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Molly Riley/Reuters

'Tis the season to dread shopping malls, with their canned renditions of Jingle Bells and product-bedecked holiday trees.

Those of us who are already in a Grinchy mood will be relieved to know that an Oxford scholar has confirmed that retailers overdo the Christmas glitz. No kidding.

Nancy Puccinelli of the University of Oxford's Said Business School explains the phenomenon in a Marketing Daily report.

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"The earlier the decorations go up, the sooner the stress begins and the greater it will be once the holidays arrive," she said, adding, "most of the time, over-the-top Christmas decorations are just off-putting."

Likely, that goes double for shoppers of different faiths forced to fend off salespeople offering to help them find gifts for that special someone on their list.

Some shops strike just the right seasonal tone, however, Dr. Puccinelli said. Macy's in the United States relegates its famous Santaland to the upper floors, leaving downstairs shoppers free to browse without fear of bumping into giant candy canes.

The freedom to opt out sounds divine. But Dr. Puccinelli's advice to retailers gets a little Machiavellian after that.

"We know from studies of consumer behaviour that moderation in festive decor leads consumers to spend more and to like the retailer more," she said.

Instead of getting all holly-jolly, retailers should use action-oriented slogans such as "Engage in the Holidays" or "Move to the Music of the Holidays" (which rolls right off the tongue). "Surprisingly," Dr. Puccinelli said, "this is likely to make consumers battle their inner Scrooge, enjoy the retail experience and help them get that Christmas shopping done."

Her tips don't stop with action words, though. Retailers can soothe shoppers into submission by installing dimmer blue lighting, wafting nostalgic gingerbread smells through the air and playing classical melodies such as The Nutcracker instead of the usual holiday jingles, she said.

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Make no mistake: The next time you find yourself humming along to the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, take a deep breath of nostalgic fresh pine scent and remind yourself that it's a plot to loosen your wallet.

Do you find seasonal cheer grating in shopping malls – or does it put you in a holiday mood?

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