Thursday, December 28, 2017

Protect Seniors from Poor Financial Capacity

The average American adult is best able to make financial decisions when about age 53. That’s from studies at Harvard University, New York University, and the U.S. Federal Reserve System. Putting this finding together with the fact that American adults ages 65 and over hold about 35% of the nation’s wealth, there is clearly a need for ethical marketers to protect seniors from unwise monetary transactions. Advancing age often is accompanied by drops in hearing, vision, memory, and reasoning skills.
     Researchers at University of Alabama-Birmingham, Harvard University, and Boston General Hospital define a senior’s financial capacity as the ability to manage finances in ways that meet the senior’s needs and are consistent with the senior’s values. The researchers went on to identify indicators of deteriorating financial capacity. Here is my version of those indicators:
  • Declines in payment management skills. Difficulty issuing payments or keeping records while carrying out everyday transactions. 
  • Arithmetic mistakes. Errors making or receiving change to pay for items at the store or when computing an appropriate tip in a restaurant. 
  • Memory lapses. Failing to pay bills or paying the same one several times. 
  • Disorganization. Losing track of financial and other documents. 
  • Impaired judgment. Abiding interest in get-rich-quick schemes or unfounded anxiety about the nature and extent of one’s personal wealth. 
  • Conceptual confusion. Difficulty understanding basic financial terms and concepts such as mortgage, will, or annuity. 
     If you suspect that your senior citizen client needs protection, you could refer them for evaluation to a mental health professional or attorney conversant with validated guidelines for assessing financial capacity.
     You might talk with those who observe the senior’s daily financial dealings. If the senior places trust in family or friends, those individuals are in a position to accompany the senior to appointments and help pull back your client from foolish decisions. Further, talking with family and friends allows you to spot any evidence that those trusted individuals are financially exploiting the senior.
     Referral to a mental health professional also can be useful to resolve the likely sadness and suspiciousness when a senior's financial decision making is trimmed. And whether or not you identify deficits in financial capacity, present information with particular patience and in multiple modalities when serving senior citizen clients. Say the information, have it in writing for the senior to read, encourage questions about it, and ask the senior to explain reasons for the decisions they’re making.

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Protect Customers From Dangerous Decisions
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Monday, December 25, 2017

Cushion Against Sacrifice Failure

Consumers are more likely to enroll in and adhere to a program requiring discipline if those consumers are allowed to fudge. Researchers at UCLA talk of building an emergency reserve into programs like commitments to lose weight, exercise more, and limit cell phone minutes.
     Importantly, people in these programs resist dipping into the emergency reserves, so they tend to meet their goals, experience satisfaction, and sign on for more challenges. The resistances to use are greater when the conditions of the program say that if the consumer uses it today, they can’t use it tomorrow or if the consumer dips into the reserve today, they’ll need to do something tomorrow to compensate for this.
     Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and Florida State University found that people aiming to lose weight remain more engaged in a program when the objective is stated as “lose between four and six pounds this next month” than as “lose five pounds this month.” A range also worked better when the objective was to save money during a specified period.
     Three forces are in play:
  • Attainability. People reject objectives they view as outside reasonable reach for them. The lower number in the range serves as a hook. Similarly, knowing there is an emergency reserve bestows the appeal of just-in-case flexibility. 
  • Challenge. Goals which require an effort will excite people, and excitement leads to engagement. The higher number in the range provides the challenge. As participants in the program realize they don’t have to depend on using the reserve, they get stimulated to do more. 
  • Self-efficacy. When people achieve an objective they’ve set themselves, they feel more confident in setting subsequent objectives of the same sort. The width of a range increases the likelihood the objective will be met. Moreover, the self-efficacy limited to a particular type of task might spill over to generalized self-confidence. 
     However, there’s a difference between having a range of acceptance and having a separate backup plan. In a set of studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Pennsylvania, people were asked to complete tasks with a promise of rewards for success. Some of the participants were also encouraged to develop backup plans for how they might obtain equivalent payoffs if failing to get them from the study conditions. Those participants with backup plans did less well on the tasks and showed a lower drive to get the reward.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Embrace Sadness in Marketing to Seniors

In marketing to senior citizens, stay aware that negative emotions such as fear and sadness impact these consumers in distinctive ways. Examples of this were analyzed by researchers at University of Southern California. In one study they reviewed, a group of younger and a group of older adults were coached to feel positive emotions, negative emotions, or neither and then shown pairs of photos. Each photo in the pair was of a face exhibiting a positive, neutral, or negative emotion. The degree of attention to the faces was measured. Most of the younger adults who had been made to feel negatively paid particular attention to an angry or frightened face. Most of the older adults made to feel negatively paid particular attention to a happy face.
     The explanation is that as consumers age, they acquire a positivity bias, causing them to pay more attention to the upsides and to put a happy edge even on sadness and fear. This change helps seniors deal with the inevitable discomforts and disappointments. Unlike younger adults, the seniors fear health threats more than social threats, but they prefer not to fear either. Older adults were asked to write an autobiographical sketch and then shown a list of words. These participants devoted significantly less notice to words having to do with pain and fatigue than to the pleasant words.
     Researchers at University of Rennes and University of Paris-Est found that among younger consumers, the attitude toward an advertisement is less favorable when it follows a sad television program rather than a happy one. However, for the older study participants, witnessing sadness didn’t arouse as much sadness as it did in the younger participants, and the attitudes toward the ad weren’t much different between the conditions of happy and sad programming. The elderly consumers did not turn away. In fact, emotional appeals, including sadness-based ones, usually help senior shoppers remember details about sources of marketing messages more accurately, according to researchers at Trinity College, College of Charleston, and University of Toronto.
     Talk to your elderly consumers about positives, such as comfort, contentment, and joy. Then combining this with an arousal of sadness or fear can be powerful. Point out how what you’re marketing helps avoid the negatives. Last, segue into talking about achieving the positives. All emotions arouse interest among older consumers, and as people age, they do get better at transforming negatives into positives.

