When the Store Gets Crowded, the Shopper Buys Safety

(Photo: Charlie Brewer)

(Photo: Charlie Brewer)

A new research paper (abstract; PDF) by Ahreum Maeng, Robin J. Tanner, and Dilip Soman looks at how a shopping environment affects buying patterns. From the press release:

New research by Ahreum Maeng, an assistant professor in the KU School of Business, finds that socially crowded environments lead consumers to be more conservative. Specifically, Maeng finds that consumers in crowded settings prefer safety-oriented options and are more receptive to prevention-framed messages than promotional messages — for example, preferring a toothpaste offering cavity protection over a toothpaste promising a whiter smile. Maeng also finds consumers in crowded settings are less willing to make risky investments. 

“Consumers in crowded environments get conservative and safety-focused,” Maeng said. “We believe this is because people in socially crowded settings activate an avoidance system that results in a more prevention-focused mindset. This, in turn, makes socially crowded individuals more likely to choose options that provide prevention-focused benefits.” 

Maeng points out that the research has important implications for retailers as well as policymakers.  “For example, our findings indicate a store would benefit by selling and marketing products differently on a crowded Saturday during the holidays versus a Tuesday morning in August,” she says. “And even within the same day, stores might consider changing their signage or product placement to account for different levels of crowding.”

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  1. Enter your name... says:

    I wonder if this effect holds true for voting: if there’s a long line or the voting area feels crowded, will people vote more conservatively?

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    • Chris says:

      No, because vote is private.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        So? If you put a big bottle of hand sanitizer next to those private voting booths, then people vote more conservatively. People react to their environments, even when other people won’t know what they’re doing.

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    • MIke says:

      The news reports of areas with the longest lines are always in mostly Democratic districts. Besides, the study didn’t conclude people bought different products, just that the environment influenced which type of marketing for the same product was more effective.

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  2. bob says:

    Of course, all this goes out the window when your EBT card has no limit, and so does everyone else’s EBT cards.

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