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You Lookin' at Me?

August 6, 2008  

We know that consumers' choices in retail stores are affected by what they see on the shelves or racks. But now come reports that their choices are also affected by how they are seen themselves. In other words, shoppers behave differently in the presence of other people.

We all know this a bit from personal experience: you tend to buy differently when shopping with a friend than you do when, say, rushing through a store alone after work.

But recent studies go deeper than that, and include the effect of anonymous other people on consumers' choices. For example:

  • Consumers feel more negative emotions (annoyance, self-consciousness) when they are in retail environments where there are lots of people around them.
  • Consumers change their behavior to choose products that might be considered more "normatively appropriate" (eg, low-fat cookies rather than Double Stuf Oreos) in a busier store. This effect is more pronounced the closer other people are to them.
  • Consumers alter their behavior even in the presence of just one other person (say, perhaps, a hovering salesperson?).

Words to sell by: A consumer's choice of product might not be affected by whether they want to actually buy it, but rather by whether anyone is standing around them when they pick it off the shelf or rack.

The Po!nt: Hover with care. The right attention can prompt consumer choice, but if your customer feels "observed," she may just walk out.

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