By Rose Eveleth
Posting in Energy
You might think that you have control over what you buy, but you'd be mostly wrong. Consumers tend to select whatever's right in front of them.
The next time you go to the store, pay attention to the long lines of horizontally stacked products on the shelves. Depending on how tall you are, different products fall into your main field of vision. What are you looking directly at, when you look at the cereal shelf, and what do you have to look up or down to see? Research on consumer behavior has confirmed that the stuff in the middle is far morel likely to wind up in your cart, than what's on the top and bottom shelves.
The research, done at Concordia University and published in the Journal of Consumer Research, used eye tracking devices to see how what we look at impacts what we buy. They focused on all sorts of products: vitamins, snack bars, and energy drinks. What they found is that in the final five seconds before you decide which product to toss in your basket, your gaze naturally focuses on the central shelf, or central option in the display. Which makes you far more likely to grab that object, than the one above it.
This doesn't just happen at the store either. Think of any time you're presented with a row of choices. Netflix, Amazon.com, even news websites often have the horizontal bar. You're still more likely to choose the movie, book or story in the middle. When presented with a row of chairs people still picked the one in the middle.
Consumers might think that they have far more control over this. You go to the store to get Cheerios and you buy Cheerios. But maybe what actually happens is that you go to the store to get cereal, and Cheerios are in the center. You could be missing some delicious amazing cereal just above or below it.
The next time you go to the store, lead author Onur Bodur hopes you'll think about his research. "By using this newfound knowledge that visual attention is naturally drawn to the center of a display, consumers can consciously train themselves to make a more thorough visual scan of what's on offer," he said in the press release.
Image: waitscm / Flickr
Jul 30, 2012
I read nutritional information on the box, and I will search out the cereal that I want no matter where it is placed on the shelf. I generally know what I'm going to buy before I even get to the grocery store. Otherwise, I search out something that I think might have a good combination of taste and nutrition, pull it, read the box, and either put it back on the shelf or into my grocery cart. If I go to the store to buy Cheerios, I really don't care where they are on the shelf. If I have to reach, or bend over, it doesn't matter.
"...stuff in the middle is far morel likely to wind up in your cart, than whatâs on the top and bottom shelves." Could it also be factored in, that the stuff on the middle shelves is the more-frequently purchased items/brands? Makes sense to me, to place those items in the areas that are most accessable to customers. Why put favored items on the roof or in the basement?
Yes, it's done on purpose. It's be done on purpose for decades. Anyone who has ever worked retail knows it is done on purpose.
I think we have found another underlying cause of obesity in America (and elsewhere). I shop with a list and only with a list, which usually includes specific product names and brands. I do this because I know very well what impulse shopping and so-called "smart marketing" do to purchasing choices. I also use the internet to check on newer choices, as well as read nutrition labels if I do find something new and attractive. This is the only way I can keep my diet, and hence my weight and health under control. I am really ambivalent about "marketing" because it is key to business success, but at the same time uses almost deceptive techniques to try to get us to buy things that are less than good or outright bad for us. Yes, I know - all things in moderation are probably not too harmful, but check out the menus and then the clientele at almost any food-related outlet to see where marketing is taking us.