MONEY Advertising

The True Purpose of Heineken Light’s New Money-Back Guarantee

Heineken Light
Heineken

It's easy to make a promise when you're pretty sure no one will ever take you up on it.

Heineken Light just introduced quite an impressive-sounding guarantee, in which customers will get their money back if they think that it’s not the best-tasting light beer on the market.

The new guarantee is being promoted with a couple of commercials featuring Neil Patrick Harris. The humor in the one 15-second spot embedded below stems from the fact that Harris isn’t quite sure how anyone would actually get a refund.

“Not me, I won’t” give you your money back, the actor and Oscars host says in the commercial. “Someone will give you your…” he stammers and then stops, before clarifying, “someone at Heineken, I’m guessing,” while looking around bewildered. In other words, he has no clue how the money-back guarantee would work in real life. Ha!

If you’re interested, have a look at the ad yourself:

What’s funny in a different way about this commercial is that the ad brings to light how virtually no consumers understand the nitty-gritty of money-back guarantees—mainly because almost no one ever gets their money back from them.

It’s easy for Heineken to make this promise concerning its product, because people simply “won’t return the beer — too much hassle and humiliation,” Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and frequent Money.com contributor explained via email. “The whole point of the ad is to make a big statement about quality/taste — guarantees are one of the strongest possible ways to demonstrate confidence. Heineken cleverly reduced the ‘huckster’ quality of a money-back guarantee by adding a dribble of irony and self-mockery through Neil Patrick Harris’ delivery.”

Money-back guarantees have been around for decades. An old Journal of Retailing study succinctly sums up a few of the key reasons why stores and manufacturers roll them out, especially when it comes to newer, higher-end products:

Such a guarantee may increase a retailer’s profits. They may increase the sales volume by encouraging shoppers to try new products. In addition, they may allow the retailer to charge higher prices because the reduction in risk from the product’s being a poor match with their tastes may increase a consumer’s willingness to pay.

Overall, these guarantees tend to provide far more benefit to retailers than they do for consumers. They’re the “commercial equivalent of a date pulling out his or her wallet with no intention of paying,” as a colleague at Time.com once put it.

It’s not just retailers and product manufacturers that make use of money-back guarantees as a means to instill confidence and drum up business. A small Canadian newspaper just introduced a money-back guarantee for subscribers, while a pastor in Pennsylvania recently told his congregation that he’d be happy to give donations to the church back to anyone who doesn’t feel blessed.

“We’ve never had one person ask for their money back, which means that God is true to his word and that we’re seeing the blessings of God being poured out in people’s lives,” said the pastor, Robbie McLaughlin of Hope City Church in Harrisburg.

It’s hard to say how many people take companies up on their money-back guarantees because this information is rarely shared with the public, if it’s tracked at all. Walmart introduced a much-heralded fresh produce money-back guarantee in 2013. But as one retail insider noted, it’s somewhat of an empty promise, because the likelihood of anyone employing the guarantee for a refund is small: “How many customers are going to return to Walmart and stand in a customer service line to return a $3 produce item?”

Some money-back guarantees come with substantial fine print, as well as loopholes that can make it extra difficult to get your money back. For instance, a MousePrint.org study on the money-back guarantees highlighted how Federal Express’s promise was undercut by a line of fine print explaining the “guarantee can be suspended, modified or revoked at our sole discretion without prior notice to you.”

One of the best-known money-back guarantees comes from Hampton Hotels, which has had such a guarantee for more than a quarter-century, and which claims to have given away “millions of dollars in free room nights” over the years to guests who weren’t fully satisfied with their stays. Even with those refunds factored in, the company says the guarantee has been great for business. One reason is that most people with complaints “merely wanted the management to know about the problems,” according to a company press release celebrating the guarantee’s 25th anniversary, and they didn’t actually ask for their money back. Most importantly, the guarantee has served as “key driver of incremental business for the brand, with about 75 percent of all hotel guests aware of the offer and about half reporting that it has some influence on their hotel choice.”

