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When the Store Gets Crowded, the Shopper Buys Safety

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.”