1. Study suggests people will desire something even more if you increase their focus on it

    November 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Case Western Reserve University press release:

    The relationship between desire and attention was long thought to only work in one direction: When a person desires something, they focus their attention on it.

    Now, new research reveals this relationship works the other way, too: increasing a person’s focus on a desirable object makes them want the object even more — a finding with important implications for marketers and clinicians seeking to influence behavior.

    The study, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, is the first to demonstrate a two-way relationship.

    “People will block out distraction and narrow their attention on something they want,” said Anne Kotynski, author of the study and a PhD student in psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve University. “Now we know this works in the opposite direction, too.”

    In marketing, advertisements with a hyper focus on a product’s desirable aspect — say zooming in on the texture of icing and frosting — might help sell a certain brand of cake.

    Findings suggest the ad could be targeted to people who have shown an interest in a similar product, such as running the cake commercial during a baking show.

    Clinicians could potentially help their patients develop a stronger focus on — and pursuit of — healthy activities that they may desire but otherwise resist, such as exercising or eating a balanced diet, Kotynski said.

    The study’s findings also add a wrinkle to knowledge of focus and emotion.

    According to a spate of previous research, positive emotions — such as happiness and joy — widen a person’s attention span, while negative emotions — such as disgust and fear — do the opposite: narrowing a person’s focus.

    “We conceptualize fear as drastically different from desire,” Kotynski said. “But our findings contribute to growing evidence that these different emotions have something key in common: They both narrow our focus in similar ways.”

    The findings also fit the notion that both of these emotions — fear (negative) and desire (positive) — are associated with evolutionarily pursuits that narrowed our ancestors’ attentions.

    For example, fear of predators motivated attention focused on an escape route, while an urge to mate motivated focus on a sexual partner.

    “If a person has a strong desire, research says this positive emotion would make them have a wide attention span,” Kotynski said. “Our research shows we developed a more beneficial behavior around desire: focusing our mental energy on the important object, much like fear would.”

    The study

    Study participants were shown images of desserts mixed in with mundane items. They were instructed to pull a joystick toward them if the image was tilted one direction and push the stick away if it was tilted the opposite direction. Researchers recorded the reaction time of each.

    Participants who responded fastest to pull the images of desserts were those whose attention had been narrowed. Responses were much slower to the mundane, and for participants whose attention was broad — suggesting narrowed attention increases desire for desserts but not for everyday objects.

    The study used dessert pictures to measure reaction time because such images have been shown to increase desire across individuals, most likely due to a motivation to seek high fat, high calorie foods that is rooted in evolution.


  2. Study suggests celebrity and status may not always help companies

    November 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Notre Dame press release:

    Businesses that have attracted lots of positive media coverage and are also affiliated with high-status venture capitalists or underwriters may seem like poster children for corporate success. But new research from the University of Notre Dame shows this kind of attention may be too much of a good thing.

    The study “Safe Bets or Hot Hands? How Status and Celebrity Influence Strategic Alliance Formations by Newly Public Firms” defines the media attention aspect as “celebrity” and the venture capitalist and underwriter affiliations as “status.” Together, they serve as lenses that influence how people process other information about a firm, according to researcher Tim Hubbard, assistant professor of management in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. But possessing both assets–celebrity and status together–is actually more of a disadvantage than possessing one or the other.

    “We show that possessing multiple social approval assets might not always be beneficial,” says Hubbard. “The relative predictability of high-status firms conflicts with the rebel nature of celebrities. It’s like looking through two different–and incompatible–lenses at the same time.”

    This challenges the assumption that accumulating such assets is always beneficial. The study– co-authored by Timothy Pollock, Michael Pfarrer and Violina Rindova and forthcoming in The Academy of Management Journal–shows that managers need to think about these assets in context.

    The researchers studied 347 internet tech startups that went public in the late 1990s and early 2000s, looking at whether they had celebrity and/or high status. They examined how many strategic alliances each firm had one year after going public, based on how potential alliances viewed the firm’s underpricing (change in stock price on the first day of trading).

    While celebrities were plentiful during this period, not all had high status. For example, MapQuest, Peapod, Salon and VerticalNet were all darlings, but were not backed by the highest status actors. Some–such as Pets.com, E-loan and Infoseek–were able to attain both celebrity and high status. All of these firms had varying degrees of success in attracting strategic alliance partners.

