Tag Archives: retail

How Much Control Do We Really Have Over What We Buy?

While you’re looking for gifts for those special people in your life this holiday season, keep in mind that you’re constantly being manipulated by retailers who’ve studied every bit of consumer data, read every book, and consulted with psychology experts on the art of subconscious coercion.


How do they accomplish this? They attack your senses to sell you more stuff and, through the most tactful ways, get you to fork over more money for that stuff.


According to leading neuroscientists, 95 percent of all thoughts, emotions and learning occur before people are cognizant of it. Therefore, most of what goes into our purchasing decisions can be attributed to our subconscious.


Visual perception influences our buying decisions the most. KISSmetrics found that nearly 93 percent of buying decisions are based on visual stimuli. Six percent was based on touch and the remaining was divided up into sight and smell.


Consider the following study conducted in 2012 by the Journal of Consumer Research on eBay which looked at how different colors affect purchasing habits. Researchers found that using different color backgrounds while offering the same product (Nintendo Wii) elicited different responses.


Red backgrounds led to more aggressive bidding. Bids jumped an average of $63.17 versus $35 for those looking at blue backgrounds.



“When we’re bidding in an auction, the red effect isn’t something we can protect ourselves against because we’re not conscious of it,” said study co-author Rajesh Bagchi, an associate professor of marketing at the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech.


Warm colors (Red/Yellow/etc.) are suitable to attract impulse buyers. Rarely will you see a sale sign that is Blue at any big-box store. Cooler colors (Blue/Green/etc.) are for customers with a buying plan, IE financial planning, insurance, etc.


Many retailers have been leading us by the nose for years. The human Olfactory bulb, which processes various scents, is linked to the brain’s limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for processing emotions and memories, which plays directly to our purchasing behavior.


Studies confirm smells are used to draw the buyer in and then encourage them to buy more while they’re there. In a study commissioned by Nike, the researchers concluded most people will buy more shoes (and be willing to pay more for those shoes) if the room smelled like flowers. A Las Vegas Gaming study found that consumers spent 50 percent more time playing slot machines when the air around them was doused with a floral scent. This practice extends to real estate, where the smell of fresh-baked goods and cookies (always present at any open house) increases sales, giving a comfortable “homely feel.”


The least studied sense as it relates to buying by academics is touch. However, researchers say that touch or ‘feel’ can be a deal breaker when deciding on lucrative purchases. Apple takes advantage of the touch factor by making sure all of their laptops are open to a 70 degree angle. Why? This is open enough to have content semi-visible and entice potential users in. Apple employees actually use an app to measure the exact angle during set-up time.


The kind of chair you sit in can also make a big difference in some bigger purchases. Harvard Business Review found that when people were asked to negotiate a deal on a new car, those sitting on a ‘hard chair’ offered 28 percent less than those seated in a ‘cushioned chair.’


You may also notice that most retailers play music. This is because research studies have shown by playing music in stores, they can influence patrons to behave accordingly depending upon which emotion they’re looking to trigger. Scientists say music affects your heartbeat and brainwaves. This triggers the release of dopamine, which affects your mood. Music has the likelihood to bring out emotions, which highly influences our behavior regardless of how actively or passively we’re listening.


Ways Savvy Retailers Use Music

  • Loud music causes consumers to move through a supermarket more quickly without reducing sales.

  • Victoria’s Secret uses soothing slower music to facilitate discussion with sales reps.

  • Classical music versus Top 40 music at a wine store was shown to increase sales and leads customers to buy more expensive merchandise.

Since manipulation by retailers during this holiday season is inevitable, shopping online might be the best way to limit the clandestine attack on your senses. Online shopping has a limited sensory experience as customers can only use their senses of sight and hearing.



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