Pasty-looking people with unfocussed eyes goggle menacingly at the shop’s window display, hands and faces pressed hard against the glass. Cabinets of sparking goods stand within. An unearthly moan of desire emanates from the frustrated crowd.
What’s this? A description of shoppers waiting for Primark’s doors to open on a Saturday morning?
No, it’s actually a scene from Romero’s film, the Dawn of the Dead. And the pasty-looking people aren’t shoppers. They're zombies.
But the scene does capture something that Philip Horne, in his article ‘I shopped with a Zombie’ descibes as the transformation of merchanise into a spectacle which, these days, seems to have a compulsive quality. And researchers have now identified the kinds of magical transformations that many shoppers expect when making purchases.
In her study Marsha Richins, from Trulaske College of Business, identified four types of expectations:
Transformation of the self
That’s the belief, commonly held by young people and people in new roles, that a purchase will change who you are and how people perceive you. For example, a woman interviewed for Richins study wanted to have cosmetic dental surgery because she thought it would improve her appearance and self-confidence.
Transformation of relationships
Is the expectation that a purchase will improve your relationships with others. For example, a woman in the study wanted a new house as she thought then she'd entertain more often and make more friends.
This is the belief that a purchase will make life more fun. For example, a man in the study believed a new mountain bike would give him more incentive to get out and go on "an adventure."
is the expectation that purchases will make you more effective in your life. For example, some study participants believed buying a new car would make them more independent and self-reliant.
Nothing wrong with any of these reasons, you might think. They only become problematic when the purchaser spends the money and then, as often happens, doesn’t get the expected outcome. Because things like good relationships, independence, self-reliance and confidence come from working on your inner self, not from outer trappings.
Research shows that most people's beliefs about the life-transforming properties of their purchases are completely fallacious. Yet these beliefs are still very powerful motivators to spend. Worse still, if you have strong and unrealistic transformational beliefs you are more likely to overuse credit and take on excessive debt.
In Romero’s film the zombies rise from their graves and stagger to the shopping mall. What a shame no-one told them those glittering prizes wouldn’t be life-transforming.