    “Celebrity played a big part in alliance formation when the firm had high underpricing, where the stock price experienced a ‘pop’ on the first day of trading,” Hubbard says, pointing to software and consulting services company Ariba as an example. The stock price almost tripled on its first day of trading in January 2002. By the end of its first year, it had 23 strategic alliances, compared to the average number of 2.4 alliances for sample firms in the study.

    “We also discovered that firms with both celebrity and high status had fewer partners one year after their initial public offering,” says Hubbard. High status firms had 1.65 fewer alliances if they had celebrity, compared to if they didn’t.

    “It changes our perspective on how these two intangible resources influence stakeholders,” he says. “Instead of only considering the baseline benefits of status or celebrity, we need to look at how these assets color stakeholders’ perceptions of other information.”

    Hubbard hopes the research can help managers better understand the nuances of intangible assets.

    “Viewing a firm through two different lenses can be difficult,” he says. “Rather than trying to gather every intangible asset, managers should consider which ones complement their organization. Not every firm needs to be a celebrity, and not every celebrity needs to have high status.”


  3. Study proposes more consumer-focused approach to wine

    November 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    The traditional pairing of wine and food too often misses the mark — leaving people confused and intimidated — and should be scrapped in favor of a more consumer-focused approach, a new study indicates.

    The research by Michigan State University hospitality scholars suggests people generally fit into certain wine-drinking categories, or “vinotypes,” and that servers and sommeliers should consider these preferences when suggesting a wine.

    Ordering beef roast for dinner? A traditional wine recommendation would be Cabernet Sauvignon. But why would a server suggest a bold red wine if the customer hates it? Let the patron drink his or her beloved Riesling with the meal, said Carl Borchgrevink, a former chef and restaurant manager and lead author on the study.

    “The palate rules — not someone else’s idea of which wine we should drink with our food,” said Borchgrevink, associate professor and interim director of MSU’s School of Hospitality Business. “They shouldn’t try to intimidate you into buying a certain wine. Instead, they should be asking you what you like.”

    Borchgrevink and culinary expert Allan Sherwin conducted the first scientific study examining the premise of Tim Hanni’s vinotype theory. Hanni, in a play on “phenotype,” proposed that vinotypes are determined by both genetics and environment and that such tastes change over time based on experiences.

    Hanni, a chef and one of the first Americans to earn the designation “Master of Wine,” has proposed four primary vinotypes: “sweet,” “hypersensitive,” “sensitive” and “tolerant.” The categories range from those who like sweet, fruity whites (sweet vinotype) to those who enjoy bold, strong reds (tolerant), and everyone in between.

    Hanni also created a series of criteria to determine vinotypes. If you like sweet beverages such as soda and salt your food liberally, for example, you trend toward the sweet vinotype. But if strong black coffee and intense flavors are your thing, you’re more apt to fall in the tolerant camp.

    For the study, MSU researchers surveyed a group of adults on food and beverage preferences and consumption patterns. They also held a reception with 12 stations where the participants rated the food and wine presented at each station individually, and then together.

    The results were conclusive: Hanni’s premise has merit. The researchers were able to predict wine preferences based on consumption patterns and preferences.

    Next, MSU researchers will test the vintoype theory outright by working with scholars globally. Borchgrevink said separate studies are being planned with partners from around the United States, as well as from Hong Kong, France and other areas.

    The work has implications for both restaurants and wine stores, which should train their staff members on the vinotype approach and find questions to ask consumers that can reveal their wine preferences, the study says.

    But the main focus is the wine-drinker, who should learn to trust their own palate and not necessarily depend on the so-called experts, said Sherwin, the Dr. Lewis J. and Mrs. Ruth E. Minor Chef-Professor of Culinary Management at MSU.

    “At the end of the day it’s going to be the consumer that has the final say,” Sherwin said. “They’re going to be the arbiter.”

    The study is published in the International Journal of Wine Business Research.