MONEY Shopping

5 Makeup Names Just As Tasteless As “Underage Red”

Red lipstick on lips
Getty Images

The lipstick that has sparked controversy among Sephora customers doesn't stand alone in its tastelessness

Consumers are voicing outrage on Twitter about a new shade of lipstick sold by Sephora under the Kat Von D label.

Critics have said that the color, called “Underage Red,” sexualizes young girls and trivializes pedophilia. The lipstick line already includes a rosy hue called “Lolita.”

This isn’t the first time Kat Von D has made headlines for a makeup name: Back in 2013, Sephora pulled a lipstick from the line called “Celebutard” after customers complained.

But the brand is not alone in applying objectionable names to cosmetics. MAC also offers a peach lipgloss called “Underage,” and several other companies are guilty of labeling makeup with offensive phrases. Here are five other examples that are—or were—equally terrible. Most, fortunately, seem to have been discontinued.

1. “Miso Happy With This Color” by OPI

Puns that tacitly support an extremely tired stereotype about how Asian people speak? Offensive.

2. “I’m Not Really A Whore” by Naughty Nailz

So much for celebrating womanhood. Even among other polishes named “Dirty Slut,” “Nympho,” “Trophy Wife,” and “Gold Digger,” this one stood out as particularly self-loathing. It doesn’t even have a retro ring to it, like “Brazen Hussy.”

3. “What’s A Tire Jack?” by OPI

According to the copywriter assigned to describe this tire-black color, it “speaks to rule-breaking feminine drama”—whatever that means. What it sounds like is another lame joke about women being bad with tools.

4. “Give Me Moor” by OPI

Clearly whoever named this shade skipped Othello in high school English, or else he or she would have realized it’s in poor taste to name a dark nail polish hue with an old racial slur.

5. “Iris I Was Thinner” by OPI

Just what women and teens need: A reminder that it’s “normal” to hate your body. And let’s not even get into the grammatical error.

More from Money.com:

Why Your Smile Might Be Your Next Password

Get Free Ice Cream and Italian Ices this Week

10 Supposedly Irish Things that Aren’t Remotely Irish

MONEY Tech

The Real Reason So Many of Us Crave the Apple Watch

150309_EM_AppleNoRolex
Kay-Paris Fernandes—Getty Images

This week's unveiling of the Apple Watch has hypnotized the masses, or at least the media. Why are we so enraptured by a device that it's pretty obvious we don't need?

No one really needs an Apple Watch. Yes, it will have many uses, including tracking exercise, making mobile payments, reading email, and running all sorts of apps. But smartphones and other devices are capable of doing all of these things and more. So why do so many of us want an Apple Watch? Here are a few insights:

The Slow Striptease

A month ago, I was riding in an elevator in San Francisco (45 minutes from Apple headquarters) and noticed someone wearing what appeared to be an Apple Watch. I asked him if it was indeed the much-hyped unreleased watch. He said yes. He also said I couldn’t touch it. Okay, no problem, but how about giving me a quick review? No dice. Fine, at least tell me how it is that you got one. No way, not a chance.

I ambush people in elevators (and on planes, at parties, and everywhere else I go) all the time. As a consumer psychologist, I’m always curious, and it’s my job to ask questions about why consumers do what they do. Almost always people enjoy sharing their purchases and spending plans with me. Not this guy, though. To be honest, I found the mystery and his aloofness to be highly intriguing (also, a bit humorous, especially the “don’t touch” part).

In effect, everyone has had a similar experience to my run-in with the Apple Watch guy. This has been one of the most protracted unveilings in history (Apple first announced the watch last September), and that slow striptease has so very much to do with our breathless anticipation of Apple’s smartwatch.

I have nothing against smartwatches or Apple, mind you. I love my many Apple products, but for those considering a pricey new purchase, consider how much of your desire is real and how much is the result of emotional manipulation.

The Fetishization of Technology

Remember your first cell phone? Smartphone? GPS? If you’re old enough, you might remember your first computer and the thrill of typing without Wite-Out. We have witnessed one incredible innovation after another, and while the hits do keep on coming, the emotional impact of those pioneer experiences is hard to duplicate. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to experience them again. We absolutely do want to bring back those feelings, so when Apple teases us with the promise of revolutionizing our lives (again!), we badly want to believe the message.

