Fallout: The Financial Crisis

The ways stores entice shoppers to buy

Marketplace Staff Nov 14, 2008
Fallout: The Financial Crisis

The ways stores entice shoppers to buy

Marketplace Staff Nov 14, 2008


Kai Ryssdal: When the economy slows, consumers predictably start changing their behavior — trying to be more thrifty and less impulsive. Just as predictably, stores change their tactics to try to get around those good intentions. Often, they do it in ways we’re not aware of, not even at a physiological level. It’s a technique called neuromarketing.

In his new book, “Buyology” — that’s B-U-Y-ology — marketing expert Martin Lindstrom explores what makes shoppers tick deep down. We met up at a new mall here in Los Angeles to find out how retailers hit and sometimes miss the mark.

Martin Lindstrom: We’re just pausing by the Barnes & Noble store right now, and as you can see they have a nice island in there . . .

Ryssdal: Yup.

Lindstrom: . . . in the middle of the store promoting books. Now, does that work or not, do you think?

Ryssdal: I don’t know. I mean, I love books, so it works for me. Maybe not everybody, though.

Lindstrom: We did an experiment with chocolate. We offered women a box of chocolate with 30 pieces in it. We said to them, “Take as much as you want.” Guess what? They took one piece. Then we gave them a box of chocolate with only six pieces in it. We said, “Take as much as you want.” They took three pieces. What we have learned is less is better than more.

Ryssdal: When you did this study and this research, did you actually put people in MRI machines and do the brain scans?

Lindstrom: We did. And we did it with a lot of peole. We had over 2,000 consumers’ brains we were scanning across from five countires. And we needed to use that when it came to smoking to subliminal advertising and to the influences of our senses, because we know those factors are ingrained into our brain and we cannot verbalize it, so we had to use brain slides to find out the answers .

Ryssdal: This is about so much more than branding and consumer experience, isn’t it?

Lindstrom: It is. This is about our life, because . . . I just noticed when we met up, Kai, that you were holding a Starbucks coffee cup in your hand.

Ryssdal: Guilty.

Lindstrom: Why do you do that?

Ryssdal: Because I needed a cup of coffee. It’s been a long day.

Lindstrom: Yeah, and it’s a ritual.

Ryssdal: And you know what’s funny is I walked by two or three other coffee places on the way to Starbucks.

Lindstrom: But you bypass the . . .

Ryssdal: But I bought the Starbucks, yeah.

Lindstrom: So what’s interesting is that, first of all, it’s a ritual. You walk to work, right, and you have to have it there. And I’ll bet you, if one day you do not have that in your hand, guess what? You’re whole morning is destroyed, right.

Ryssdal: That is true.

Lindstrom: Secondly, what’s interesting is the tactile sensation you have on that cup. You know this little cardboard they have around.

Ryssdal: Right. Yeah.

Lindstrom: In fact, we remove that for fun sometimes. And people did not feel the coffee tasting as well any more, becauses the tactile sensation is programming our brain to think it tastes better.

Ryssdal: So, let’s do the consumer advocate thing, here, and tell me how we as consumers can be smart to all this, other than buying and reading your book.

Lindstrom: [laughs] Well, you know, I think No. 1 point is: skip the shopping trolley. You know I was in Woolworth the other day and I’d been into Whole Foods the other day, and those brands are actually increasing the size of the shopping baskets right now. In fact, Whole Foods basket is now double the size as it was last year. You know why? Because if it’s double the size, you buy 30 percent more products. And you do that because you look down into this huge basket in Wal-Mart, for example, and there’s five products down there and . . . “Oh, I haven’t bought anything,” right.

Ryssdal: Right.

Lindstrom: Well, guess what? You [actually end up] buying much more.

Ryssdal: Are all of these things, the signage and the false scarcity and the branding and all this neuroscience, are they enough to help retailers in the economy that this country and a lot of the rest of the world is in right now?

Lindstrom: No, it’s not. They will struggle no matter what. And we will see that this Christmas is probably going to be the worst in 24 years. And I thinkg the main reason why is because the first time ever we are realizing this is serious stuff. This time it’s almost like we got a slap on the chin. And when that slap on the chin, and we know that from neuroscience, people wake up and they start to say, “Hey, I have to buy stuff differently.” And what happens is people literally change stores, people literally change the path down the supermarket aisle. And they have never done that before, but that is the change we are facing right now, and retailers are realizing that.

Ryssdal: Martin Lindstrom, his book is called “Buyology: The Truth and Lies About Why We Buy.” Martin, thanks a lot.

Lindstrom: Martin and I spent 45 minutes walking around the mall, the Americana at Brand…way too long for the broadcast. So if you want to know, say, how the ritual of putting slice of lime in Corona beer got its start, head to our Web site. It’s marketplace.org.

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