Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Psychology of Shopping

I've written in the past about the power of advertising and the psychology of store design and product placement that convinces us to buy things, often things we don't need (scroll down and search for "Advertising" in "Categories" on the sidebar of this blog to read previous posts). The psychology of shopping is endlessly fascinating to me, and I've compiled a few more posts that address aspects of it.

1.  In "Psychology Today," Kit Yarrow, Ph.D, presents five ways that sales make you vulnerable. In her article, "Why Clearance Sales are Psychologically Irresistible," fear of missing out is in first position on her list.

In her research she found that "sale shoppers ultimately spend more money than non-sale shoppers. They often purchase things that aren’t truly satisfying; and because they aren’t satisfied they continue to shop. Additionally, the rush they get from snagging a bargain has an addictive quality - the products they purchase are in some ways secondary." She offers some suggestions about how to counter this vulnerability, including using cash rather than a credit card because cash is "real" and credit isn't.

2.  Here's a rather surprising observation, discussed in a New York Times opinion piece by Oliver Burkeman entitled, "Suffer. Spend. Repeat," about shopping during the holiday season:

"[I]t may strike you that retailers have gone out of their way to make holiday shopping as unpleasant an experience as possible. The odd truth is that they probably have. And there’s a reason for that: evidence suggests that the less comfortable you are during the seasonal shopping spree, the more money you’ll spend."

And once you start spending, chances are you'll continue because, "according to the theory of 'shopping momentum,' as explained by researchers from Stanford, Yale and Duke Universities, we fret far more about whether to buy the first item we purchase during a trip than we do subsequent ones."

3. Martin Lindstrom "has learned a few things about advertising and marketing. He's advised major corporations such as Disney and Proctor & Gamble, and recently wrote a book called Brandwashed, which chronicles the many ways corporations get us to consume their products."

Brandwashing starts very young (Lindstrom says the average American 3-year-old can recognize 100 brands) and it saturates our lives. Example: Those small cardboard boxes in the produce department of Whole Foods that say "Patty's Farm" aren't exactly what they seem to be. The box "[has] actually been designed by a graphic design company in New York City to make us feel this is nostalgia at its peak."

Learn more in an "All Things Considered" NPR interview called, "Products R Us: Are We Brandwashed?" (8 min 26 sec)

Obviously, the solution to functioning in a society that's saturated with marketing ploys is to try to outwit the advertisers by being constantly aware of their efforts and prepared to meet the onslaught that greets us whenever we go shopping. But vigilance can be fatiguing and even the most knowledgeable and sophisticated shopper can be vulnerable to just the right combination of sales techniques.

I find that avoiding "window shopping" and its equivalent, browsing online, help keep my focus on what's needed. But there have been times when that hypnotic "Oh, look! It's sparkly!" moment has taken over my brain and claimed my sanity just long enough to open my wallet and pull out a credit card. Do you have any special tricks your rely on when you're shopping? Please share because we all need as much help as we can get!

(Image credit: Robert Linder on stock.xchng)