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The Truth About Christmas Shopping

Does it sometimes seem like department stores go out of their way to make the shopping experience unpleasant, when you'd think, especially around Christmas, that they'd do just the opposite? There's a reason for this: It turns out that the less comfortable you are during the seasonal shopping spree, the more money you’ll spend.

In the December 9th edition of the New York Times, Oliver Burkeman writes: "(At Christmas time) "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." Researchers have found that upbeat music can cause shoppers to make impulsive purchases, and smells are selected to encourage spending.

Customer inconvenience can also work to a store's advantage the rest of the year too. It's well known that staples like bread and milk are often found at opposite ends of the supermarket, because this forces shoppers to travel the length of the store, past shelves of tempting nonessentials.

According to Burkeman, "Take those Christmas songs--the ones that begin to play in stores in November and last for what seems like eternity. Few of us would claim to love listening to 'The Little Drummer Boy' over and over; just last month, customer complaints reached such heights in Canada that Shoppers Drug Mart, the country's largest pharmacy chain, caved to consumer pressure and announced it would switch off Christmas music 'until further notice.'"

In the December 8-14th edition of the Economist, Ian Leslie reports that it might help if we remember that the more difficult things are, the better the result--to the extent that some people INTENTIONALLY make things harder for themselves. In the classroom, for instance, if a concept is easy to learn, studies show that it's also easily forgotten, but when material is made harder to absorb, students retain more of it over the long term, and understand it on a deeper level. Does this mean that the misery of shopping will lead us to purchase better gifts?

In the New York Times, Burkeman says, "A final truth about holiday shopping and happiness: even those of us who don't enjoy the experience might be forced to admit that we enjoy disliking it. After all, nobody is forced to wait till December to buy gifts, yet every year we do so in droves, plunging with abandon into the precisely choreographed awfulness the retailers work so hard to perfect..

"I won’t claim that 'The Little Drummer Boy' actually improves my holiday season. But things would feel very strange without him."

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