■ Cathrine Jansson-Boyd, reader in consumer psychology, Anglia Ruskin University
IT HAS begun. Shops are — already — starting to put out their Christmas displays. I can hear many of you groaning already. Who wants to think about Christmas in October, right?
Well, before you get your tinsel in a tangle, you may wish to consider that there are benefits to starting your Christmas shopping early. Especially this year, as the price of many goods have noticeably increased partially due to inflation.
First and foremost, people make better decisions when they are not in a rush. Even just adding one second, or less, to the time you take when considering a purchase can help improve the decisions you make. Additional time allows the brain to focus attention on what is most relevant and block out what is not. Hence, you are much less likely to be distracted by an irrelevant in-store display or an online banner.
Finding the perfect gift can be tricky so extra time ensures that you stay focused. This can be the difference between a good and a bad gift. Equally, think about how rushed things can get when you leave your Christmas shopping to the last minute. This often causes stress and can put you in a bad mood. That’s good news for retailers — as negative emotions can lead to increased spending — but bad news for you.
Clearly it is a financial blessing to start early as it can help you source the cheapest options. Let’s face it, Christmas shopping can be expensive — food and presents all add up. Last year the average UK household spent over £800, so it seems sensible to be money conscious.
Make a budget and stick to it. Spreading costs over a longer time period makes it less likely that you overspend and avoid that dreaded overdraft. Consider buying gifts over Black Friday and Cyber Monday at the end of November — there are usually some bargains to be had. But do stay alert, as you can become too excited by purchasing a potential bargain, so much so that it skews your ability to judge whether it is a good offer.
If possible, avoid making purchases with a card. Consumers generally spend more when making card payments than they do if they use cash. This is because people don’t usually feel as if they are actually parting with their money.
It is also worth being aware that you are more prepared to buy products and pay more for them if you touch them while in-store. Christmas displays are often set up in a way that encourages you to pick up the items on display.
So if you really want to control your spending: bring cash and avoid touching products until you have decided what you want, as it will help you make better financial decisions.
As Christmas gets closer, consumers are bombarded with advertising messages and additional displays enticing them to buy. The amount of choice consumers are faced with can actually be an obstacle. In many cases people find it difficult to choose a product when faced with such an explosion of choice.
This can lead to people giving up and walking off without having bought anything, forcing them to return at a later date. If the later date happens to be close to Christmas then they are more likely to make a snap decision that may not be so satisfying. But if the later date is still well ahead of Christmas then they will feel less pressured to make a rash purchase, giving more time to get the right present.
For others, being faced with too much choice can lead to an instant snap decision in a bid to avoid the hassle of going through all the options. These snap decisions can leave you feeling dissatisfied, not to mention wasting money.
The way to deal with a lot of choice is to decide on product preferences before you start your shopping. When you have a preference you often pick the first option that fits your preferences and it saves you from having to spend valuable time going through all that is on offer. This also makes you feel happier about what you have bought.
So the moral of this Christmas story is: don’t rush, take your time. If possible use cash and try to have clear criteria for what you want to buy. And try not to get songs, like the following, stuck in your head.
When you shop, ain’t it thrilling,
Though your nose gets a chilling
But please beware, as it can be dear,
Walking in a winter wonderland.