Dr. Gautham's

Neuro Centre

(Established in 1988)

A Neuro-Behavioral Medicine Clinic

Dr. Gautham's Neuro Centre
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The Psychology of Shoppers

Over the past fifteen years, the study of sales promotion and its impact upon consumers decision making processes has received a significant amount of attention. For example, between the years of 1980 and 1990, 200 studies on sales promotion have been published. Sales promotions cover a wide scope of marketing activity ranging from trade sales force and consumer programs. Specifically, sales promotion encompasses such activities as discounts, incentive plans, coupons, sweepstakes, and value-added promotions.


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Research has identified four kinds of Shoppers. The first is the "Dasher" This shopper hates to shop but on the other hand knows it has to be done, dashing into the store, quickly throwing a few things into the basket, and dashing out. The next is the "Economist" This shopper frequents sales and the big warehouse type stores with big cardboard boxes in the floor to rummage through. The third is "The Pro."  This is the shopper who  like to take time and find the best deal looking for quality but at a reasonable price. To this kind shopping  is almost like an art. The last and by far the most , is "The Candy Store Kid" This shopper is very impulsive and  loves to shop immensely and is the target of the store psychologist. 

Let us examine a classic scenario. On her way home from work, Shahnaz decides to make a quick stop at the grocery store just to pick up some milk and bread. As she enters the store she sees there is toilet paper on sale, so she grabs some. As she walks through the aisle to get the milk, she passes a display of fruit juices and remembers her family is also out of soft drinks so she picks up a few bottles of mango Pepsi.  Next she passes the fruit, and cannot help but notice the bright red apples. They are too shiny to pass up, so she gets a few of those too. Making her way to the bread, she notices fresh chocolate fudge from the bakery. She knows it will make a great dessert for her family that night and fudge just is not the same without ice cream so she gets both. After finally getting the bread, and reaching the checkout line Shanaz is amazed because she ends up spending about ten Riyals more than she meant to.  

Market researchers spend much time monitoring consumer behaviour so they will have knowledge to persuade consumers to buy more. Shanaz does not know that she was suckered into spending more than she planned.  

Today shopping is a leisure activity. We're trying to combine leisure and necessity and social needs all into one. When we walk into a shop we do so with the  intention of buying something. But, somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of what we buy, we had no intention of buying when we walked in. That is no mistake. The experts on shopping psychology know where to place things, how to place things, what colors to use, and just the right music to play to make you buy.  The actual architecture of the store can bring  you to the items the store wants you to buy. E.g. the racks along the checkout lanes always hold goodies that you would not have thought of to buy off the shelf in the store like magazines and candy and batteries, all that stuff that's right up at the front to distract you. In many grocery stores the checkout lane is the most profitable square footage.     

The layout of stores is the result of years of research devoted to getting you to spend as much of your hard-earned cash as possible.  The entrance of a store is very crucial in persuading consumers to buy. The area near the entrance where all shoppers arrive is called the power alley. This power alley will not only give an image of the entire store, it also gives the customers their first enticement for impulsive buying. It also caters to all categories of shoppers. . For instance, there may be two displays in a power alley. One could be a large cardboard box highly staked with toilet paper rolls that are on sale; while the other display could be a beautifully decorated table displaying Asian Pears and Chocolate. These two displays will accommodate all four types of shoppers. The toilet paper would persuade the Economist and the Dasher while the fruit and chocolates would attract the Pros and the Candy Store Kids. The paper towels show the store offers bargains and the wine and strawberries show quality and class.  

The goods that the store want to push are always placed on the most accessible and prominent shelf and those that that are essential to everyday living are on the lowest shelf in the back alley where customers have to pass a vast display of tempting goods before reaching them. Products that are necessities or commonly bought are placed on the top and bottom shelves. This leaves the space for the products they want consumers to buy on eye-level shelving. Marketers will also conveniently place products that compliment each other close together.  

Shahnaz was running in just to  pick up bread and milk which are basic necessities for every household. These basic necessities are deliberately placed in the opposite or back ends of a store, causing a shopper to walk through the store to get to these items. The reason behind this is to get the shopper to notice the "Luxuries" like candies, cookies and many other items that one could live without. If Shahnaz had found milk and bread in the first aisle, she probably would not have noticed the other items that she purchased. Shanaz was a victim of shopping psychology.  

The longer a consumer lingers in a supermarket, the more they will buy. Judy Graham, an associate professor of management at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, says, "You'll spend about one dollar for every additional minute you're in the grocery store" But how can the store  make the shopper linger? Making use of our five senses can do this. The first is the sense of sight. Colourful displays aided by  extra halogen track lighting to enhance the colours e.g., of fruits and vegetables. The light makes them appear more shinny and luscious, making them almost impossible to pass up. The second is the sense of smell. You can slow customers down  by playing a pleasing relaxing tune to lift spirits and calm consumers while shopping. The third is the sense of smell. One technique  is to place aromatic foods in open displays. This sends a scent through the entire store luring shoppers to the source of the aroma and to linger there.  It takes a very strong-willed consumer to resist this temptation.  

But how do you get the customer into the store in the first place?  Bait and hook is the best way to describe this issue. Advertising being the bait and to lure consumers into the store and hook being the strategies within the store that persuades consumers to spend impulsively. Advertising targets the consumer even in the home. Advertising is slipped into our everyday lives without us even realising it Advertisements are out homes weekly through newspapers and weekly circulars. An advertisement  may show something, such as orange juice at a very low price. When a shopper goes to the store to purchase the juice, a complimentary item's such as cereal may be offered along with the juice at a combined price that may been upped. In fact, it probably would have been cheaper to buy both products at reasonable prices in larger economy packs.   

