Holiday Marketing Tricks: The Irresistible Allure of "Treat Yourself"

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In this episode of Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp bring you a December warning at least as important as the one given by Jacob Marley: Beware! Advertising gurus and marketing maestros have peered into your psyche and they know how to make you buy. And buy. And buy more. And every year, when shopping season arrives, they pull out every tool in their arsenal.

One idea that has grown more popular with retailers is "giving yourself a gift." (They may like it, but it topped David Gardner's 2017 list of pet peeves last month on the Rule Breaker Investing podcast.) Whether it's properly in the spirit of the season or not, based on the way they advertise to us, there's an awful lot of "gift conversion" happening at this time of year.

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A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Dec. 5, 2017.

Alison Southwick: The fifth and final one that we're going to tackle today is Treat yo' self. Retailers know that while you're out there and have your wallet open, anyway, you're also more inclined to buy something for yourself. About 64% of people -- which I think is low -- are expected to buy a little something for themselves when they're supposed to be out there shopping for their loved ones.

It's gotten to be so much of a moneymaker that Digiday predicted Amazon and self-gifting would lead Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. That was their headline.

Amazon and self-gifting. Knowing this, advertisers will flat-out tell you to treat yourself with a little bit of a wink. J.Crew ads have included messages like "To: You, From: You." Buy one, get one free offers are also an example of retailers trying to get you to self-gift. And it's not only just about treating ourselves to a little something special. Best Buy and other retailers will also advertise, "Black Friday prices now on major appliances," as if that's something you're going to buy someone like a washers, dryers, and vacuums.

Robert Brokamp: Here, Mom. Have a fridge.

Southwick: This is an actual email that I got on Cyber Monday. "Save up to 88%. Cyber Monday sale going on now." From everyone's favorite retailer, Harbor Freight Tools. Here's this whole ad about quantities limited. Shop early. Some of the deals include a nine-piece wobble socket extension set.

Brokamp: I got one of those last year.

Southwick: A 1,000-pound capacity swing-back trailer jack. They actually have really done their research on this. They have actually been reading some marketing handbooks because the pricing is done quite clearly. They're trying to make it seem scarce and urgent. Way to go Harbor Freight Tools. You almost got me. You almost got me, but I was able to resist treating myself to one of your 1,000-pound capacity 9" steel loading ramps, set of two.

Brokamp: A set of two.

Southwick: A set of two. Well, you're going to need two because it's like loading a four-wheeler up onto the back of your truck. I don't know. So, The Washington Post says that some retail experts call this gift conversion. It's this little dance that you do in your head when you wind up buying for yourself after you're supposed to be out for someone else.

Economics -- this is also from the Washington Post article -- demographic, and general changes have had a Pavlovian effect. Americans hear Christmas and they think massive bargain shopping for all the stuff I didn't get during the year. So, the next time you're in TJ Maxx, as a shareholder, myself, I encourage you to check out the checkout experience. It's a long line.

It's a gauntlet of impulse shopping nirvana where all you're doing is just looking at a number of different things you didn't know you needed all priced under $10. You're like, "Yes, I need new headphones. Yes, I need a travel mug."

Brokamp: It's like exiting through the gift store. Like you have to do that.

Southwick: It is, and it's all one line, so everyone is just funneled through. It's genius. Like I said, I'm a shareholder, so please go.

Brokamp: Please. Give into those impulses.

Southwick: Please go for it. I'm totally done with that.

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