The Science Of Stop Shopping

There’s a whole social science to shopping, or, more specifically, to getting customers to buy things. It’s the reason that Subway franchises pipe in that intense bread-y smell and supermarkets line the check-out counters with cheap impulse purchases like candy bars. The Atlantic has a fascinating round-up of the latest conventional wisdom about how best to separate lay-people from their lucre:

One paper now under peer review shows that cooler temperatures indoors lead to a more emotional style of decision making, while warmth contributes to a more analytical approach [9] — which could explain why expensive stores always seem to have their air-conditioning cranked up. Research has also demonstrated that consumers prefer spending money in stores with cool, blue-toned interiors over stores with warmer, orange-toned interiors, where they tend to be less enthusiastic and balk at high prices [10]. …

People are more likely to buy a high-quality item if they can handle it [11]. Music is likewise a powerful tool: The right genre can increase customers’ pleasure and cause them to lose track of time (which would presumably be a good thing, from a retailer’s perspective) [12]. One study found that popular music leads to impulsive decisions, while lesser-known background music leads to focused shoppers — ones who are, say, more likely to carefully process information about promotions [13].

Business Insider assembled a handbook that made similar points last year. The idea was ostensibly to help consumers “beat retailers at their own game.” What it was really doing, and what the Atlantic piece is doing too, though, is helping us understand — and, then, better resist — our own subconscious biases. The same way laying out your food on a smaller dish helps us eat less.

Is the comparable answer to shop online and avoid manipulative, alluring retail environments altogether? Well, no, not necessarily, as NY Mag’s The Science of Us explains:

Even as you click “confirm purchase,” you know on some level that you are very likely to regret your hasty decision to buy an online shopping cart full of stuff you don’t need.

Especially if you’re trying to reach an arbitrary threshold, say, $25 so as to qualify for free shipping. The problem is that advertising is even more powerful than you might imagine: “let’s take a look at the love we have for our favorite brands … Twenty years’ worth of research on this subject argues that people form actual relationships with brands.”

The site’s video series does offer some tips on how to think with your brain, rather than your heart, even when it comes to brands for which you feel intense loyalty and affection. Like, turn of the one-click ordering and anything else that makes spending money so frictionless that you forget the transaction is even real. Or you could always let go and let God, via the Church of Stop Shopping.

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