Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Take a Break, Make the Sale

Why eat radishes when you’d rather have cookies? Well, because some psychologist directed you to eat the radishes as part of a research study.
     A more important question for retailers is, “What’s the effect on shopping behavior when a consumer is asked to resist temptation?” An answer to that one comes from “The Financial Page” in the current issue of The New Yorker. The article reports on a set of studies, including a classic from Case Western University involving, yes, tangy vegetables and tempting treats.
     In that study, participants had been asked to skip a meal before arriving at the site, so they were no doubt hungry. Welcoming the participants was the aroma of chocolate chip cookies, which had been freshly baked. Then each participant was assigned to sit in front of their own table for five minutes.
     For one group of participants, the table contained no food. For a second group, the table contained cookies, chocolates, and radishes; these participants were invited to eat whatever they wanted. Participants in the third group also had the cookies, chocolates, and radishes on the table, and they, too, were invited to eat. But to eat only the radishes. This limitation was revealed to the unlucky participants in the third group with the explanation, “You have been assigned to the radish condition.”
     After the five minutes, each participant embarked on a difficult task, paralleling the sort of decision making involved in a highly complicated purchase. What the researchers measured was how long each participant was willing to stay at the task. What they found was that the radish people gave up much more quickly than did the cookie people or the no-food people.
     The New Yorker article suggests that when you’re asking people to do difficult work, give them breaks from resisting temptation. You’ll get better results. The implication for retailers is to give shoppers a brief break from challenging purchase choices. The outcome is likely to be an increase in sales.
     Breaks also increase enjoyment. It’s an example of what psychologists call habituation. Consider the massage therapy category of services retailing. Masseuses report that the client generally likes the massage more when they’re rubbed for a while, pounded for a while, kneaded for a while, and then rubbed again than if there’s no change.
     Habituation is related to age. Changeups improve the enjoyment more for younger than for older consumers.

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Give Your Sales Pitches Changeups

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