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Give Me Five for Productive Staffing

You’ve less influence over the personalities of shoppers entering your store than you do over the personalities of staff you’ve selected and coached to be order getters, not just order takers. So attending to sales staff personalities can pay off.
     Researchers at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev used the Big Five to describe characteristics of salespeople who are best at persuading a range of customers. The Big Five, widely popular among psychologists, is a schema of fundamental personality dimensions:
  • Extroverted: Talkative, outgoing, animated 
  • Open to Experience: Curious, insightful, creative 
  • Conscientious: Ambitious, careful, dependable 
  • Agreeable: Kind, sympathetic, collaborative 
  • Emotionally Stable: Self-confident, calm, poised 
     The researchers found that, in general, people who are extraverted and open to experience are more persuasive. These personality traits played the greatest role when the target of persuasion had low involvement, such as what would be true with routine purchase decisions.
     A set of researchers, at Manhattan College, used the Big Five to assess another set of characteristic of desirable employees. They saw an association between high conscientiousness and agreeableness and lower rates of workplace theft, absenteeism, tardiness, and on-the-job uncooperativeness.
     As for emotional stability, its value for productive staffing is best seen by considering the name psychologists chose to label the other end of this fifth dimension. The name is “Neurotic,” and the descriptors include anxious and impulsive.
     People tend to maintain their positions on the Big Five dimensions throughout their adult lives, so what the researchers found plays more importance in selecting sales staff than in coaching sales staff. Still, for sales staff already in place, cultivating changes could make a difference.
     A larger difference is likely to occur with coaching by building Customer Need Knowledge (CNK). Researchers at Germany’s University of Mannheim and University of Bochum explored the relationships of:
  • CNK, defined as the extent to which a frontline employee in a store—the one who serves customers face-to-face—accurately and promptly identifies each customer’s needs and desires 
  • Customers’ satisfaction with their experiences with the frontline employee 
  • Customer judgments of value in what they purchased from the frontline employee 
     The researchers found that when the CNK of employees in a store is higher, customers are more satisfied and say they’ve gotten better value from their purchases. Employee with high CNK pay close attention to each customer they’re with and are visibly concerned with the problems of that customer.

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cool Barriers to Senior Shopper Momentum

Writing in Journal of Aging Studies, researchers from University of Zurich contend that what distinguishes consumers who live happily into their advanced years is a habit of being cool. Senior coolness, they say, is composure and poise which reduces problems of daily living to manageable levels.
     But another set of researchers—these based at University of Borås, Kristianstad University, University of Copenhagen, and RISE Research Institutes of Sweden—find it’s harder to keep your cool when there are barriers to you getting to the cool. The chilled groceries, that is. These researchers watched shoppers and interviewed shoppers, including seniors, in situations where grocery store cooler cabinets either had doors or didn’t have doors.
     The conclusion was that the doors created barriers of various sorts. There was the added challenge for seniors of holding the door open with one hand while reaching for the merchandise with the other. The challenge of navigating a shopping cart to the right location in front of where the cabinet door opens, especially when other shoppers or stocking clerks also were aiming for that prime place. Sometimes, the challenge of selecting the right door to pull open because moisture condensed on the inside of the door glass, clouding a clear view. With some shoppers, a discomfort touching door handles which many others had apparently contaminated already. For these and more reasons, about 75% of the senior shoppers in the study ended up asking others for help retrieving items from merchandise cooler cabinets with doors.
     That’s not to say everybody preferred the no-doors configuration. Some of the shoppers said the doors made the merchandise look more neatly arranged, kept unpleasant food odors contained, and protected the shopper from cold air. That third reason should be of particular interest to retailers serving senior citizens. Compared to younger shoppers, seniors are more likely to feel lonely, and lonely people prefer warmer store environments.
     So the lesson from the study I’d like to pass on is not whether to have doors. The lesson comes from the methodology in the study. The researchers watched the shoppers and talked with the shoppers in order to decide what works best and when. This is what I suggest you do with all your shoppers and especially the elderly. Your senior shoppers may have accessibility and mobility issues which create barriers to purchases you might not be aware of until you observe and interview.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Attach Style to Customized Pricing

Studies at Baylor University, University of South Carolina, and Vanderbilt University explored a type of customized pricing, in which what you charge is determined by your knowledge of a known customer’s past purchases. The researchers found that the reaction of a shopper to such a system is influenced by what psychologists call “attachment style.”
     Attachment style refers to how accepting and supportive people believe others are toward them. Those who are confident others will be available whenever needed have a secure attachment style. In the research, words that characterized them included wanted, welcomed, liked, and cherished. People who worry about the stability of relationships with significant others have an anxious attachment style. Words used by the researchers to characterize them included abandoned, neglected, disregarded, forsaken, disconnected, and let down.
     The study results indicated that customers with a secure attachment style have generally favorable views of a store using customized pricing. But the basis for the favorable view is that the customers believe they’ll get better prices than do others. Unless there is some compensating advantage for the retailer, a customized pricing strategy with these customers results in reduced revenues on balance. It can work if you charge a higher price often enough and explain the higher price in terms of a benefit important to the shopper. It might be expedited delivery, at-home installation, initial training in product use, or access to an increased number of alternatives to select from. Researchers at University of Kentucky suggest setting a price on a customized bundle of items, since this is a step removed from the individual prices.
     On the other hand, customers with an anxious attachment style who shop in a store with a customized pricing policy are relatively less concerned about getting a cut from the price tag tariff. It appears that their yearning for a good relationship with the retailer motivates them to accept that, over the long haul, they won’t be exploited. As long as the retailer maintains a fair overall pricing policy with these people, the customized pricing policy can pay off by evening up product demand and introducing some excitement into transactions.
     How to recognize who feels secure and who abandoned? With customers you’ve come to know over time, their general disposition is revealing. With other customers, engage in conversation and then attend to the words the shopper uses and the nonverbal tells like posture and gestures.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Table Complexity for Elderly Shoppers

