March 2, 2020

Using shopper psychology to bring selling power to displays

Shopper insights in the form of category segmentations, decision hierarchies, navigational behaviour and so on have long since informed merchandising principles across multiple categories and retail sectors.

But, whilst I can say from experience that all of this is incredibly valuable input, it’s also becoming very clear that a deeper appreciation of shopper psychology, or behavioural science principles can bring yet more to the piece. The approaches mentioned above do, indeed, work wonders in helping to create an easy to navigate display, but do they give us the whole picture? Do they go far enough in enabling us to create displays that influence shopper choice once (s)he has successfully navigated to a display area (s)he is happy to start ‘shopping’ ?

For example, have you thought about how adjacencies impact on how shoppers implicitly view your brand?

We know that when faced with visually complex stimuli such as a retail display or shelf, humans tend to group or merge objects, and to merge their semantic traits i.e. make implicit assumptions that they are similar (ref. 1); physical proximity (adjacency) is but one factor that encourages this mental process, so we need to consider our position within the display and be confident that our next door neighbours won’t confer unwanted traits onto our products.

We can also influence the choices shoppers make through applying other choice architecture thinking. For example, the vertical and horizontal dimensions of a display can shape shoppers’ purchase choices (and I’m talking beyond ‘eye level is buy level’ here… which it isn’t by the way, but that’s another story!):

As humans, our knowledge of the world is based on multi-layered associations between concepts and meanings that are learnt over time. So, let’s look at two examples of how this might impact shopper response to a display of products:

Firstly, we create associations between magnitude and spatial location and (in Western society) we think of size as moving from left to right because that’s how we read numbers; so, left is small and right is big, or put another way left is less and right is more. When we see stimului that are congruent, or aligned with this ‘world view’– it implicitly feels good or ‘right’, because it meets our implicit expectations… and, get this, because we’re not consciously aware of why it feels good, we misattribute that feeling to other factors. As such there is evidence, for example, that healthier foods (e.g. less fat) can perform better when positioned toward the left of a display (ref. 2)… the ‘feels right’ experience generated by the expected alignment of magnitude and spatial location is misattributed to the product, which subsequently seems more attractive.

Secondly, we also associate concepts in the vertical dimension. For example, we instinctively associate weight with vertical location… ‘light = up’, and ‘heavy = down’, but it doesn’t stop there: we also instinctively associate colours and weights… ‘dark colours are heavy’ and ‘light colours are, well, light’. And, this of course means we associate colours with vertical location:

So, again, when we see displays that align with this ‘world view’, it meets our implicit expectations and therefore feels ‘right’, with that feeling of ‘rightness’ subsequently being attributed to the products themselves. Additionally, displays that align with our expectations are genuinely easier to shop which further enhances the prospect of conversion. Studies have indeed shown that ‘lightness-location’ congruent displays positively influence shoppers’ choice behaviour (ref. 3), and my own thoughts are naturally drawn to how such an insight could help finesse merchandising plans in the fashion, homeware or home décor sectors, for example.

There are many more examples, but to conclude: here at Tracer, we don’t advocate throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We hold on to the fact that business challenges (in this case, developing best in class merchandising and display principles) should be informed by insight from a number of different angles – the tried and tested, and the new and evolved.  And, on the strength of such insights as I’ve shared here and elsewhere, it feels obvious that adding a deeper shopper psychology, or behavioural science lens to the piece offers opportunities to add value beyond the usual insight sources.

As such, we work closely with DECODE Marketing to offer expert, leading edge insight and consultancy services to our clients in this area. Feel free to give me a call or drop a line if you’d like to learn more… those who know me, know how much I love a good chat about shopper psychology!

Reference 1: Mishra, A. (2008) Influence of contagious versus non contagious product groupings on consumer preference. Journal of Consumer Research, 36(1), 73 - 82

Reference 2: Romero, M. & Biswas, D. (2016) Healthy-left, unhealthy-right: can displaying healthy items to the left (versus right) of unhealthy items nudge healthier choices? Journal of Consumer Research, 43(1), 103-112

Reference 3: Sunaga, T., Park, J., & Spence, C. (2016) Effects of lightness-location congruency on consumers' purchase decision-making. Psychology & Marketing, 33(11), 934 - 950

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