  4. Energy firm study suggests branding influences customer switching, not deals

    November 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of East Anglia press release:

    Energy companies in the UK are using specific branding approaches instead of product innovation to keep customers, according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

    While previous research has tended to focus on pricing, this study looked at the branding strategies and personalities of the Big Six energy firms — British Gas, SSE, EDF Energy, E.ON UK, npower and Scottish Power — and whether this is increasing consumer loyalty and therefore reducing switching behaviour. The Big Six represent more than 90 per cent of all energy supplied in the UK consumer sector.

    Focusing on the electricity market between 2013 — when the number of customers switching providers reached its lowest level — and 2015, the researchers find that brand personality consistency over time is important.

    Consistent brands, such as EDF Energy, performed better as they saw decreases in switching compared to firms, like npower and Scottish Energy, that had significantly changed their brand personality position or communicated inconsistently in this period.

    Providers that had a significantly different brand personality position between marketing communication channels, such as their website and annual report, also had more switching than those that remained consistent. Interestingly, the majority of the brands studied were inconsistent on this measure.

    The findings are published in the journal European Management Review.

    Lead author Dr Richard Rutter, a visiting research fellow at UEA’s Norwich Business School and assistant professor at the Australian College of Kuwait, said: “This research demonstrates the long-term importance of corporate branding in the energy sector and that brand personality does have an impact on customer retention.

    “The Big Six energy providers recognise the power of brand identity when attempting to persuade consumers to switch providers. Rather than doing so simply on the basis of superior financial offers, they are increasingly looking to build a long-term brand personality with which consumers will identify.

    “These organisations wish to be viewed as customer-focused and as offering a fair deal to consumers. There seem to be subtle but important differences in the ways that each company is choosing to communicate with its domestic audience and some are more effective than others.”

    Concentrating on companies’ communication through their websites and annual reports, the researchers examined what brand personality dimensions — defined as sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness — were communicated most strongly and how consistently each organisation communicated its brand between the website and annual report. They then assessed the organisation’s performance, measured by consumer loyalty or switching behaviour.

    They found that brands communicating excitement more strongly, such as EDF Energy, had the lowest levels of switching. The findings also suggest an ideal brand personality for the UK energy sector: low to medium levels of sincerity and competence and high levels of excitement and ruggedness communicated through the website lead to better performance. The authors say the annual report should maintain this, but also communicate a higher level of competence.

    Co-author Prof Konstantinos Chalvatzis, of Norwich Business School and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA, said: “Under scrutiny from the public and politicians, the energy sector is changing rapidly. Branding within the energy sector has become increasingly important, as energy firms seek to attract and, importantly, retain customers.

    “We find that certain energy brands, for example EDF Energy have communicated their personality consistently, while others, such as npower and British Gas, seem to have repositioned themselves. A strong brand personality alone is not enough to prevent consumer switching, rather, particular dimensions of personality are more favourable than others and the relevance of specific personality traits can change.”

    The authors, who also include Prof Stuart Roper of the University of Huddersfield and Prof Fiona Lettice of Norwich Business School, recommend that firms should not drastically change their branding each year. Brand managers should also consider how to increase the communication of excitement in relation to their brands without being inauthentic, and ensure that their brand is consistent over time and between different marketing media.

    Relatively quick gains could be made by reviewing external communications for consistency of language and message. The findings also highlight the need for greater emphasis on competence related language, particularly when delivering negative information.


  5. Study suggests calorie counts on menus make a difference

    November 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Technology Sydney press release:

    One the most comprehensive pieces of research into the impact of displaying calories on menus reveals it not only influences consumers to make lower calorie choices but also encourages retailers to provide lower calorie options.

    The research confirms the move that has been made in Australia towards, and supports a push in the United States, for greater disclosure of calorie or kilojoule information on menus at fast-food outlets and restaurant chains.

    The researchers, Dr Natalina Zlatevska from University of Technology Sydney, Dr Nico Neumann from Melbourne Business School, and Professor Chris Dubelaar from Deakin University, collated 186 studies on the effect on consumers of displaying calories on menus, as well as 41 studies on the effect on retailers.

    The results of the meta-analysis, to be published in the international Journal of Retailing, show that displaying calorie information encouraged a reduction of 27 calories (112 kilojoules) per meal for consumers and 15 calories (62 kilojoules) per menu item by food retailers.