Although it may seem unfair, there is nothing illegal about the tactics adopt. So what hope is there for consumers when they are faced with so many strategies? Can we outsmart the store psychologists? Well, they say knowledge is power. By knowing about the tricks of the trade, consumers may be able to overcome impulsive buying behaviour.  

And are only women gullible? Embedded notions of gender shopping psychology have encouraged a flagrant dismissal of men, in favour of  women, in the retail arena. This is not, however, the only option.  Retail Intelligence has recently investigated the issues surrounding the male as a consumer of untapped potential and its published report attempts to show retailers how to encourage the spending power of men, through store design, product placement, advertising and marketing. It comments on the marked disparity between the consumption habits of men and women, and analyses the distinct aspects of the male shopping psychology, to establish whether the male shopper is a source worth targeting.

Male shoppers often establish themselves through material possessions. Though they remain a relatively small sector of the consumer base; and buy only on a needs must basis, impulse food shopping trips make them more receptive to new commodities that satisfy  curiosity. This can obviously be utilised in a positive way for retailers; impulse buys are the product of boredom, in a sex not trained, or necessarily tuned into, the art of searching for a bargain, or the best  deal.  

 Moreover men are not likely to spend time searching for bargains, as for  them time is money. Attention will be focused on blatant special offers, and  retailers could also focus here on encouraging good consumption habits for  later fulfilment.






 Retail Intelligence focuses on the minor changes that can be made in any retail establishment to make male shoppers more comfortable; to encourage a male familiarity with the shopping arena particularly in terms of shop floor layout, product placement, marketing and advertising strategies.  

 In terms of the actual store layout, the Retail Intelligence report has revealed the necessity of an easy and quick exit. For Mr Average, it seems that the ideal shopping trip is characterised by its speedy conclusion, and this is especially the case of the pre-family man, who gets easily frustrated in the checkout queue carrying a basket of impulse purchases behind the family shopper. Similarly, the dulling impact of the food shop may be softened with a buffer zone, a neutral area in which men may  linger, between the real world and the business of shopping.  

 Creating male areas within stores is a common strategy. Many UK  supermarkets now have much in common with the continental hypermarkets  in their provision of extra zones, with CDs or masculine electrical goods. They satisfy a distinctly male need for distraction in the shopping  environment. It also seems that many stores are attempting supermarket  lifestyling for men, providing subtle suggestions of necessary items,  whispered through adjacencies in the product placement of lifestyle items with masculine products.  Such displays show, but they do not tell e.g. the six packs (of beer) situated next to the barbecue paraphernalia in American supermarkets  

 Since emotions and affect have a fundamental role in consumers'  motivation one would expect these factors to be a major determinant on buying behaviour at discount sales.  Research into consumer behaviour suggests that emotional arousal can be an  important motivational element in sales promotion. For example, gifts, discounts, and vouchers have commonly been used in sales promotion. Manipulation checks have shown that these sales promotion strategies have produced positive affective states. Consumers who have received sales promotions are 20% more likely to purchase than those who did not.  

A complex relationship exists in the influence of affect on an individual's purchasing behaviour. Individuals in which a positive affect has been evoked through receiving a gift or discount, are more likely to be risk taking (the risk of the product being defective or of no practical use). Also, subjects induced by positive affect are willing to pay more money for a product (e.g. the cost of a promotional pack of a shampoo, along with a complimentary cake of soap is  likely to more - gram for gram - than an economy pack of shampoo and an economy pack of soap purchased separately).      

Researchers have generally explained the influence of affect on risk-taking on the "congruency between mood and memory, learning and behaviour". This theory suggests that individuals experiencing positive affect try to maintain and protect their positive state.  The relationship between  affect and shopping behaviour is mediated by an individual's cognition, in that, a person in a good mood (produced by a discount) will think about positive events (related to the product) and cognition which threatens their positive  condition, will more likely be avoided. For example, a shopper  in a positive affective state would try and avoid thinking of the faults of the product  as the thought of making a bad buy is incompatible with their positive state.  

Thus a cognitive loop exists between affect and sales shopping behaviour. i.e. Sales promotion strategies (bargains, discounts, gifts, complimentary products etc.) evoke a positive affective state in the shopper. This results in the shopper turning a blind eye to possible defects in the product on offer. This is turn results in a heightening of the positive affective state. This is most likely to successfully influence:

a)         "Dashers" who are carried away by the positive affect and have no time to think

b)         "Economists" who are influenced positively by that aspect of the sale

c)         "candy store kids" whose impulse is played upon.

Thus sellers play upon the psyche of the buyer. But whether they "prey" upon the buyers is open for debate. The buyer should be expected to be a rational subject who understands that the seller is making a living, that there is no such thing as a free buy, and who debates the pros and cons of the purchase before committing to the buy. However, this is rarely the case. The buyer is often the victim of a combination of own impulses, affects (emotions) , and cognition that is set up by the sales promotion. Thus the buyer first self-creates a mental state that makes the "sale" product desirable; this results in the "sale" being experienced as  pleasurable (whatever may be the physical conditions); this is compounded by a feeling of "one-up-manship" over others who purchase the same product in other stores at list prices, and the feeling of getting the better of the seller (promoted by additional discounts / complimentary products on buys over a particular value or when cash is used in favour of over a credit card etc); this results in tuning a blind eye to all adverse influences about the product. Ultimately the buyer "psyches" himself/herself into making the buy. Thus, while the seller weaves the web, its is the buyer who willingly allows entrapment. Can you blame the spider for seeking sustenance by weaving a web to trap the fly?