Shopping street at Christmas
Image via Ben Askins

I work in retail. This is how we get you to buy more stuff at Christmas

Festive music, life-sized Santas, fake snow galore. As a self-confessed Scrooge, I thought I'd shed some (Christmas) lights on some of our spending-friendly holiday tricks

‘Tis the season to spend money, and more money, and more money. And what better place to experience this festive spirit than working in a shop! I’ve seen first hand the subtle (and not so subtle) things retailers do to get you to keep spending. Here’s how it works.

Overwhelming decorations

Glitter dumped on woman's head

Of course, the first step to getting people to spend money on Christmas is to make the shops look as Christmassy as possible. Even in October, the shelves are already giving way to a multitude of Christmas paraphernalia. Normal signs are replaced with ones adorned with snowflakes, tinsel is draped across any available surface, and glitter is like sand: it gets everywhere and anywhere. At least the window display looks pretty, right? Only for about five minutes until someone asks for the one metre Santa nestled right at the heart of the display.

Christmas Creep

Grinch creeping across screen!

Unlike other holidays, Christmas isn’t just a day or a long weekend; it’s an entire season. And each year the start of this season is pushed back earlier and earlier. Americans call this Christmas creep. Here in the UK it’s called the “golden quarter”, as it is the three months that retailers hope to make the most money. And if you’re going to have a ‘golden quarter’, then it makes perfect sense for stores to try to make it last as long as possible, starting the holiday frenzy as early as October and keeping it going well after December 25th.

Big promotions

South Park clip showing back friday chaos

In the tradition of borrowing things from America, we Brits now also have the infamous Black Friday sales. After all, it’s a win-win situation. You’re doing your Christmas shopping relatively early, and saving money in the process. For retailers, it’s the best chance to capitalise on festive spending, with the volume of sales making up for any slashing in prices. And boy does it work; this year I saw queues snake to the very back of the shop and shelves ransacked to the point of emptiness.

Sappy advertising


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…every time you turn on the TV and see another tearjerker of an advert. Everything on TV seems to have the sole aim of warming your heart, whether it is by making you cry with animated animals or making you wish you had a family as cute as those in the traditional cosy family scenes. This Christmas, UK companies will spend an estimated £5.6bn on ad campaigns, which apparently pays off in a £24 profit from every £1 spent on holiday advertising.

The music

Joey from friends with fingers in ears

After a long day at work, I just want to retreat to my safe, tinsel-free haven. But the thing that still haunts me is the Christmas music, incessantly pumped through the speakers from opening until closing time in a never-ending loop. How many covers of “Last Christmas” exist? Too many, is what I found out.

As well as cultivating that ever-important festive spirit, playing festive music apparently   to spend more.  95% of Brits prefer Christmas shopping with in-store music, and 1 in 4 said that they would be more generous with their present-buying if they enjoyed the Christmas song in the background. This means that no matter where you go, you can’t escape the scream of “IT’S CHRIIIIISTMAAS!”

Longer hours

Polar Bear sliding across ice

As well as helping those who plan ahead and shop early, shops have got your back in times of desperation. To any last minute shoppers, never fear, for long trading hours are here! It is common for shops to extend their hours well into the evening, right up to Christmas Eve. And of course, there are the Boxing Day sales: where you can find the stuff you bought days before at half the price. Unfortunately, for us  workers it often means that there is little to no time to spend at home.

Do we need to buy all this stuff?

Once upon a time, Christmas was about spending time at home with family and friends, rather than battling it out on the high street. But gifts have taken front and center stage for Christmas: in the UK we’re expected to spend £473 each on presents this year – more than any other country in Europe.

For those who work in shops, it's hard to feel festive when the holiday has been wrung well and truly dry since October. Then again, Christmas gift giving is obviously creating huge amounts of job opportunities (including all my extra shifts), festive cheer, and a lot of joy among people who are less Scrooge-y than I am – so it's not like it's all bad.

At any rate, I’ll be doing my shopping online this year. I just want to avoid the music.

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