The Psychology of Shopping


The Psychology of Shopping
March 30, 2011 Glen Duffield

In our last release of The Seed I smugly confirmed my assumptions about male shopping behavior with some research. In my defense I am a male, so I probably have a relatively good perception when it comes to how other men shop. However I am aware that I’m bias and that there’s a lot of research out there, so I’m sure someone wanting to prove me wrong could probably find something that counters my arguments.

I promised that this time I’d have a look at some of the psychological ‘tricks’ that retailers use to manipulate their customers to stay longer in their stores and spend more money. There’s a plethora of tools that retailers and organisations use regularly, so let’s start with some of the basics.

Most of us understand the formulae that supermarkets adhere to, implemented to sell more products. We understand that products with the highest margins are placed at eye level. We know that at the ends of aisles and at checkouts is where we generally find impulse items, and some supermarkets have even started dividing their aisles into two to double their aisle ends. Necessity items like bread and milk are positioned close to the checkout points or at the far end of the store, forcing us to walk past other products and purchase more than we intended to. On a larger scope, ‘anchor stores’ like The Warehouse or supermarkets are often positioned at the ends of malls to direct customers past other buying opportunities on their way.

Pricing at psychologically sensitive price points is something we have become accustomed to, for example pricing a pair of jeans at $89.99 instead of $90 is often enough to increase the perception of value. But how many of us know that items priced at $89.98 or other variables can be an indicator for salespeople to recognise dated stock that needs to be sold quickly? Often the conscious choices made by retailers are not obvious either. For example, some clothing stores will deliberately leave a display of clothes in a disheveled state to create the appearance of popularity. This often works better for young women, while older women tend to have more refined expectations and may find a neater appearance more appealing.

A facet of store design that I’ve noticed is often overlooked or not considered is route management, that is, where we are directed to move within a store. Larger chains who have invested in substantial planning tend to understand that when a store is laid out thoughtfully, customers can be subconsciously guided to and from certain areas, increasing their exposure to products and often leading to more sales. I’ve looked at quite a bit of research regarding the direction people tend to move in when they enter the store and found some interesting results. American studies tend to suggest that consumers move predominantly in an anti-clockwise direction while Australian, British or Japanese studies show the opposite. There is some suggestion that this is to do with the side of the road we are used to driving on. For us ‘normal’ left hand side driving countries, our expectation to look right to avoid being cleaned out by oncoming traffic seems to impact our shopping behaviour too. Apparently we should be pulled into the left hand side of the store so we look right to the inside and are exposed to more products as we shop.