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'Tis The Season For Holiday Shopping


'Tis the season for shopping. Between Black Friday, Cyber Monday, flash sales and sample sales, consumers are bombarded with seemingly great prices and urgent opportunities everywhere they turn. Marketing expert Martin Lindstrom advices companies like McDonald's or Procter & Gamble, on how to sell. And he joins us to talk about the psychology of sales. Good morning.


WERTHEIMER: Now, let's start with the big one, Black Friday. I walk in to say, Macy's, describe how it is engineered to make me shop.

LINDSTROM: I think the most amazing thing happening in Macy's is the idea of using the tiles you're walking on as a trigger to make you buy more. So here's what's happening. As you walk in, on the tiles you're actually walking faster, but as soon as you jump into the carpet, you actually slow down.


LINDSTROM: I call it the speed bump zone. And then of course they want to create an amazing atmosphere, and the atmosphere comes down to, in general, using music, the slower beat you play, actually the longer time people spend in the retail store. They also work with the light - well, it's true, because it basically makes you relax, and that's what this is all about.

WERTHEIMER: How are consumers responding to this? Do you think they're on to your tricks and your fancies?

LINDSTROM: Well, most consumers have no idea and feel they are savvy shoppers. But you have to remember when you walk into a retail store, you're walking straight into the zone of seduction. Everything is engineered to optimize every minute you spend in there. Remember an average woman is spending 25,140 minutes, throughout life, shopping. That's the same as eight years of shopping, right?


LINDSTROM: It's depressing, hey? And that really means that if they can increase your time in the retail store with just one or two minutes more, you actually will be shopping more.

WERTHEIMER: So what if you don't have music and you don't have the beautiful perfume floating in the air, and you're sitting in front of your computer at home? Can retailers use any of this knowledge to replicate the excitement of Black Friday, when you're either ordering by telephone or ordering on computer?

LINDSTROM: Absolutely. And I think the retailers now are understanding that this is all one big game. So if you take a look at Amazon, what they do is they have a clock ticking down, giving you a sense of urgency. And because we all are fundamentally greedy, we would like to get a deal ahead of everyone else, and suddenly this has become a game more about getting the deal, than actually getting the product which is suited for you at the moment.

WERTHEIMER: You know, I have to tell you though, that I think there comes a time in the lives of women, where we begin to think we have enough stuff, and we kind of lose interest. I'm speaking personally, and for myself here, but I think I'm immune to what you're talking about.

LINDSTROM: Well, I tell you that what's fascinating here, is that if you go back to Estee Lauder companies and their invention of the lipstick index, you will see that more we are under recession, the more we want to actually buy small items to treat ourselves.

WERTHEIMER: OK. You got me there. You totally got me there.

LINDSTROM: OK. You know, that's shopping, too. Don't forget it. It's not the big price items, always.

WERTHEIMER: So, do you think that in all this frenzy of sales and coupons and games and whatnot, are there really bargains out there?

LINDSTROM: Yes, there is. But the reality is that those bargains are so few that you better your lottery instead, and I think there's a bigger chance for you to win. You know, at the end of the day, what they would like to do is to create those doorbusters, and the doorbusters are really that amazing offer which is displayed in front of you, and you get that naïve sense that actually you can get that great deal.

But here's the reality, as you walk into the store and you're let down, because it happens to be that someone in front of you just grabbed it, you want to compensate for waking up at 12:00 midnight. So what you do? You buy something else. You may even lie about the price. We know that today, 11 percent of all women lie about the value of the ultimate cost.

WERTHEIMER: That cannot be true, surely not.

LINDSTROM: Not at all, right?


LINDSTROM: And then what happens is that our dopamine levels in our brains, which really is a neurotransmitter, released whenever we had that rushy feeling, that has to be compensating something else. And that means we need to buy something.

WERTHEIMER: Martin Lindstrom is the author of "Brand Washed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy." Thank you very much.

LINDSTROM: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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