What’s more, technology has nearly reached a level of fetishism in our lives. It instills a desire that extends beyond mere utility. When you watch Tim Cook describe the act of connecting the recharging magnet to the back of the Apple watch, he seems to be talking more about pleasure than technology or functionality. The marketing is all about creating a genuine emotional connection. This is Apple’s signature achievement, and also a danger zone for consumers hoping to make rational purchasing decisions.

The Desirability of Luxury

When Tim Cook introduced the top-of-the-line $10,000 to $17,000 Apple Watch Edition, his script was punctuated with the most potent words and phrases in luxury marketing. He began by stating that the watch was “unbelievably unique and very special.” He then went on to say that it was “beautiful,” “custom,” “elegant,” “available in limited quantities,” and that even the in-store display tables would be “beautiful,” “custom,” and the “ultimate experience.”

If we are already predisposed to like or want Apple products, these are exactly the right words and catch phrases to use. These amorphous platitudes tend to ignite emotion and yet slip right by the more critical parts of our brains. After all, is the watch really that unique when the look and technology are the same as their lower priced models, which more than 22 million people are expected to purchase? Is it really “custom” when it’s not handmade, made-to-order, or hard to get so long as you have the money?

The truth is that few will be able to stomach a five-figure price tag for something so fleeting. Apple Watch Edition is more technology than watch, and therefore unable to capitalize on one of the most popular luxury watch rationalizations: timelessness. Consumers often justify luxury watch purchases because they believe the item will retain or even increase in value and can therefore be passed down to children or resold on sites like The Real Real.

But despite the fact that few will purchase it, the $17K Apple Watch Edition was actually designed with the everyday shopper in mind—as a way to simultaneously elevate the stature of lower-priced models and make the less expensive ones seem like terrific values by comparison. All that luxury lingo can be applied to the $350 or $550 versions, which seem like bargains next to the one with a $17K price tag.

Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.

MONEY

Is Daylight Saving Time a Conspiracy to Get You to Spend More Money?

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Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Businesses have special reason to love when there seems to be more time in the day to shop, play golf, dine out, and take advantage of added sunlight.

At 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, an hour of time will disappear in most of the country. Daylight saving time will kick in, and when the clock hits 2 a.m. it’ll instantly be 3 a.m. instead.

The sudden change can have some strange effects. In Ohio, for instance, bars have been ordered to close 30 minutes earlier than usual in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Normally, establishments authorized to sell alcohol in the state have last call at 2:30 a.m., but because of the time shift, there is no 2:30 a.m. that night, and bars therefore must simply shut down at 2.

In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration has announced that bars and nightclubs will “automatically gain an additional hour to sell and serve alcoholic beverages between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, March 8.” In previous years, D.C. bars had to apply for permission and pay $200 to stay open an “extra” hour when daylight saving time kicked in.

Beyond the quirks, the impact of daylight saving time might seem to be little more than feeling groggy due to a lost hour of sleep. Researchers have noted other negative effects, however, such as increased heart attacks because people get less sleep when we “spring forward.” Likewise, some data suggests that on the Monday after daylight saving time (so, March 9 this year), there are more traffic accidents, again because people aren’t as well rested and have slower reaction times than usual.

Daylight saving time also has a big impact on the economy. When days are longer—or rather, when they seem longer due to extended daylight—people tend to spend more money on everything from tourism and recreation to shopping and restaurants.

The golf industry, which has suffered from declining popularity for years, is “the most important reason we’re still doing and expanding the period of daylight saving time,” Michael Downing, a Tufts University professor and author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, explained on public radio a year ago. Downing also said that one of the original arguments for daylight saving time—it would save energy and money—is just plain false today:

We’re told we’re saving energy, but when Americans go outside and go to the park and go to the mall, we don’t walk—we get in our cars and drive. So for the past 100 years, the dirty secret is daylight saving increases gasoline consumption.

In any event, try to catch up on sleep as soon as you can after daylight saving time takes effect. And by all means take advantage of the opportunities that this period’s “longer” days provide. Just understand that you’re paying for it.

