Don’t Promise Your Kids Anything for Christmas

When I was young, I used to love the Toys’R’Us adverts on TV.

I remember that period of being off school just before Christmas and no doubt watching a little too much TV.  I would be transfixed with the theme song and cartoon image of a car driving down the road slowly until the Toys’R’Us store appeared out of no-where at the end. Then, they’d give you that quick run through of everything they had in stock for kids generally 2-5 then 6-11, with an equal split for boys and girls.

I loved the excitement of these ads.  I love the idea of seeing something that I really wanted for Christmas, and running up to my parents begging for them to purchase it for me – almost as if it was a dying need.

But as I sat there, I noticed something: the adverts never changed, why were the same toys being shown over and over again?

Flash forward twenty years and I’ve only just found out.

Commitment and consistency

I was just reading through Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, (not a Christmas gift), that this is the exact ploy toy store businesses thrive on. Cialdini details an interesting story of seeing a neighbour only one time a year and that it was in the January period buying the same toy for their sons of a similar age.

It’s not until Cialdini speaks with another friend and mentions this odd coincidence and he finds this is no coincidence at all. This friend used to work in a toy store and explains this process exactly.

How the toy store doubles their profit from your wallet

First, the toy store hypes up the product on TV. They overplay adverts for the kids to dieingly want whatever is appearing, and just like me, the kids run up to their parents and get them to promise they’ll get it for them for Christmas.

Second, when you go to the toy store, you’ll find it’s out of stock no matter how early you go. Remember the movie Jingle All the Way with Arnold Schwarzenegger running around frantically to get a Turbo Man toy for his son at Christmas. You’ll be doing just the same. So what does he resort to? Buying something pathetic to replace the missing Turbo Man.

Well this is no different, you’ll see the toy manufacturer under-supply the toy stores with the very thing they’ve gotten parents to promise. But of course there’s a huge amount of toys that are of equal value, and the manufacturer almost makes a huge point of supplying these substitutes. So you have to get something right? You can’t just not get your child anything…

Third, as if by magic, after Christmas the advert come back on again for that elusive pre-Christmas toy, this juices the kids up to want the toy even more. There’s no way you cannot not buy the toy because you promised your child didn’t you? And they’ll be in your ear “but you promised, you promised!”

And you find yourself in January, spending twice as much as you planned. Where you see other parents you haven’t seen for a year, falling for the same trick…

“It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end” – Leonardo Da Vinci

So what is there to learn?

This trick originated from toy stores only seeing a surge in sales around the Christmas holiday season. The book illustrates that even if the child’s birthday is a month after, the parents won’t spend anywhere near as much than they do at Christmas.

From a business perspective I get this. It must be like owning a costume shop and only seeing sales surge the week of Halloween. How do you keep a positive cash flow throughout the year?

Apart from that toy store business are much more manipulative with their sales tactics. And, they’ve got you.

If you’re a parent, and you promised you would buy this for your child, then you probably want to show that keeping promises is more important than the toy, but unfortunately the wires got crossed.

It’s crazy to think this happens year in and year out. Toy stores are doubling their profits on parents and they don’t even know it’s happening.