Wednesday, 22 February 2012

More on the psychology of shopping and tricks to make you spend...

Salesperson: "Date of birth?"
You: "23rd March 1972"
Salesperson: "That’s amazing, that's my birthday too!"

A mere coincidence? Or a trick to make you spend?

A new study just published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that when you share something, such as a birthday, with a salesperson you are more likely to buy from them and to  feel good about it.

The researchers found that when people found they had the same a birthday as a personal trainer they were more likely to purchase a gym membership. 

This is just another example of the unconscious psychological forces that are shaping every financial decision we make.  

It’s all down to our human need for connectedness which is so powerful that  even an incidental similarity (the same birthday, name or a shared place of birth) makes us more favourably disposed towards another person.

Perceived similarity makes us feel connected.
This need for connectedness extends to touch too. Earlier studies found that if a waitress or waiter gently touched a customer on the arm when handing over the bill, they would receive a larger tip.

I suspect that compliments work in the same way.  Shopping in London last week I was twice complimented by the sales assistant as I was paying for goods. One loved my rings, another said my glasses were cool. Of course, I left the shop in a positive frame of mind, but were their compliments a clever ploy to make sure I did?
Here's your purchase, with a whopping compliment thrown in... 
In the previous post some other tricks were highlighted. 
  • Many people pop into a shop for a pint of milk only to find it’s right at the back and they have to pass racks of other tempting goodies to get there. 
  • Cosmetic aisles are secluded so that women have time and space to read the labels. 
  • Men’s changing rooms are easier to find because retailers know men are very likely to buy once they’ve tried.

In an earlier post I highlighted some more design tricks aimed at seducing us into spending.
  • The absence of clocks in shopping centres so you lose track of time. 
  • Confusing layouts so you get lost and wander into temptation territory. 
  • Mirrors to slow you down. 
  • Birdsong and waterfalls to slow your heart rate.

With all these wily ways it’s amazing anyone ever gets out of a shopping centre with their finances intact. Short of being mugged, it’s a sure-fire way of being fleeced. 

So next time you think you’re in control, remind yourself of some of these tricks and be on your guard!


  1. I used to be a sales assistant for Neals Yard Remedies. When I complimented someone for whatever reason, I genuinely meant it (it's nice to spread a little joy and who doesn't love a compliment?).

    I can understand how complimenting someone during the sales patter could encourage them to buy additional products but not when you'd already chosen and were paying for your goods. It may be that you really do have cool glasses.

  2. Thanks Claire, you're absolutely right (and I must've sounded such a cynic), lots of compliments ARE given genuinely and there's nothing nicer than being on the receiving end of one.
    I think the research found that compliments given after paying leave the person with a good vibe about the shop - that might mean they're more likely to go back there?
    And maybe shops suggest to their sales staff that this might be a good customer relations strategy?
    Thanks very much for your comment - and keep spreading a little joy :O)


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