As the brain ages, it becomes less efficient at processing complex information, and the owner of that brain becomes more dependent on shortcuts. These shortcuts, called “heuristics” by consumer psychologists, often involve looking for comparisons, contrasts, and trends. We can ease the process for senior shoppers by summarizing complex information in tables and graphs to supplement the comprehensive descriptions.
     We’ll want to design the graphics in ways that highlight points important for the consumer to understand. Some of this has to do with ease of visual perception. The use of different colors for different trend lines in charts helps. So does the use of shading of alternate rows in a table so the eye tracks correctly. We’ll also want to check that all the data points in the table or chart are accurate. 
     Still, after we do all this, the inclusion of tables or charts can mislead seniors, according to Cornell University research. The reason is that the presence of a table or chart gives the rest of the material credibility even when the information in the visual is of trivial importance.
     To assess the effect, the Cornell studies used material about the sorts of medications elderly adults might consider taking. The researchers found that claims of a medication’s effectiveness were more believable when accompanied by a chart portraying the same information contained in the text.
     Studies at Northwestern University and University of Minnesota indicate that adding animation to a chart, as might be done in online presentations, adds to the risk of misunderstood trends. People readily project ahead from animations which show trajectories, such as weight change or return of motion range.
     Also, many consumers place extra trust in a computer-generated animation because the animation is employing a more sophisticated technology than still pictures. “What’s newer must be better,” they say. And since animations are more lifelike than text descriptions or still pictures, consumers remember with enhanced certainty any mistaken conclusions. A few days later, what was actually false is recalled as true.
     Tables are better than graphs as long as the tables are sufficiently comprehensible. When the table is presenting purchase alternatives, list features across the top, the names of a small selection of product alternatives along the left side, and checkmarks in the cells to indicate which product has which features. In the table, describe features concisely. Outside the table, state the benefit of each feature.

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Discern Differences Deep Discounts Make

When tracking the key performance indicators of your retail store, stay aware of the range of benefits an initiative ends up producing. For instance, researchers at University of Arkansas, University of Texas-Dallas, University of Connecticut, and University of Buffalo find that deep promotional discounts might improve store traffic significantly without noticeably impacting weekly store revenues or profit margins. They also showed how joy at improvement in one KPI might blind you to simultaneous deterioration in another KPI. In their study of sales of 27 product categories in 24 grocery stores over 55 weeks, the increased profits from deep discounts on multiple items in a merchandise category were accompanied by a deterioration in store profit margins.
     Here are more findings you can use to analyze effects of deep discounts on a range of KPIs:
  • The best discounts for building store traffic are on best-selling items. Having more shoppers in your store can boost awareness of all that you offer and add excitement to the shopping experience. The payoffs may be in long-term repeat visits even if not in the short-term. 
  • When discounting low penetration, low frequency items, look for the payoffs in increased sales of profitable complementary items. In the study, discounts on beer positively influenced sales of salty snacks, which have a higher profit margin. Findings from other studies indicate you’re wise to stock such complementary items adjacent to each other or at least post pictures of the higher profit item in the areas where you’re selling the discounted item. 
  • Discounts on branded items more strongly affect sales per transaction than do equivalent discounts on generic items. Other research finds that consumer behavior toward generic brands becomes similar to that toward nationally branded items when premium versions are introduced. 
  • Because of stockpiling effects, track sales of items you’ve deeply discounted for a few typical purchase cycles beyond the period of the discount. If customers are purchasing high quantities of storable merchandise, your results for short-term profits on that item will look different from the longer-term results. 
  • Your pattern of KPIs from a deep discount depends on whether other retailers are offering deep discounts on those same items at the same time. Other research finds that loyalty to your store can be maintained or enhanced when you’re matching the low prices of your competitors even when sales of those items are not increased in your store due to the discount. 

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Feel Easier for Seniors with Biophilia Design

A walk in the forest improves the mood. Researchers from University of South Carolina, Chile’s Externado University, and Peru’s Centrum-Catolica School point out that it also can help maintain the physical health of shoppers like senior citizens. The researchers then go on to apply the concept to the architecture of retail spaces. The researchers call this approach biophilia design.
     Plants in a forest generate phytoncides, which protect them from disease. When people breathe in phytoncides, the immune system is similarly activated. Also, streams, waterfalls and other running water in a forest produce an abundance of negative ions, and negative ions have beneficial effects on emotional and physical health. Negative ions clear the air of pollen, smoke, and dust by binding with them. Blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension ease, while the abilities to focus attention and solve challenging problems increase. Although few consumers these days spend the majority of their hours communing with nature, we all retain an inborn urge to take a walk in the forest or spend time in such natural settings.
     Incorporating decorative fountains and manicured gardens with non-allergenic plants into the design of retail shopping areas improves the attractiveness plus increases interest in purchasing. The shapes of nature—curves interspersed with sharp angles—facilitate the effects. All the advantages are particularly influential with the senior citizen shopper, who yearns for the peacefulness of nature and can benefit from the health enhancement. Senior communities, assisted living facilities, and memory care units often have what are called “healing gardens.”
     You might very well choose not to sacrifice shelving and rack space to install a healing garden. But you can work with your neighborhood retailers to introduce more nature into the area. Dwell time is enhanced by creating plazas where people can gather and decorative streets where they can stroll. 
     You also could incorporate live plants into your store interior. Researchers at Vrije Universiteit Brussel and University of Leuven explored the effects on shoppers of adding vegetation. The strongest difference was in areas that were somewhat crowded with merchandise, had high traffic, or were visually busy. Here, the plants reduced stress. The sense of pleasure reported by the shoppers was more calmness than excitement. This is of special value when serving senior citizen customers. Natural elements improve the mood of the retail employees, too, reinforcing the patience and attention useful in selling to a senior citizen clientele.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Rethink the Timing of Reassurance