TIME Careers & Workplace

1 Trick to Getting What You Want When You Negotiate

Boss
MoMo Productions—Getty Images

You won't believe how easy it is

Conventional wisdom says that, in negotiations, it’s better to offer the other party a firm number rather than a range. The thinking is that a hiring manager who hears, “I want between $40,000 and $45,000″ will focus on the lower number, or somebody you want to buy a car from will jump on the higher number if you tell them, “I can pay between $8,000 and $8,500.”

That conventional wisdom is wrong. New research finds that people who offer a range really give themselves a better chance at getting the number they really want — but you have to do it the right way.

Columbia Business School professor Daniel Ames says there are a couple things going on when you negotiate with a range as opposed to a single number. For starters, there’s the psychological concept of “tandem anchoring.” When we hear a range, our minds are predisposed to take both numbers into account, not just the one that we want to hear.

“Our research shows that people receiving a range offer are often influenced by both ends of that range in estimating their counterpart’s limits,” Ames says.

The other psychological component at work is what Ames calls the “politeness effect.” While we generally think we drive a hard bargain when we negotiate, we’re not really as tough as we think we are. “We tend to think of negotiators as being reasonably shrewd and skeptical and self-interested,” Ames says. “But across multiple studies, that’s not what we found… When we look at the counteroffers that negotiators made, it was partly predicted by how rude or polite they thought it would be to make that proposal.” Even in cases where a negotiation is anonymous and buyer and seller don’t expect to cross paths again, most of us are still reluctant to be overly cutthroat.

The key to turning this into a number you want to hear — whether you’re landing a job or buying a car — is to give the other party what Ames calls a “bolstering range;” in plain English, tilt the numbers in your favor. If you want a salary of $50,000, tell the hiring manager you’d like between $50,000 and $55,000.”Range offers tend to shift what offer-recipients think about the offer-makers’ limits,” Ames says. “Adding a higher number… tends to tug assumptions about that limit higher.”

Now, Ames points out there are a few limits to this. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they assume the limit is the mid-point of the range,” he says. In one experiment where subjects were asked how much they would pay for a hypothetical catered event, those who heard the caterer’s estimate of $100 countered with an average of $77, although even those who heard an estimated range of $100 to $120 only offered an average of $83. “They didn’t all necessarily end up inside the range itself, but they tended to end up with more than they would have gotten with just the point offer,” Ames says.

So aim high, but keep it reasonable, Ames warns. “Range offers have some limits,” he says. “[They] tend to work best when they start at assertive, but not outrageous, levels and when they span a modest width.” In other words, if you want a $60,000 salary in a job offer, don’t suggest a range of $75,000 to $80,000. And don’t make the range so broad that it can damage your credibility, he cautions. “Range offers that go beyond normal widths, which tend to be 5-20%, tend not to bring extra value.”

Read next: 4 Subtle Mistakes That Are Ruining Your Chances for a Promotion

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MONEY Shopping

The Country Where Flip Phones Are Still Popular

Despite the country's reputation as a technology leader, Japanese consumers are still buying flip phones. New research shows that flip phone shipments grew in Japan while smartphone shipments declined.

MONEY Shopping

The Curious Ways Brutal Snowstorms Affect How We Shop

The region is being hit once again by snow, and some businesses such as this T.J. Maxx store in North Andover, Mass., were closed, February 9, 2015.
Jim Davis—Boston Globe via Getty Images The Northeast was hit once again by snow, and some businesses such as this T.J. Maxx store in North Andover, Mass., were closed, February 9, 2015.

As the snow piles up in the Northeast, business suffers at many restaurants and stores, as you'd expect. But bad weather isn't bad news across the board for retailers.

We’ve seen the pattern repeat itself many times over. Weather forecasters predict a big winter storm, and long before the snowflakes appear, panicked shoppers hit the supermarkets to grab whatever milk, bread, eggs, and, if you’re at Whole Foods, kale, is still available.

Likewise, the arrival of a blizzard—or rather, the forecast that one could be coming—all but guarantees that there to be a run on shovels, sand, salt, and other snow-coping materials at hardware stores and home improvement centers. Gas stations and stores selling winter boots and other cold-weather gear can rely on storm forecasts to create sales spikes too.

