it over and over. Something about that word “sale” that just get some extra attention from shoppers!

  • Shop early and with goals in mind. That is the best way to save in my humble opinion.

  • @Jenna is right, people should list down everything they need to buy before the Holiday sets in. It will give them the time to think for the appropriate things to buy than rushing on the very last minute.

    • I do think having specific goals/a list when shopping is important if you want to avoid impulse purchases. Maybe a spending limit in mind too :)

  • Those are all good things to look out for. Knowing about how much a product should cost before you shop for it is helpful too.

    • I agree, that’s helpful. Because I’m not big on researching stuff in advance though (to my detriment, probably) I compromise by standing there in the store and doing searches on Google’s product search site to get an idea of whether or not I could get a better deal elsewhere.

  • Shipping is built into the sales price as a comparison of prices between these two big on-line retailers show. Land’s End plus shipping charges is still a better value than L.L.Bean with free shipping most of the time.

  • Hi Jackie,
    I think I’m susceptible to the BOGOs, the new/old low prices and the buy now methods. There’s just something about them I couldn’t resist. A reminder to start being careful and thoughtful in my purchases especially this holiday season.
    My sister does it right I think. It’s similar to what Jenna and Esther suggests. She also has a list of what she needs to buy and she starts collecting them even as early as the start of the year.
    Whenever I can I also go to inventory sales and can get good deals on some items.

    • I often start making holiday purchases in January too. Feeling less hurried and really taking the time to get something the person is likely to enjoy that takes the stress out of things.