Researchers at California State University-Northridge and California State Polytechnic University-Pomona asked consumers to imagine they were in the market for a pair of pants and then presented each study participant with one of three statements:
  • Imagine that you are entering a nearby store in the mall and see a brand new pair of your favorite brand of pants (retail price new $60) that fit you just right. 
  • Imagine that you are entering a nearby secondhand store and see a pair of your favorite brand of pants (retail price new $60), worn briefly by another person, that fit you just right. 
  • Imagine that you are entering a nearby secondhand store and see a pair of your favorite brand of pants (retail price new $60), worn briefly by another person, that fit you just right. They have been tested and certified by the American Garment Association as completely cleaned and sterilized, just like brand new. 
     The participants were then asked a series of questions about their perceptions of the pants.
     What is your educated guess as to which of the three groups gave the least favorable ratings? Did the reassurance that the pants had been certified as clean remove any concerns about contamination?
     The answer is that it did not. The least favorable rating of the pants came from the third group. Describing the testing procedure generated increased doubts because it led the consumers to think more about how the pants had been used, even if briefly. The difference in desirability ratings between the second and third groups was almost as great as the difference in ratings between the first and second groups. What could have been intended as well-timed reassurance had the opposite influence.
     Other research strengthens the case for properly timing reassurance to customers. Shoppers usually want specifications rather than reassurance prior to completing the purchase. Right after the purchase they appreciate hearing that they made a good decision, but it’s best received when the reassurance is general in tone. At this same time, asking the shopper what led them to choose one alternative over the others helps them reassure themselves. Then when the customer returns to your store later or contacts you to place a telephone or ecommerce order, deliver a different sort of reassurance about their prior purchase: Emphasize cause and effect. Point out to them how what they obtained from you generated benefits important to them.

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Pare Senior Consumption Flaws with Pairs

An influential marketing point when selling to older adults is the opportunity for companionship during the transactions and consumption experiences. The pinnacle of companionship is a successful marriage. Researchers at University of British Columbia and Germany’s Humboldt University say that such pairings enhance the quality of senior citizen consumer outcomes beyond just someone to socialize with. Although the gains of shopping with a partner are seen at all ages, those advantages are greatest on average with older adults, who generally show more affection toward each other and interpret each other’s behavior more favorably than is the case with middle-aged couples.
     Loving couples create a positive emotional climate for each other and have specifically been found to ease shopping anxiety arising around fears of ineptitude. A spouse who is cautious helps steer a cognitively impaired older shopper away from rash decisions. Even when both people are sharp, tightwads—who recognize they should be more willing to spend money—tend to marry spendthrifts—who recognize they should be more cautious in spending.
     Health care professionals are wise to enroll the spouse in planning and implementation. When this was done with diabetes and prostatectomy patients, the recommendations for physical activity were more likely to be carried out. When wives were asked to stay alert for signs of trouble in husbands who had skin cancer, the patient skin self-examination rate climbed. It works prior to the treatment, too. Evidence is that a hand massage by a mate before cataract surgery will reduce excessive blood pressure and self-reported anxiety.
     The researchers did find circumstances where a retailer is better off selling to a senior without a partner present because the shopper considers the help from the partner to be overly intrusive. Still, when a couple is older, whatever help is given is more likely to be valuable because the probability is greater they’ve shared a significant portion of their life histories with each other.
     I know it doesn’t always work that way. On my fortieth wedding anniversary, my wife Irene said it was okay for me to spend part of the day at the gym. I was so pleased with this I couldn’t help bragging about it in the locker room to a guy I didn’t even know well. He replied, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been married for forty years, too,” and then after a pause, “Of course, it wasn’t all to the same woman.”

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Market by Political Propensity

Your customers who hold politically conservative opinions are less likely to go public with complaints about your store and the products you carry than are the political liberals. They’re also less likely to argue with you about the suggestions you make for resolution when they do complain.
     This finding from researchers at University of Sydney is in one article that’s part of a noticeable uptick in professional journal publications about the influence of political affiliation on consumer behavior, an uptick I think is due largely to surprise over the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and a perception of increased tribalism.
     In many circumstances, you’d want to surface complaints from your shoppers, since unknown dissatisfactions can sabotage customer relationships. But the situation is different in this case. The relatively lower tendency to complain among political conservatives appears to be due to two related factors: First, their desire to justify existing business systems rather than challenge them. Second, a comfort with power inequalities in society. Thus, there’s less chance that unstated, but deeply felt, complaints are lurking. There’s less need for you to probe.
     A New York University summary of research provides other insights about the relationship between political affiliation and consumer behavior:
  • Liberals pay more attention than do conservatives to the logical and emotional quality of a sales argument, while conservatives pay relatively more attention to the reputation of the argument source. 
  • Conservatives are sensitive to statements of stability, such as “We’ve been here for 100 years,” while liberals are sensitive to statements of growth, such as “We’ve been changing for 100 years.” 
  • In marketing to conservatives, highlight the concepts of tradition, conformity, security, power, and materialism. With liberals, highlight harmony, benevolence, universalism, and egalitarianism. 
     Such findings could be useful when you’ve evidence the community in which you do business is primarily conservative or primarily liberal. The findings also could be useful in predicting preferences of your shoppers based on preferences you’ve already observed. But don’t oversimplify. Some behaviors depend on stereotypes and surroundings: One study found that conservatives are more likely to contribute to a cause when thinking their contributions will become known to a liberal, rather than conservative, audience. The study’s researchers, at Saint Louis University, University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, Pennsylvania State University, and University of Minnesota, explain this by saying that conservatives are motivated by a desire to disprove widespread impressions that liberals are more generous.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