In these ways, at least, the storms pounding New England and much of the Mid-Atlantic region over the past few weeks have boosted retail sales in ways not seen since, well, last winter, when the polar vortex caused mad rushes on grocery stores throughout the Midwest.

And yet, bad winter weather is hardly a good thing for retail in general. In fact, for stores that aren’t selling groceries, gas, shovels, or boots, blizzards can be business killers. Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, told the Boston Herald that “conservatively,” retailers in the state have lost $10 million for each day they’ve been closed or had almost no business thanks to relentless snow. Restaurant owners in Rhode Island are calling this “the worst February in years” thanks to snow keeping would-be customers at home. Overall, a 2014 IHS Global Insight study found that a single-day shutdown in New York can add up to $700 million in total economic costs, including $152 million in lost retail sales.

Presumably, the bulk of those lost sales transactions would have been conducted in person. After all, snow and cold weather can only prod more consumers to stay indoors and shop online, right? Actually, the impact of big snowstorms on online shopping is a bit muddled.

On the one hand, 16% of consumers in a recent survey from Fluent said that they have shopped less this winter, while 27% said they have done more online shopping. So snow + frigid temperatures = increased online sales, right? Not so quick.

According to Adobe Digital Index data, the winter storm that hammered the Northeast in late January resulted in a $35 million decrease in online sales, largely because people were home rather than at work. “During the work week, a lot of people really do shop from their work desktop,” Adobe analyst Tamara Gaffney explained to InternetRetailer.com. “You also have power outages and people out shoveling snow. They’re not shopping, they’re doing other things. It has a negative impact on e-commerce.”

Another way that winter storms can wreak havoc on e-retail is that when roads are impassable or close to it, it’s extraordinarily difficult for goods to simply be picked up or delivered. For instance, a Federal Express Service Alert issued this week warned that in light of persistent snowy weather in the Northeast, “some service delays and disruptions can be anticipated for inbound and outbound shipments in CT, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA and VT.”

For what it’s worth, the impact of snow—even a series of storms in a particularly bad winter—is generally short-lived. Often, if snow or cold weather brings about a slow period for sales of cars or home appliances or whatever, there will be a significant, corresponding rise in sales once things warm up. In other words, the sales shift; they don’t simply disappear.

Besides, retailers really shouldn’t go blaming uncooperative weather as the reason sales have been poor. “It’s usually one of those ‘dog ate my homework’ excuses,” Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru told Bloomberg News last fall, when some apparel stores were pointing the finger at warm weather for why winter fashions weren’t selling well. “Whenever something can’t be explained and is an anomaly — and it happens to coincide with an unusual weather pattern — that becomes the reason people supposedly didn’t shop.”

The observation calls to mind the way that Big Beer blamed unseasonably cold weather in the spring of 2013 as a prime reason macro beer brands like Budweiser, Miller Lite, and Heineken were experiencing slumping sales. Meanwhile, Bud and other major beer brands have seen sales decrease for years, and why this is so has a lot more to do with the increasing popularity of craft beer, cider, boutique spirit distilleries, and other alternatives to pale mass-produced American lagers than it does to any bad spell of weather.

MONEY Saving

Why Candy Companies Hate the Way You’re Shopping

Candy at newsstand
Patti McConville—Alamy

When shoppers are picking up groceries curbside or staring at their smartphones in the checkout line, they're not going to impulsively buy chocolate bars.

No one heads to the supermarket or drugstore with a shopping list that reads:

• Overpriced bottle of Coke
• Trashy celebrity magazine
• Bag of candy I’m not supposed to eat

At least, we hope no one has ever created such a shopping list.

Regardless, those items are snatched up and purchased by many shoppers, typically because they’re tempted while waiting in the checkout area. As customers stand in line, surrounded by the goodies stocked in the vicinity of the cash registers, sometimes their rumbling stomachs and base curiosities get the better of them. The result: They drop a few bucks to satisfy a chocolate craving or read about the latest contrived Kardashian scandal, and the store wins some quick and easy profits.

