We're most susceptible to outside influence in the earliest stages of shopping

Researchers from MIT show that we're most susceptible to promotions and coupons at the entrance of a store – before we've had a chance to figure out our shopping goals. Notably, conditional coupons presented at this stage are so powerful that they can cause a consumer to spend either more or less than usual, depending on whether the condition stipulated on the coupon is higher or lower than how much the consumer would otherwise spend.

"Consumers start with fuzzy shopping goals, which become more concrete as the shopping experience progresses," explain Leonard Lee and Dan Ariely in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Consumer Research. "Because of the initial lack of concreteness of their goals, consumers' sensitivity to external cues is likely to be higher in the earlier stage of their shopping when their goals are more malleable."

Based on a series of filed tests in convenience stores, the researchers explain that when we first enter a store, our shopping goals are relatively abstract and thus more susceptible to outside influence. However, once we're inside, we accumulate evidence and a sense of direction. Our goals become more specific and we become more certain of what we're going to buy and how much we are willing to spend. Thus, coupons in the aisles of stores are far less effective than those presented at the entrance.

"When the required spending level is higher than their typical spending level, they spend more; when the required spending is lower, they spend less," write the authors. "This experiment also demonstrates that customers' spending tends to shift with the minimum spending conditions stated on their coupons."

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Leonard Lee and Dan Ariely. "Shopping Goals, Goal Concreteness, and Conditional Coupons" Journal of Consumer Research. June 2006.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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