Holidays are a retailer's lifeblood. I know–I used to work in retail. To be honest, every year I would dread it—the stress, the crowds, the rush, the grueling pace. Whether my job was at the local bar next to the mall or the discount clothing store chain, to me, all those shoppers with all their bags and boxes just looked…anxious. Today I realize this is likely because they were overspending their holiday gift budget. To avoid the same fate, be aware of these common ploys retailers use to entice you to spend, spend, spend.

1. Retailers play on your holiday stress.

When you see messages like "Buy now!" and "Only 7 more shopping days!" you know you have spotted this common marketing ploy (for more see LiveScience and #4 in Women on Business).

But perhaps the most effective of all holiday-related marketing tactics is to combine a sale with one of these messages. Here you might see "This deal only good for 24 hours!" or "You won't find prices this low for another year!"

  • How to resist: Remember, the best time to buy many of the items you drool over pre-holidays will come post-holidays. So put yourself into "shopping time out" when you find yourself feeling anxious, pressured, even guilty for not spending while the pricing is good. It’s okay to not spend—even if it is a great deal. It’s okay to wait. It’s okay to take good care of your finances. These self-supporting messages will help calm the impulse to, well, shop on impulse!

2. Retailers tap into your love of a good bargain.

When it seems like the sky has opened up and is raining sales, discounts and bargains galore, understand that at this time of year, a sale is a savvy retailer's best friend (for more see Reuters). Sales can encourage shoppers to spend on something they would ordinarily pass on—and to overspend in the name of a good bargain.

  • How to resist: Know you are not immune whether you shop in-store or online, so make a list and stick to it. If the bargain is not on the list and you really, really want it, make a pact with yourself to talk to your partner, best friend or someone else you trust about whether the purchase makes financial sense for you at this time.

3. Retailers offer you "free" gifts along with your purchase.

Those "free" gifts aren't as free as they seem. What the retailer does here is quite sneaky—instead of discounting the product they want to sell, they add a free gift to the purchase. This makes the item seem like a better buy—and keeps customers from wondering why the item has been discounted (example: the quality is poor). (For more see

  • How to resist: When you see "free gift with purchase" translate into your head "this product was almost offered at a discount." If you really want that particular product, look for it at a lower price elsewhere (if you find it and the store offering the free gift will price-match, you can get it for lower and get the freebie too!)

4. Retailers entice you with free samples.

The allure of free samples may not show its value in terms of the exact product bought, but an offer of free samples can definitely boost sales (up to 2,000%) of similar products as well as the exact product(s) being sampled (for more see The Atlantic).

  • How to resist: This one is easy (at least in principle if not in practice). Don't sample as you shop!

5. Retailers use music as a (not so) gentle reminder.

The in-store music the retailer chooses is quite deliberate. The goal is to keep you in the store, encourage you to browse and spend, and remember "the reason for the season" (which is to shop, of course)! (For more see Business Insider.)

  • How to resist: The easiest tactic here is to just bring your own tunes—preferably something upbeat that keeps you moving through and out of the store.

6. Retailers scent the store with seasonal fragrance.

Whether it’s a chocolatier who bakes fresh cookies to entice you in or a home goods store with an apple cider spice candle burning near the entrance, those seasonal fragrances are like subliminal signals for your nose…which sends the message straight to your keen shopping brain to relax, enjoy the season, and shop more (for more see Business News Daily).

  • How to resist: The jury is actually out on how well scent works to boost profits in different situations (since shoppers' sense of smell can vary widely). But it surely can't hurt, so retailers keep using it. For you, short of wearing nose plugs, the best strategy is simply to be aware.

7. Retailers show up wherever you go.

Social media has become big business for retailers. Crowdsourcing (asking you to "check in" or "like" a business) has become so popular precisely because the retailer can reach not just a single shopper (you) but also your entire social network. The retailer also issues coupons, discounts and deals to you via the social media you use to promote them to your network (for more see

  • How to resist: This looks like a great deal on the surface—you get coupons, discounts and deals just for clicking a button, and your friends do too! The trouble is, you may not have been planning to do more shopping with that retailer, but now you have this hot little coupon burning a hole through your pocket. So let it burn. If you don't need to use it for something you were already planning to buy anyway, don't use it!
7 Holiday Marketing Ploys to Avoid