List Ways to Map Clarity for Senior Shoppers

Senior citizen consumers to a greater extent than do younger consumers come to depend on aids like maps, schedules, and shopping lists to successfully navigate through the marketplace. As the brain ages, both the ability to retrieve recently learned material and the ability to dampen interference from irrelevant memories fade at least somewhat. Along with this, there’s deterioration in the portions of the brain which help us identify where we are in our neighborhood and how to move to a desired location.
     The result is increased probability of confusion. Neuropsychologists talk about this in terms of brain plasticity, which refers to the ability of the brain to physically change as a result of learning, and brain flexibility, which refers to the ability of the brain to use its current physical structure to meet novel challenges by rearranging tasks. Over our lifetimes, brain plasticity decreases faster than does brain flexibility.
     Seniors can train themselves to compensate for the losses, but the results of such training have more influence on the ability to deal with the familiar than with the new. A potential upside of this for the retailer is that older adults build store and brand loyalty since they stay with what they’ve come to know well. However, the marketplace changes because the world is changing, so to maintain clarity for your senior shoppers, provide them the aids.
     Psychologist Shepherd Ivory Franz, who studied brain plasticity and flexibility, testified to the value of memory aids. Professor Franz was also an amateur ichthyologist who complained that each time he learned the name of another fish, he forgot the name of a fish he’d previously known. This may not have been literally true, but it does seem that for such ichthyologists, a list of fish names would be handy, along with a map of where each species could be found and a schedule of the best times to look.
     Shopping lists appear to operate differently for older shoppers than for younger ones. Seniors use the lists for guidance. Research at Duke University, UCLA, and University of Florida indicates that younger shoppers carrying around store shopping lists they’ve created in advance—the consumer trying to remember what they need and what the store carries—end up more likely to make purchases they will later regret. Making the list left less mental energy to resist the foolish items.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Match Discount Depth to Duration

Shoppers expect that, everything else being equal, a larger promotional discount will be offered for a shorter time. Researchers at University of Nevada-Reno and Clemson University saw this effect when presenting a sample of U.S. consumers a range of discounts from 5% to 50% and asking the consumers how many days they’d expect such a promotion to last. The researchers found that for a pair of jeans, the average estimated duration of a 5% discount was about thirty days, while for a 50% discount, it was about three days.
     The researchers then went on to explore the effects of violating such expectations. What if a high discount percentage is offered for an extended time? What the researchers found is that, unless there is a proper explanation for the violation, shoppers get suspicious of the retailer’s credibility and product quality, with the result that they become less likely to make a purchase from the retailer. This is true even when the perceived incongruity between discount depth and discount duration would result in a better deal for the shopper.
     But the realities of your business operations dictate that you will indeed sometimes want to violate the expectations of a clean match between promotional discount depth and discount duration. In these cases, establish a match by changing the expectations. Dissolve the suspiciousness by giving an explanation. With a large discount offered over an extended time, maybe it’s an end-of-season sale to clear out merchandise. Maybe your supplier has given you a special price break to build brand awareness, and you’re passing on that price break to your customers. With a small discount offered for only a short time, maybe it’s that you want to compensate for the minor inconvenience of shopping while you’re doing store inventory over the weekend.
     Research findings indicate that such explanations need to make sense to the consumers as truthful justifications. Otherwise, they’ll increase suspiciousness rather than ease it. When offering the explanations face-to-face, be sensitive to verbal and nonverbal signs of disbelief. And before incorporating the explanations in ads, test out those explanations in face-to-face interactions with customers.
     The general point is to check that your pricing strategy makes sense to your customers and prospective customers. This is true not just with promotional discounts, but also with your standing prices. Give plausible explanations for price decreases so customers better accept your price increases whenever those become necessary.

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Enliven Senior Sales with Lifelong Learning

Educational achievement throughout the course of life bodes well for physical, intellectual, and emotional health late in life. Those with more education adhere better to the diet, medication, and self-care routines helpful in protecting against the diseases of old age. Self-efficacy—the perceived ability to take on challenges—is higher in those with more education, and higher self-efficacy is associated with a sense of well-being. The influence of education on successful aging can even spread beyond the educated individual: Researchers at University of Chicago and Brigham and Women's Hospital found that for those wives who had completed more schooling earlier in life, their husbands were more likely to comply with recommendations to undergo a recommended colonoscopy.
     Unfortunately, it’s often in the nature of the elderly personality to withdraw from learning. The 65-year-old retiring from employment usually experiences, at least initially, a drop in the desire to learn. Older adults become selective in what they learn, wanting the topics or skills to apply to their current interests, attitudes, and values. Their motivation to solve intellectual challenges depends on how useful that solution is for daily living.
     Because of the proven value of lifelong learning, there are profitable opportunities for those offering intellectual stimulation which overcomes the withdrawal from learning. OLLI classes and Road Scholar travel tours are examples of group education marketed to senior citizens. ACTIVE and Senior Odyssey are intellectual activities designed to cognitively stimulate the elderly brain, slowing deterioration. Participants in these programs have fewer traffic accidents and higher overall happiness than equivalent older adults not participating in the programs. Certain video games, such as “Rise of Nations,” can motivate the senior citizen to learn. Studying to juggle helps, too. Brain health improved overall among older adults who completed a three-month class in how to juggle a set of balls.
     Those accumulating more education into old age generally make better consumer decisions. Researchers at Virginia Tech and Pennsylvania State University watched how shoppers weigh characteristics of alternatives against each other. Two of the main styles they saw were:
  • Deal-breaker. “If this saw can’t do crosscutting, it is out of the running for me.” 
  • By the numbers. “This second model gets 28 mpg and the other one gets only 24, so in the final analysis I’ll go with the second one.” 
Seniors with less education tend toward deal-breaker decisions. Ones with more education tend toward choosing by the numbers.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Promote Purchases Using Proximity