    Lead researcher Natalina Zlatevska, from the Marketing Discipline Group at UTS Business School, says while the calorie reduction isn’t much if you only eat out once a year, for those who eat out regularly it can make a real difference.

    The impact was also greater for women, with a 60 calorie (251 kilojoule) reduction per meal, and for those who are overweight, with a reduction of 83 calories (347 kilojoules) per meal.

    “With more and more food dollars spent on meals purchased outside the home, anything we can do to educate consumers, and make them a bit more aware of their choices is a good start,” Zlatevska says.

    Obesity increases the risk of many chronic and lethal diseases including type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and is a leading cause of premature death in the US, UK and Australia.

    Zlatevska says the finding that retailers adjust the choices they offer when required to display calorie information is significant.

    “In the same way that corporate or financial disclosure changes behaviour, here we see the disclosure effect changing the food environment,” she says.

    “We know that retailers are adjusting so there is the possibility of a combined effect. That is where I think bigger change will probably happen. All these incremental changes add up, it is cumulative.”

    In the US providing calorie information on menus has proved controversial, with constant delays and “push back” from food industry groups fearing the cost of implementing the laws.

    First mandated in the 2010 Affordable Care Act, labelling laws are due to be implemented in the US in May 2018, but already there are suggestions they will again be postponed or watered-down.

    In Australia, displaying kilojoule information on menus is mandatory in NSW, SA, ACT and Queensland for food outlets and restaurant chains with more than 20 stores in a state or 50 nationwide, with Victoria to follow suit next year.


  6. Study suggests anticipated social media buzz can drive tourism

    October 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Georgia press release:

    How much positive feedback travelers think they’ll get on social media can predict whether they intend to visit a tourism destination, a new University of Georgia study has found.

    The research on “social return,” or the number of likes, shares, comments and overall positive feedback travelers expect they’ll get from their travel posts, shows what destination marketers already know, said Bynum Boley, an assistant professor in UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

    “Social media is influencing the destination selection process,” Boley said. “Results confirm the importance of promoting the symbolic aspects of the destination rather than solely promoting the functional attributes such as price and weather; destination marketers need to consider the anticipated social media buzz travel will create and harness the force behind these symbolic images to influence visitation to the destination.”

    The research team developed and used the “Social Return Scale” to predict whether 758 U.S. travelers intend to visit Cuba over the next year, next five years, and then next 10 years based upon the anticipated positive social media feedback of posting their travel experiences.

    Cuba was chosen as the destination of interest because the recent loosening of travel restrictions under the Obama administration resulted in a rush to see the country before increased U.S. tourism changed the nature of the experience. So it was of interest to see if the expected social return of traveling to Cuba would have a greater influence on intent to visit there in the short term versus long term.

    Results show that across all three times (next year, next five years and next 10 years), the anticipated social return of traveling to Cuba was a good predictor of whether someone intended to visit the country. However, social return had the greatest influence on predicting travel within the next year, the study found.

    These results, Boley said, imply that the more tourists see a destination as having “the right atmosphere for signaling their desired image to their peer groups” through social media, the more likely they are to travel there in the near future.

    “While travel and social standing have a long history of interconnectedness, social media has fundamentally changed the nature of this form of conspicuous consumption,” Boley said. “No longer do peers have to take each other’s word on where they have traveled or wait for the slideshow upon returning from the trip; travelers are now able to receive instant gratification and recognition through posting pictures of their travels.”

    These results have significant implications for tourism marketers, Boley said. They now have to take into account what travelers find social media worthy about a destination to craft their marketing materials. It’s not just about whether someone can afford the trip or if they’ll have an enjoyable time while there, he said.

    “This is especially important as narcissism becomes more normalized and the posting of travel experiences on social media becomes a more prominent primary motivation for travel,” he said.

    These results were recently published in Tourism Management by Boley and co-authors Evan Jordan with Arizona State University, Carol Kline with Appalachian State University, and Whitney Knollenberg with North Carolina State University.


  7. Study suggests eye-catching labels may stigmatize many healthy foods

    October 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Delaware press release:

    When customers walk down aisles of grocery stores, they are inundated with labels such as organic, fair-trade and cage free, just to name a few. Labels such as these may be eye-catching but are often free of any scientific basis and stigmatize many healthy foods, a new University of Delaware-led study found.