But what if there were no opportunity for the store to tempt you into making such ill-advised impulse buys? Well, in fact, it’s getting harder for stores to nudge customers into making checkout impulse grabs, and tech is a big reason why.

While the advent of smartphones doesn’t eliminate the possibility of checkout impulse purchases, research indicates that our iPhones and Androids serve as “mobile blinders” that shield us from mindlessly eyeing the candy shelves and other checkout area temptations. In other words, because we’re checking email or Twitter or Instagram or playing some silly game on our phones, the odds are lower that we’ll buy, or even see, gum, chocolate, and the latest issue of Cosmo.

What’s more, online shopping, as well as the increasingly popular option of ordering groceries or other goods online and then picking up purchases curbside, all but negates any chance for the shopper to make an impulse buy. Another potential impulse purchase killer is self-checkout: Because shoppers are occupied with scanning their orders, they’re not thinking about how wonderful that chocolate bar in front of them would taste.

For obvious reasons, companies whose business relies on such impulse purchases aren’t happy about any of this, and at least one large candy company is doing something about it. Recently, the blog Retail Wire took note of some comments on the topic—and what’s known by insiders as “dwell time”—made by Chris Witham, a senior manager of front-end experience for Hershey, at an industry event.

“Anytime there is a pause in the shopping trip and shoppers take a look at some of the merchandising that is available, that is dwell time,” explained Witham. Obviously, retailers and companies like Hershey want shoppers to encounter some “dwell time” in order to maximize the odds that they will add an impulse purchase to their carts. Still, they don’t want shoppers to get annoyed by being forced to wait around forever. “As they get to pay points, how much is a good amount of dwell time [going] to encourage impulse purchase, but not have a detrimental effect on the shopping trip as a whole?”

Among the strategies Hershey is actively working on to counter the effects of technology and boost opportunities for impulse buys are adding on-demand chocolate dispensers to self-checkout areas, as well as candy and snack kiosks and vending to curbside pickup areas and perhaps near the pumps at gas stations. What’s clear is that candy companies aren’t simply going to give up on pushing impulse sales, no matter how technology changes the game.

“Impulse, in an indulgent business, is really important … But shopping is changing, and impulse is under threat,” said Frank Jimenez, Hershey’s senior director of retail evolution, according to The (UK) Guardian. “What happens if and when the checkout goes away?”

And what happens if the majority of shoppers turn into those described by the Wall Street Journal last fall:

They are time-pressed and deal savvy, visiting stores only when they run out of items like cereal or toilet paper and after doing extensive research on purchases online and with friends. They buy what they came for—and then leave.

There’s little to no chance a store can ensnare this kind of shopper in an impulse buy. It’s a good thing for stores, and for companies such as Hershey, that other research indicates that 9 out of 10 consumers buy things that aren’t on their shopping lists, and that millennials are most likely to make impulse buys not because they spotted a good deal or promotion but simply to pamper themselves.

Among the takeaways for shoppers who don’t want to be suckered into impulse purchases: 1) Shop with a list. 2) Stick to the list. 3) Keep your head down at the checkout area to avoid temptation. 4) Take advantage of online shopping and/or curbside pick-up services when they make sense.

TIME

When Gas Prices Fell, Nobody Expected This

Murphy USA gas station in Nevada, MO. January 10, 2015.
Barrett Emke for TIME Murphy USA gas station in Nevada, Mo., Jan. 10, 2015.

We're too shell-shocked to appreciate the windfall

It wasn’t supposed to go like this. With gas prices plummeting, economists and analysts who study consumer spending were gleeful. This would be the shot in the arm the economy needed, they predicted. With that money in their pockets instead of their tanks, Americans would be more confident and increase their spending on discretionary purchases.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, families are hanging onto that extra money, stashing it in the bank or paying down their debts.

“We haven’t seen the extra savings from lower gas prices translate into additional discretionary consumer spending,” MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga said in a recent conference call. “I don’t think the U.S. consumer knows whether to expect this to be sticking around or not.”