The more vividly product or service benefits are portrayed, the more likely it is the consumer will buy the item. Researchers at Xiamen University, Nanjing University, and Chinese University of Hong Kong find that one way to increase vividness is to get the shopper physically close to the portrayal of the benefits. In their study, undergraduate students were randomly assigned to either the first row or last row of seats while an ad on a screen pitched a computer program claimed to improve people’s ability to concentrate. The ads were designed to stimulate the viewer to imagine the product benefits.
     Students who had been sitting closer to the screen said their imagination of benefits was more vivid and that they were more confident the product would actually work as claimed. There were no differences between the two groups in reports of how easy the ad was to read, so that didn’t account for the results.
     Based on their findings, the researchers suggest that ads with verbal descriptions of a product will be more effective when shown on personal devices like phones and tablets than when shown on a billboard or TV. Moreover, face-to-face selling often has a greater proximity than ads, and spoken descriptions can create more vivid imagery than written text.
     Consider using proximity in other ways, too. Researchers at University of British Columbia and National University of Singapore presented study participants a picture of a facial cream to treat acne and a picture of the product benefit—a smooth face. The researchers found that participant groups shown the two pictures adjacent to each other were more likely to consider the facial cream to be effective than those shown the photos physically separated from each other.
     Keep in mind that the power of proximity resides in the vividness. Consider how to make your ads perceived at a distance more vivid. University of Michigan researchers presented one of two chewing gum ads to consumers. The first version read “Stimulate your senses.” The other ad mentioned only taste, reading “Long-lasting flavor.” All the study participants then sampled the gum. Those people reading the multiple-sensory version before the sampling gave higher ratings to the flavor of the gum. The researchers found similar advantages with multiple-sensory versus taste-only advertising/sampling of potato chips and popcorn. In your ads and face-to-face selling use phrases which evoke imagination and include or describe colorful, dramatic images.

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sell Seniors on Future Plans

Senior citizen consumers are increasingly gaining opportunities to live longer. Transforming those opportunities into realities generates another set of opportunities—for health care professionals, pension providers, and end-of-life planners. Researchers coordinated by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society sketched out specifics:
  • Fewer than 25% of elderly Americans are up-to-date with available vaccination and screening programs known to extend life. There’s evidence that with men a happy marriage boosts participation. Researchers at University of Chicago and Brigham and Women's Hospital used sophisticated statistical tools to tease out relationships between marital bliss and adherence to medical recommendations. Married men were more likely to comply than were unmarried men. If the wife was happy with the relationship, the probability climbed further. So marriage counseling might be seen as one form of preventive health. 
  • Because of Baby Boomers’ expectations of value fulfillment in employment and because of economic dislocations, more workers reaching their senior milestones have moved from one job to another over their careers. One important consequence is that many of these workers lack an adequate defined benefit pension or even a defined contribution 401K and IRA. But a countervailing trend is that many seniors are staying in the workforce longer. Persuading seniors to fund a retirement income vehicle is a service to them as well as a source of revenue for pension providers. The most effective method has proven to be default enrollment, where declining to make payroll deduction contributions requires an affirmative opt-out. 
  • Over the decades, patterns of serial marriages, co-habitational unions, choices to stay childless, and single parenthood have created a dearth of dependable sources for seniors’ end-of-life assistance from close family. A market is ripe for advisors who ensure that the individual knows the alternatives and selects what gives best comfort. The elderly do think about death. Getting them to come by for planning is another matter. Keep it positive. Cemeteries and mortuaries hold band concerts, barbeques, and sky-diving exhibitions to position themselves as pleasant places available for service in the future. “Meet us before you need us.” 
     Scientists at New York University-Stern, Stanford University, and Microsoft Research showed young adults digitally-altered photos of what they’d look like decades later. Those exposed to the photos allocated nearly twice as much to a retirement fund as did young adults not shown the photos. With seniors, all that might be necessary for the motivation is a mirror.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Inspire Store Staff by Persuading Shoppers

Effective advertising directed at a store’s potential customers also positively influences the store’s current employees. Researchers at Stockholm University and Stockholm School of Economics find that the organizational identification of the employees increases because the effectiveness of the advertising empowers them. Empowerment of staff with strong organizational identification builds store sales and lowers turnover of talented staff. Together, these improve profitability.
     When employees see their employers advertise, this builds pride. However, the research finds that a more important consideration is how effective the employees think the ads are. Therefore, regularly ask your employees for suggestions about your store advertising, incorporate those suggestions into your ad campaigns, and share with staff evidence of ad effectiveness.
     You also could invite employees to be featured in your ads. That builds organizational identification directly plus gives participants the opportunity to build it further by striving to be effective spokespersons.
  • What opportunities do you provide your sales staff to thoroughly learn about each of the products and services they're selling? 
  • Aside from sales personnel, what are the roles played by others in your store operations, and what interesting tales might they have to share with shoppers? 
  • To what degree do you take the recommendations of your staff—those who purchase the merchandise, those who sell to individual consumers, those responsible for business-to-business accounts, those who handle returns, and the rest—as to what items should be pruned out of your merchandise mix because the staff feel uncomfortable endorsing them? 
     Use advertising and social media to inspire not only current, but also prospective, store staff.
  • Include material on your social media sites to reflect the history and the culture of your store. Job applicants can assess the personality of your business from what you, the owner or operator, choose to show and tell. 
  • Encourage your current employees to contribute material to the pages, and then comment as the owner/operator on what’s been contributed. 
  • Invite job seekers to ask questions via the site, and then answer the questions in ways appealing to the types of people you’d like to have working for you. 
     All this underlines the challenges in recognizing the full return on advertising investment. Beyond empowering employees, ads effective with consumers can increase interest among investors. And even if your advertising isn’t increasing sales right now, it still might be serving you well by bringing your store into the shopper’s consideration for the future.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Resolve Identity Crises for the Elderly

It’s no surprise that Erik Erikson developed the concept of “identity crisis,” which refers to a drive to determine who each of us truly is during our times of developmental change. As a blond, blue-eyed boy, Erik was teased at public school for being a Jew and teased at temple school for looking so different from other German Jews. Before creating his own surname of Erikson, he’d been born Erik Salomonsen and, upon adoption by his stepfather, was renamed Erik Homberger.
     Erikson did carve out his own definitive identity. He attained academic positions in Psychology at University of California and Yale University in spite of not having even a bachelor’s degree, let alone a doctorate. His articulation of the identity crisis concept led to him becoming one of the most cited psychologists in history.
     Researchers at University of Washington saw that as people move into their senior years, the developmental changes often lead to a series of identity crises. Because many of these people are active consumers, resolving the crises can become a selling point for providers of products and services.
     The elderly often struggle to maintain a coherent sense of self as they shed belongings when moving to smaller quarters and shed activities when their capabilities wane. These consumers place greater importance than do younger consumers on screening possibilities in the marketplace for consistency with their existing interests, values, and needs. Although they may continue to explore, the tone of the exploration is more like what’s been seen in other research when comparing experts against novices. Researchers at University of Cincinnati, University of Florida, and University of Mississippi offered choices of a variety of music samples to study participants. Novices accepted a few new songs in a multitude of genres. Experts, on the other hand, accepted a greater number of songs solely from one or a limited number of genres in which they considered themselves to have some expertise.
     Still, one burgeoning interest in the elderly is the desire to leave a legacy. The University of Washington researchers point to how a motivation arises to create an oral history, write an autobiography, or discuss prized possessions with younger family members. Women in particular often start to distribute their family heirlooms or add instructions to wills about ways the heirlooms are to be distributed.
     From financial planners to repairmen, those serving the elderly should recognize the drive for stable identity.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Construct Shopper Certainty Using Consistency