    The paper published recently in the journal Applied Economics Perspectives and Policy examined the good, the bad and the ugly of food labeling to see how labels identifying the process in which food was produced positively and negatively influenced consumer behavior.

    By reviewing over 90 academic studies on consumer response to process labels, the researchers found that while these labels satisfy consumer demand for quality assurances and can create value for both consumers and producers, misinterpretation is common and can stigmatize food produced by conventional processes even when there is no scientific evidence those foods cause harm.

    For the poor, in particular, there is danger in misunderstanding which food items are safe, said Kent Messer, the study’s lead author and the Unidel Howard Cosgrove Career Development Chair for the Environment.

    “That has me worried about the poor and those who are food insecure,” said Messer, who is also director of the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Because now you’re trying to make everything a high-end food choice and frankly, we just want to have healthy food choices, we don’t need to have extra labels that scare away people,”

    Process labels, by definition, focus on the production of a food, but largely ignore important outcomes of the process such as taste or healthiness. According to Messer and his study co-authors, policy changes could help consumers better understand their choices. They argue governments should not impose bans on process labels but rather encourage labels that help document how the processes affect important quality traits, such as calorie count.

    “Relying on process labels alone, on the other hand, is a laissez faire approach that inevitably surrenders the educational component of labeling to mass media, the colorful array of opinion providers, and even food retailers, who may not always be honest brokers of information,” the researchers wrote.

    The Good

    With regards to the positive impact process labels have on consumers, Messer said that consumers are able to more freely align their purchasing decisions with their values and preferences.

    If, for example, a consumer wants to buy fair trade coffee, they are able to do so with greater ease.

    “The good part is that process labels can help bridge the trust between the producer and the consumer because it gives the consumer more insight into the market,” said Messer. “New products can be introduced this way, niche markets can be created, and consumers, in many cases, are willing to pay more for these products. It’s good for industry, consumers are getting what they want, and new players get to find ways of getting a higher price.”

    The Bad

    The bad part is that consumers are already in the midst of a marketplace filled with information that can be overwhelming because of the sheer amount of product choices and information available.

    In addition, when most consumers go to buy food, they are often crunched for time.

    “Human choice tends to be worse when you put time constraints on it,” said Messer. “Maybe you’ve got a child in the aisle with you and now you’re adding this new label and there’s lots of misinterpretation of what it means. The natural label is a classic one which means very little, yet consumers assume it means more than it does. They think it means ‘No GMO’ but it doesn’t. They think it means it is ‘organic’ but it isn’t. This label is not helping them align their values to their food, and they’re paying a price premium but not getting what they wanted to buy.”

    Messer said that another problem are “halo effects,” overly optimistic misinterpretation of what a label means.

    “If you show consumers a chocolate bar that is labeled as ‘fair trade’, some will tell you that it has lower calories,” Messer said. “But the label is not about calories. Consumers do this frequently with the ‘organic’ label as they think it is healthy for the consumer. Organic practices may be healthier for the farm workers or the environment, but for the actual consumer, there’s very little evidence behind that. You’re getting lots of mixed, wrong messages out there.”

    The Ugly

    Like halo effects, the ugly side of food processing labels comes into play when labels sound like they have a positive impact but really have a negative one.

    A label such as “low food miles” might sound nice but could actually be causing more harm than good.

    “Sometimes, where food is grown doesn’t mean that it’s actually the best for climate change,” said Messer.

    Hot house tomatoes grown in Canada, for example, might have low food miles for Canadian consumers but it’s probably far better environmentally — because of all the energy expended in creating tomatoes in an energy intensive hot house in Canada — to grow the tomatoes in Florida and then ship them to Canada.

    “If you just count miles and not true energy use, you can get people paying more money for something that’s actually going the opposite of what they wanted which is to get a lower carbon footprint,” said Messer.

    He added that the ugly side of food labeling is that a lot of fear is being introduced into the marketplace that isn’t based on science.