Judging by our shopping behavior, we’re still extra-sensitive when it comes to gas prices. In a recent survey, the National Association of Convenience Stores finds that 71% of people say price is the most important factor when they buy gas. That’s five percentage points higher than last year even though the average price of gas has dropped by a dollar since the earlier survey was conducted. We’re fixated on the price of gas even when it’s not logical. More than 10% of people say they’d drive 10 minutes out of their way to save a nickel per gallon, even though you’d need to buy at least 22 gallons just to break even, considering the cost of the gas you’ll burn to get to the cheaper station.

That’s because, even more than five years after it officially ended, we’re still haunted by the Great Recession. “The pain of the recession remains fresh in the minds of many Americans,” the Wall Street Journal says. Compared to six months ago, the average consumer has about $60 that they’re not spending on gas each month, the newspaper says, pointing out that this is more money than many people have gotten in raises in recent years. But even though the holidays typically bring a surge in spending, new Commerce Department data shows that consumer spending actually fell slightly in December.

This is one of those situations where what’s good for consumers individually and what’s good for the economy overall are different. While it’s smart for people to set aside a cash cushion and pay down debts, it’s better for the economy if we take that extra money we’re not spending on gas and use it on other purchases.

Economists are still hoping that cheaper gas will coax people to spend more in the coming months, provided prices at the pump stay low.

“This all bodes well for consumption growth in early 2015,” economist Paul Diggle tells the New York Times, and MasterCard’s Banga said another few months of lower gas prices might give consumers the confidence they need to start spending those savings.

TIME

Here’s the Surprising Reason Companies Can Get Away With Bad Service

And why you're willing to take it

If you stood on a long, slow-moving line in a coffee shop, only to be handed the wrong drink when you finally did order, you’d probably express some dissatisfaction. Maybe you’d gripe to your co-worker about the experience at lunch, post a snarky Yelp review or vent on Facebook.

But new research shows businesses have a secret weapon that can diffuse customer ire over bad service. If a company practices “corporate social responsibility” — that is, donating to good causes — customers actually feel bad if they complain.

Jeff Joireman, an associate professor of marketing at Washington State University, tested how people would respond if they had to wait a long time to order at a coffee shop, and were then handed the wrong drink. As you might expect, people were annoyed — unless they had been told beforehand that the business donated 15% of its profits to environmental causes.

“Customers anticipate feeling guilty if they were to spread negative word of mouth because they know the company is doing good works that the customer values,” he explains.

Joireman says this is because the company has built up “moral capital and… a reservoir of goodwill.” Customers know that complaining could hurt the cause or causes the company supports as well as its own business.

Some companies do this better than others. Joireman finds that this effect is stronger when companies donate to a range of causes rather than a single one, because it’s more likely that people will identify with at least one of the causes. Donating a decent chunk of profits, like 15%, is much more effective than donating a tiny, token amount like just 2%. And the impact is even bigger if the company lets its customers pick which one they want their portion of the donation to benefit.

It’s also likely that companies whose customer base contains a significant number of young adults will have better luck with this tactic, since other research has shown that millennials are more interested in corporate social responsibility overall.

And, in a roundabout way, this can even benefit consumers as well, Joireman says. If you experience bad service and get disgruntled, venting might make you feel better, but it also will probably make you stay angry longer. And the more mental energy you spend thinking about how you were wronged, the more likely you are to enter into your next transaction with that business expecting something negative.

“We call this the ‘hostile attribution bias,’” Joireman says. “The hostile attribution bias makes people more likely to see nefarious motives in ambiguous situations.”

And this attitude can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, he warns. “Research shows that the expectations we bring into a situation influence our treatment of another person, and that person will often simply confirm the expectation we had,” he says. In other words, you’ll be a little snippy to the barista, and then perceive that they’re less polite towards you. If you scowl at them, you’re more likely to get a scowl in return, thanks to an unconscious tendency people have to mirror or mimic the expressions of people with whom they interact.

“On the other hand, giving people the benefit of the doubt, and cutting them slack, can promote a more positive spiral which leads to much better outcomes,” Joireman says. “A smile can go a long way to starting the interaction off right. What we do with our bodies, in turn, also influences our mood; smiling makes us happier.”

At the end of the day, that’s something you can’t put a price on.

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