Researchers at University of Cologne and Reutlingen University found that shoppers rated both the store and the merchandise in the store more positively when there was a match between the nature of the flooring surface and of the background music. The effect was seen when the shopper heard gentle musical selections while standing on carpeting and when vigorous music was heard while standing on stone tiles.
     These findings remind us of the benefits from coordinating the stimuli in a shopping environment to create a consistent message to consumers. The researchers explain that because consistent stimuli are easier to process, the person’s self-confidence builds, and this spreads to their assuredness in purchases they make and the venue in which they make the purchases.
     The research also reminds us of the importance of touch for your shoppers’ purchase decisions. It expands on this by finding that influential touch information comes not only via the hands and when a shopper seeks it out by picking up items, but also via the feet and when a shopper is exposed to softness versus hardness without seeking out touch information. In university laboratories and retail field settings, researchers at Freie Universität Berlin and Technische Universität Berlin exposed consumers to different feelings of surface hardness. The results indicate that greater amounts of hardness lead consumers to think of a retail business as rugged.
     Incongruous sensations can jar the shopper. Researchers at University of Oregon and York University found that ratings for a bag of coffee beans were lower when the bag looked like burlap but felt smooth like paper than when the surface both looked and felt like burlap.
     However, at the same time that we implement the benefits of coordinated store stimuli, let’s appreciate the value of mild incongruity—something a bit out of place. This is found to kindle processing. Incongruity tickles us cognitively and emotionally, so we devote resources to scratching. A repeated finding in consumer psychology is that retailers should introduce enough surprise to slow down the shopper for a moment to appreciate the sales message. If a store impression is perfectly predictable, the shopper processes it all immediately and then moves on—beyond the range of a sale that benefits both the purchaser and the retailer. But researchers at Belgium’s Hasselt University-Diepenbeek found that in areas with merchandise targeted to women, an incongruent faint male-associated fragrance enhanced store and product ratings.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Unite Choices to Nix Unit Nixing

Shoppers decide in different ways when alternatives are presented at the same time than when alternatives are presented one after another. Knowing about these effects of simultaneous and sequential choice helps you guide the process toward the best outcome.
     Researchers at Ohio State University and Erasmus University looked into the “unit effect,” which refers to times that a shopper emphasizes the numerals at the expense of the units. One example comes from the realm of dishwasher warranties. The researchers asked a group of consumers to state how much they’d be willing to pay for a dishwasher with a five-year warranty compared to one with a three-year warranty. Another group were asked the same question in comparing a dishwasher with a warranty of 60 months with a warranty of 36 months. Notice that 60 months is the same as five years and 36 months is the same as three years. Still, prior studies indicated that people often consider the difference in value to be greater when the warranty length is stated in months rather than years. People paid more attention to the numerals than to the unit of measurement. This unit effect disrupted rational decision making.
     The Ohio/Erasmus researchers identified a way to lessen the unit effect: Present the options all at the same time before asking the shopper to evaluate any one of them. It worked with willingness to pay for TVs when screen size was stated in inches versus centimeters, ground beef in pounds versus ounces, and kitchen knives with customer ratings on a ten-point scale versus a 1000-point scale.
     There are other determinants of the unit effect. When a shopper intends to make the purchase at an indefinite point in the future, they’ll pay more attention to the units than to the numerals. For consumers who want the table delivered today, 48 by 60 inches sounds larger than four by five feet. But people who are gathering information about possibilities will code feet as larger than inches, so “four by five feet” will be remembered by them as larger.
     So you might see the unit effect nixed even with sequential presentation. But researchers at Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University find another disadvantage of sequential presentation compared to simultaneous presentation: The sequential leads shoppers to keep looking for a better alternative with a consequent lower level of satisfaction with whatever choice is made.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Facilitate Recurring Survey Completion

Retailers who want to stay sensitive to customers might choose to administer satisfaction surveys. With regular customers, retailers might choose to administer surveys repeatedly. Study results from University of San Diego and Boston College argue that you might choose to think carefully before doing so. Surveys administered after each transaction, for example, generally irritate customers. The frequent customers question whether the retailer has been able to use all the information already provided. The infrequent customers view the survey as a trick to stay in touch and sell more rather than as genuine requests for constructive critiques.
     Negative effects of frequent surveys are more likely when the retailer is additionally reaching out to customers in other ways, such as via promotional mailings. The negative effects in the studies included longer times between visits to the retailer and lower purchase amounts from revisits.
     To get the best from a customer survey program, then, take care not to administer the questionnaires too frequently. How to tell the right frequency? Based on my experience in conducting such programs, I suggest that before asking a customer to complete another survey, you analyze results and tell the customer what actions you are taking in response to what you learned. And if you aren’t taking any action, even the action of looking more carefully at a potential problem, why put out another survey request? There are less intrusive ways to stay in touch with your customers.
     Beyond this, keep it easy for customers to feel they are sharing their important thoughts with you:
  • Avoid “and,” “or,” and “not” in items. When an item contains an “and” or an “or,” the customer might agree with one part and disagree with another part. They don’t know how to answer. A “not” in an item, such as, “I am not sure if the repair was successful,” is needlessly complicated. 
  • Include an “Other” or “Don’t know” as a reply alternative. Without this option, survey respondents feel overly restricted. Then follow with “Please tell us more below,” and leave a welcoming, unintimidating inch of space for a comment. In online administrations, allow the respondent to type more as the box scrolls down. 
  • Ask advice, not expectations. Advice questions are of the form, “What items of advice do you have for our store?” Expectations questions are of the form, “What are your expectations of our store?” Expectations can set off customer frustrations. 
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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Set Appeals of Product Touch in Concrete