    “When you start labeling everything as ‘free of this’ such as ‘gluten free water,’ you can end up listing stuff that could never have been present in the food in the first place,” Messer said. “These ‘free of’ labels can cause unnecessary fear and cast the conventionally produced food in a harsh, negative light.”

    Since the vast majority of the food market is still conventionally produced and is the lower cost product, there is a danger in taking that safe food and calling it unsafe because of a few new entrants into the food market.

    Messer also said that there is evidence that food companies are getting worried about investing in science and technology because they don’t know how the consumer is going to respond or how marketers are going to attack their food product because it’s new and different and therefore, can be labeled as bad or dangerous.

    “We’ve got a lot of mouths to feed in our country and around the world,” Messer said. “We are currently able to feed so many because of advances in agricultural science and technology. If we’re afraid of that now, we have a long-term impact on the poor that could be quite negative in our country and around the world. That’s when I start thinking these process labels could really be ugly.”


  8. Study assesses effectiveness of deep promotional discounts

    October 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville press release:

    Many retailers employ discounts to attract customers, but it can be difficult for businesses to know what effect these discounts have on overall store performance, and few studies have analyzed store-level data to know for sure whether this strategy works.

    A new study published in the Journal of Retailing shows that promotional discounts increase store traffic and lead to higher overall profits, especially if the advertised products are staples — items such as meat and produce that are purchased frequently and by many customers.

    “Our results validate the widespread use of price promotions supported by feature advertising, such as those found in newspaper circulars,” said Dinesh Gauri, professor of marketing in the Sam M. Walton College of Business. “These featured promotions provided a beneficial impact on several key performance metrics, including store traffic, sales and profits.”

    Over a 49-week period, Gauri and co-authors Brian Ratchford at the University of Texas at Dallas, Joseph Pancras at the University of Connecticut, and Debabrata Talukdar at the University of Buffalo analyzed data on 27 product categories from 24 branches of a popular Northeastern grocery chain. Each week, the authors compiled data on overall traffic, sales per transaction, and profit margin for each store.

    They examined the impact of so-called “loss leader” strategies — the practice of deep promotional discounts to attract customers who will buy other items — on several product categories, including penetration (items bought by many people), frequency (frequently purchased items), storability (items that can be stored, such as paper napkins or plates), impulse items and national brand items.

    Their analysis of about 677,000 transactions, with an average value of $15.44 per transaction, showed that deep discounting, accompanied by a blitz of advertising promotions, achieved retailers’ goal of attracting more customers into stores and increasing overall profits. But the researchers’ main finding came with several caveats, Gauri said.

    Promotional discounts on both high-penetration, high-frequency items (staples such as meat and produce) and low-penetration, low-frequency items (beer and condiments) led to increased traffic but lower sales per transaction.

    “This suggests that these promotional discounts tend to attract small-basket customers,” Gauri said.

    However, discounts in these same categories were associated with higher overall profit margins, especially in the low-penetration, low-frequency category. Gauri said this suggests that the smaller transactions generated by the discounts contained an above average number of high-margin items, in addition to the discounted items.

    “We think this result was driven mainly by beer, which was featured almost every week,” Gauri said.

    These other findings can also give retailers an edge, the researchers said:

    • Broad discounting in one category may lead to diminishing returns.
    • On average, discounts on national brand items had a stronger impact on per-transaction sales than discounts on non-brands.
    • Consumers who took advantage of deep discount promotions on impulse products tended to buy products in more profitable categories.

  9. Lively tunes boost sales in crowded stores

    September 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Journal of Retailing at New York University press release:

    If a store is crowded, people tend to buy more if the sound system is playing a fast-paced song rather than a ballad. That’s what a team of researchers found in a field experiment across a chain of grocery convenience stores in Northern Europe.

    The researchers — Klemens M. Knoeferle of the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo; Vilhelm Camillus Paus, of Saatchi & Saatchi in Oslo; and Alexander Vossen of the University of Siegen, in Germany — conducted a longitudinal experiment to determine whether and to what extent music played a role in influencing shoppers when stores were more or less crowded. The authors noted that customer spending tracked an inverted U-shape as stores became more crowded. They found that when stores weren’t crowded, music had little effect, but as social density increased, music with an up-tempo beat spurred spending.

