Boxing for a Bargain – Boxing Day and January Sales: Avoiding ‘Binge Buying’ and Fighting in the Aisles

In 2018 it was estimated that on Boxing Day alone, UK consumers spent approximately £8.8 million a minute on sales which offered up to 90% off the regular ‘day-to-day’ prices. The enticement of the massive reduction in the regular price of items for consumers can mean that many make purchases that are not entirely necessary.

The entire retail environment is a like psychological mouse-maze for the consumer, with the options presented in a fashion that may make it difficult for many to resist. In our article looking at the consumer pressures placed upon children and young adults (Available HERE), (Link to ) we investigated the social pressures that are leveraged on the younger members of society.

Universal Impacts & the ‘Total Product’

These impacts are not constrained solely to the younger generations. The retail environment is designed to direct and influence consumers of any age. These spaces encourage the target demographic to ‘go with’ a specific item or brand and this inevitably raises questions around whether we are truly in control of our spending habits.

Marketing professor Philip Kotler put forward his argument as early as the 1970s that people respond to a specific item or brand, not just for the item itself, but to the ‘total product’ – this referred to all the items surrounding and relating to the product – the packaging, advertising, financing, images and pleasantries in relation to that item. His theories extended to the atmospherics surrounding consumer items and Kotler’s prediction of the future was true – the science behind advertising in the consumer spaces on our high streets and the coercion that we face as consumers to buy certain products is entirely influenced by our environment.

Social scientists refer to the effects that these manipulations of the consumer environment have on our moods, specifically in relation to the auditory and visual stimuli that influence our desire to buy the ‘total product’ – the perceived lifestyle change that this item will provide us with.

Sound as Architecture

Jonathan Sterne was one of these social scientists who looked at the impacts that the retail environment, specifically the atmospherics, has on individuals and their spending habits. His study into the ‘soundscapes’ found in a large-scale shopping complex called ‘Mall of America’ in 1997, demonstrated just how complex the use of sound is in influencing consumers. He demonstrated that music can be classified as a form of architecture and part of the facilities in the same way as air conditioning, heating and lighting.

This idea was developed three years later by a study into the impact that music had on the behaviours of those shopping for clothing in major cities in the UK. This work demonstrated the ways in which music made people ‘feel’ when they were in a specific shop when a certain genre of music was playing. The social scientists conducting this study identified that the type of music being played heightens the awareness of how people already feel and allows them to imagine themselves wearing the items they see on display in certain social situations and scenarios. By ‘latching’ onto the feeling that the music gives them, consumers inadvertently ‘latch’ onto the items in the process.

The point here is to try and remain aware of these aspects when we are purchasing. We need to consider a myriad of potentials when out and about. The impacts that the consumer environment can have on us is astounding, even if we don’t realise it.

Atmosphere to Attitudes

Consideration also must be made to the way we inhabit retail environments. Events like Boxing Day and the January sales drives masses of consumers to the high street.

Scott is a retail assistant from Paisley who has worked in department stores in various locations for almost a decade –

“Days like Black Friday and Boxing Day are always busy ones in retail. It’s literally all-hands-on-deck from opening to several hours after closing. It can be stressful for customers and staff, and it always makes the atmosphere in store really tense…”

He explained that although it is extremely busy, there are things that can be done to reduce the stress for everyone involved.

“The stress levels are real. Having to deal with irate customers is part of the job, but it just always seems more intense when a sale is happening, especially when it’s straight after the Christmas rush…and I’m never lucky enough to get the day off…”

Scott is not alone in his sentiments. In fact, every year, a petition is put forward urging retail bosses to agree to close stores on Boxing Day, to allow staff to spend time with loved ones. Although over recent years, annual Boxing Day sales figures have shown a decline, Boxing Day and the January Sales continue to be some of the busiest days for retailers. Due to this fact, the chance of a blanket-change to the existing situation is highly unlikely.

Having worked in retail for several years, Scott put together his top tips to ensure everyone to have a more relaxing time at the Boxing Day sales 

  • Queues are inevitable – There will be queues in stores this Boxing Day, especially if there is a considerable customer turnout at the shops. Try to be patient and remember it’s not the cashier / store assistant’s fault.
  • Keep non-priority business for tomorrow – Returns and other unnecessary retail activities should be put off if they are not entirely necessary. These can take cashiers / retail assistants away from serving customers and reducing the length of queues.
  • Compare sales offers to previous prices – Sales prices may not be the be-all-and-end-all. The price of so called ‘sales items’ may not be the bargain you think you are getting. Do your research prior to seeking out items and be alert to small price increases in the months prior to a sale (putting them up means they can take them down).
  • Think before you buy – Do you really need the item you are purchasing? Retail environments are made to encourage us to buy items (sometimes against our better judgement). Think about it and don’t impulse buy just because of a few pounds off. Sleep on it if you have to!
  • Be kind – Remember that other people are just out bargain hunting like you or working to serve you as best they can. Remember to be kind and a smile costs nothing!

If you would like more advice or guidance on any consumer matter, including your rights when it comes to all things retail, you can contact on 0808 164 6000. We are open 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday. You can follow us on social media – Twitter: @advicedotscot and Facebook at, Instagram:, or get ahead by visiting our knowledge centre at