When salespeople entice shoppers to actually touch products being considered for purchase, those shoppers become more interested in purchasing an item, are more willing to pay for higher quality, and are less likely to return purchases they’ve made. These factors can provide advantages for store-based retailers who are competing with online channels. Researchers from University of Michigan, Lanzhou University, and Sun Yat-Sen University find that these advantages are significantly stronger when shoppers are thinking concretely.
     Features of products you sell can be concrete—such as the average time between repairs—or abstract—such as a general claim of high quality. Sales pitches using words and phrases like apple, engine, hammer, “Notice the volume,” and, “What steps do you take to stay healthy?,” are more concrete than pitches using words and phrases like aptitude, essence, hatred, “It livens you up,” and, “What motivates you to stay healthy?”
     There’s reason to believe that guiding the shopper toward the concrete comes not only from the language you use, but also from product arrangement. For instance, studies at Erasmus University, Loughborough School of Business and Economics, and Norwegian School of Management, find that shoppers are more interested in concrete features when gazing down at the merchandise and more interested in abstract claims when peering up.
     With shoppers clearly showing abstract reasoning at the time of sale, don’t bother inviting them to touch the merchandise. Touch does have downsides. Researchers at University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, and Arizona State University verify what most of us would have predicted: Customers have less attraction to an item on a rack or shelf when they're thinking about who else has touched it. They feel disgusted at the idea the product could have been contaminated by other shoppers.
     To cancel out the downsides in shops serving touchers, adjacent to, but separate from, shelving and racks that hold the items to be purchased, have sample items which can be handled. Have staff frequently refold, repackage, and re-shelve in order to remove cues of product contamination. To reduce fears of contamination, space out items on racks and shelves.
     Further, researchers at University of Southern California and University of Texas-Austin say that even with shoppers who are thinking concretely, you should subsequently switch to the abstract after getting the touch. You want people to spend time contemplating why to buy. Abstract words and phrases help accomplish that.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Mean More with Mean Ratings

Your shoppers, whether beginning their search in-store or online, are likely to look for ratings when comparing alternatives. An item with an average rating of four stars should prevail over one with an average rating of two stars, all else considered, and the customer will probably feel more satisfied after having made such a four-star choice.
     But does the format of the ratings make a difference in purchase intentions? Is it best for the retailer to present an average four-star rating in a mean format—just the four stars; in a distribution format—the percentage of ratings at each point on the scale from one to five, let’s say; or as both the mean and the distribution?
     Researchers at New Mexico State University and University of Nevada-Reno find that the mean format is the most likely of the three to lead to purchase of an alternative under consideration. The reason is that, of the three formats, the mean format is easiest for the shopper to mentally process, what is easier to process leaves us with a more positive feeling, and positive feelings lead to buying behavior.
     Ease of processing is especially important with rating comparisons because the shopper’s choices are not always straightforward. Consumer psychologists distinguish between “maximizers,” who want to choose the best possible alternative, and “satisficers,” who are pleased to settle for what’s good enough. Maximizers are usually willing to pay more money than satisficers and to spend more time deciding. But some maximizers are bargain hunters, searching for a deal on the very best. Other maximizers are happy to pay top dollar if they can depend on a trusted salesperson to quickly point them toward perfection.
     Researchers at Virginia Tech and University of Michigan showed that another complication arises from how maximizers define “very best.” One group of shoppers were asked to express degree of preference for an item rated 60 on a 100-point scale when all the other choices are rated at no higher than 50. For another group of shoppers, the focus item was rated at 80 and the alternatives topped out at a rating of 95.
     It might seem that maximizers in the “80 versus 95” group would express a stronger preference for their focus item than did maximizers in the “60 versus 50” group. But it turned out the other way around. Maximizers pay attention to relative in addition to absolute ratings.

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Move the Food

You will sell more food when shoppers consider the food to be fresh. An intriguing technique for suggesting freshness is to show the food in motion, according to researchers at Cornell University and Israel’s Ono Academic College.
     In a series of studies, participants were shown photos of foods and beverages such as pretzels, cornflakes, yogurt, and orange juice. In some cases, the photos showed the item sitting in a bowl or cup. In other cases, the photos were of the item being poured into the container.
     Consumers judged items to be fresher and predicted items would be tastier in those instances where the foods and beverages were shown being poured.
     The researchers hypothesize the effect is due to both evolution and learning. Running water is less likely than still water to harbor bacteria. Plant-based foods are less likely to be spoiled while still on living, moving trees. Asian wet markets keep live edible animals on hand because this reassures shoppers about the freshness of the meat.
     Other studies suggest that perception of motion can facilitate sales because this involves the viewer. Researchers at Northwestern University and University of Minnesota point out how when people see a baseball hit with great force, they often have a momentary feeling of certainty the ball will go out of the park. They get involved.
     Notice that in the Cornell/Ono research, photos, not videos, were used to portray motion. It’s not necessary to keep mechanically moving the food around on a shelf in order to move the food out the door in customers’ shopping bags.
     Further, packages you carry on your shelves which include green in the label are more likely to be perceived as fresh. Show consumers from throughout the world green product packaging and you'll probably hear descriptions like new, organic, healthy, and refreshing. If the packages themselves don’t have green, you can use green in the signage or even on the shelf tags. The freshness appeal of green is stronger when the store environment is tidy and there is a scent of pine.
     Still, the researchers in many of these studies caution that these ways of signaling freshness are not the same as ensuring the food is actually fresh. We’ll always want to back up the claims, especially when those claims are depending on evolutionary predisposition and subconscious triggering. When food’s expired, move it for sure, but to the trash.

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