    In “An Upbeat Crowd: Fast In-store Music Alleviates Negative Effects of High Social Density on Customers’ Spending,” appearing in the September issue of The Journal of Retailing, the authors describe a six-week field experiment in 2014 that tested the interaction between manipulated music tempo and measured social density. The sample included 460 small stores and recorded a total of 43,676 observations about shopping basket value (SBV) and the number of purchased items. Compared with no music, as a store became more crowded, the average SBV was roughly 8 percent greater. The authors also observed that SBV was higher due to shoppers’ buying more items rather than more expensive ones.

    Managerial implications were clear: first, the authors say, retail managers should be aware of crowding’s effect on spending patterns and find ways to control it; second, ambient music is a relatively easy tool for retailers to mitigate crowding effects; and third, the authors provide a metric for measuring when social density demands some lively tunes. In addition, when customers are few, retailers might save royalty fees by not playing music, and because fast music in crowded stores motivated customers to buy more low-priced items, managers should prepare for a run on impulse purchases.


  10. When hoping to be seen as powerful, consumers prefer wider faces on watches, cars

    September 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Kansas press release:

    People are typically averse to wider human faces because they elicit fears of being dominated. However, consumers might like wider faces on some products they buy, such as watches or cars, when they want to be seen in a position of power in certain situations, according to a new study led by a University of Kansas marketing researcher.

    “When consumers are motivated to dominate others, or when they use the product in public, their liking will be heightened toward high-ratio product faces,” said Ahreum Maeng, assistant professor in marketing at the KU School of Business.

    Maeng’s study she co-authored with Pankaj Aggarwal, professor of marketing at the university of Toronto, was published recently in the Journal of Consumer Research, one of the leading journals on marketing academic research.

    In five experiments, respondents examined photos of human faces that varied from low width-to-height ratio (narrow) to ones with a higher ratio (wider) to establish the perception of dominance when seeing higher-ratio faces. The researchers also had respondents view photos of products that might have a design resembling a human face, such as watch and clock faces and automobiles, from low to high width-to-height ratios.

    “These kinds of things are automatically going on in people’s brains,” Maeng said. “When we see those shapes resembling a human face in the product design, we can’t help but perceive it that way.”

    Researchers have established that people are evolutionarily adapted to read facial cues, especially those signaling dominance, and the width-to-height ratio of face is a cue to attribute dominance to the face. In the notion of anthropomorphism, scholars have found people often attribute human traits to non-human entities, such as products.

    In addition, the researchers had participants view the images while they thought about different scenarios, such as preparing to encounter either an old high school bully or a former sweetheart at a 10-year-old high school reunion or a business trip that might require a difficult negotiation.

    Their main finding was that when people felt they were in a situation where they might want to be perceived as dominant — such as that business negotiation or when seeing an old bully at a high-school reunion — people were inclined to select the wider product design for a watch or car they might be renting for the trip.

    Maeng said this differs from how people tend to see dominance in the human face. They typically become averse to a higher width-to-height ratio because they feel threatened or intimated.

    “But when it comes to a dominant-looking product face, they really like it,” she said. “It’s probably because people view the product as part of themselves and they would think, ‘it’s my possession. I have control over it when I need it, and I can demonstrate my dominance through the product.”

    In scenarios where participants did not feel the need to project any dominance, such as a more laid-back time with their children or family, the width-to-height ratio of the products became less important, the researchers found.

    Maeng said the findings have important implications for marketers of products that might resemble a human face, such as watches with a circular face and cars. They found consumers’ preferences for dominant-looking product faces is not the same as people’s preference simply for luxury or expensive items.

    Also, typically, product-design efforts have focused on visual aesthetics and ergonomics, an assumption that beauty and functionality covers the entire canvas of product design. However, more recent contrary findings by marketing researchers suggest that product design can signal a specific personality trait about the product.

    Maeng said this type of preference means that manufacturers and marketers would be able to charge higher prices for products that have wider faces. They have already found a positive relationship in examining 2013 prices of automobiles based on the width-to-height ratio, and their study likely supports those types of decisions.

    “Brand managers and product designers may be particularly interested in these findings,” the researchers said, “because a simple design feature, namely product face ratio, can have marketplace impact — by significantly improving the company’s bottom line.”