On the Psychology of Shopping

December 11, 2007 by Dave Haynes

The MIT AdLab blog flagged a piece about researchers from that school who have been looking at how people think when they go shopping.

As reported on Softpedia …

Researchers from MIT have shown that people are most susceptible to be influenced by advertisers and promotions at the entrance of the store.

According to the scientists, people usually don’t have their shopping goals very clearly pre-determined; they decide not only what specific product to buy but also what kind of product they want to buy during their wandering through the supermarket’s aisles.

“Consumers start with fuzzy shopping goals, which become more concrete as the shopping experience progresses,”
explain Leonard Lee and Dan Ariely. “Because of the initial lack of concreteness of their goals, consumers’ sensitivity to external cues is likely to be higher in the earlier stage of their shopping when their goals are more malleable.”

Lee and Ariely have conceived a series of tests showing that consumers can be influenced to spend more or less than usual, depending on the conditional coupons presented to them at the entrance. On the other hand, when the coupons were given inside the store they had little effect.

“When the required spending level is higher than their typical spending level, they spend more; when the required spending is lower, they spend less,” write the authors. “This experiment also demonstrates that customers’ spending tends to shift with the minimum spending conditions stated on their coupons.”

In another related study, also to appear in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers from the Northwestern University have documented the so-called paradox of choice: customers generally want to have as many options as possible but at the same time want to be able to decide what to buy as easily as possible.

Alexander Chernev explained how we generally get around this paradox by observing that our shopping experience is “a decision process that comprises two different stages: selecting an assortment and, subsequently, selecting a particular option from that assortment.”

This is relevant because many of us spend time scratching our heads about the best places to put screens, particularly as the store footprint gets bigger and bigger.

I know when I walk into a big store there is a moment when I am trying to figure out why I came, and what I am looking for in there, and if it is a grocery, the location of any free food samples. To me, a big honkin’ screen right at the entry makes a lot of sense for steering people around and reminding people of the best deals.

But I have heard from some network operators who have tried that sort of thing and said shoppers just blow right by or under them without even noticing. They have more luck deeper into the journey through the store.

What is, of course, encouraging is the indication, yet again, that shoppers can definitely be influenced as to what they will buy and how much they will spend once inside the store doors.

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