Cramped shoppers seek more variety

May 13th, 2009 - 3:34 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, May 13 (IANS) When shoppers feel cramped in narrow aisles, they react by seeking greater variety in what they buy, according to a new study.
Jonathan Levav (Columbia University) and Rui Juliet Zhu (University of British Columbia) built on prior research on “psychological reactance” to study why consumers attempt to regain freedom in situations where they perceive it to be threatened.

“Extending this line of research, in this paper, we investigate an important yet overlooked factor that can also limit consumers’ freedom: physical confinement,” they wrote.

For instance, in western cultures, choice is viewed as a way to exert control over one’s environment. And when people feel confined, apparently their shopping habits change.

The researchers designed a series of lab experiments to test the hypothesis that confining spaces lead to greater variety seeking.

In the first study, participants shopped for candy in a lab space modified to create both wide and narrow aisles. Participants in the narrow aisle chose a greater variety of candy bars than consumers in the wide aisle.

In a subsequent study, the authors found that participants in narrow aisles were more likely to choose unfamiliar and unique brands, said a Columbia release.

The results were amplified among people who tend to have high reactance tendencies. In a real-world study, the researchers found that increased customer density led to more varied choices among supermarket customers.

“Our results suggest that in larger, less crowded stores, manufacturers should be less keen to deliver a wide variety of products in a category, and should instead focus on stocking a few of their better-known or dominant product offerings,” the authors wrote.

These findings were published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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