Friday, July 29, 2022

Haul Retailing Through Usage Expectations

The COVID-19 pandemic changed consumers’ feelings about a cough. Writing in The New York Times Magazine, Mireille Silcoff considered how those changes were reflected in ads for Halls cough drops. With voiceovers like, “You don’t cough! You don’t show defeat!,” the brand’s pre-pandemic commercials appealed to the American value of grit. But once COVID-19 infected our thinking, the tone moved away from staying tough and toward staying away. Society largely expected us to isolate our cough so we wouldn’t risk contaminating others. Scenes of music solos and yoga poses populated the commercials.
     There also were changes in the product format, Ms. Silcoff notes. Halls Minis, of tiny size and sans the potentially noisy unwrapping accompanying the traditional lozenge, ease the cougher achieving relief surreptitiously. No need for social embarrassment when violating isolation expectations.
     The Halls cough drop example can remind us to consider modifying our retailing practices to accommodate changes in social expectations. Avoiding embarrassment is a powerful consumer motivation. This applies not only to product format and product advertising, but also to point-of-purchase.
     A set of studies at Northern Kentucky University and University of Tennessee concludes that shoppers who fear embarrassment about the items they’re about to purchase will buy additional items to serve as masks. The researchers point out the profitability advantages in letting the embarrassment rein. I see it differently. The basket total may be higher with all those masking items, but a customer who is embarrassed in your store is less likely to come back again to fill another basket.
     As a kindness to your customers, have your store staff think through which items might set up purchase embarrassment. Stock those items on shelves which have limited exposure, such as in small alcoves, rather than on endcaps. This is particularly useful when purchase of an additional item makes things even more embarrassing. In the Kentucky/Tennessee studies, toilet paper wasn’t a sensitive item to buy unless the purchase also included anti-diarrhea meds. To promote the items in these less visible areas, you could include store locations or aisle numbers in ads or on store signage in other areas.
     Do position adjacent to the potentially embarrassing categories items which give an opposite impression. Next to the anti-gas tablets, feature fine spices, and next to the foot deodorant, offer a pedometer which measures running distance.
     Other research indicates that dimming the lights in those sales areas could help.

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Tiptoe Around Pandemic Atypicality 

Monday, July 25, 2022

Distinguish Seniors’ Photo-Falsehood Training

Experts have given tips for sussing out lies during conversations intended to persuade. Because photos are highly persuasive, an especially insidious technique for lying is to alter visual images in misleading ways. Researchers at University of Warwick and Lancaster University found that older adults are less skilled at identifying digitally-altered images than are younger adults. The researchers also evaluated the effectiveness of a brief video tutorial developed to strengthen the skill.
     The study participant sample used for data analysis consisted of almost 16,000 volunteers divided equally among three age groups: 15 to 30 years old, 31 to 59 years old, and 60 to 75 years old. Each participant was shown a selection of unaltered and manipulated photos, with the task of identifying the manipulated ones and stating what strategies they used to tell the difference. The photo manipulation techniques were: 
  • Airbrushing. For instance, removal of wrinkles on the model’s face and neck. 
  • Addition or subtraction. For instance, adding trash bins to the photo. 
  • Geometrical inconsistency. For instance, half of the image of a tree sheered at an angle inconsistent with the angle of the other half. 
  • Shadow inconsistency. For instance, placing the model’s shadow in a position inconsistent with the shadow positions of other objects in the photo. 
  • Combination. Use of all four of the prior manipulations in the same photo.
     The results for all three age groups demonstrated only a limited ability to distinguish the genuine from the altered photos. In the data analyses, all three age groups showed a bias toward declaring a photo as altered. This is to be expected since the participants were alerted to the use of digital manipulation. In the real world, absent such alerts and with higher time pressure, we might expect a bias toward accepting photographic evidence as genuine.
     Before completing the task, some of the participants in each of the age groups had been shown a one-minute video illustrating use of the manipulation techniques. This proved to be helpful, improving the discrimination accuracy among the young and middle-aged participants.
     Being presented the video did not reliably improve accuracy among the older participants. Further, there were differences between the older adults and the other two groups in sensitivity to the four types of photo manipulation techniques. This indicates that older adults might need training distinctive in duration or details to help them avoid making poor decisions because of persuasive photo falsehoods.

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Lie in Wait for Lying Shoppers 

Friday, July 22, 2022

Claim “No Money, Friend” Over “No Time”

A valued friend has invited you to their destination wedding being held next month. You prefer not to spend the money on the airfare and lodging or the time away from your ongoing tasks, but you want to preserve the goodwill in your relationship. After congratulating your friend on the wedding and saying the celebration sounds like great fun, would it be better for you to decline the invitation by adding, “Money is tight for me these days,” or “Time is tight for me these days”?
     Researchers at The Ohio State University, Vanguard, and Harvard University suggest you plead “no money” before “no time.” Their studies indicate that your friend will consider you having less control over your financial resources than your scheduling availability. The result is that the “no money” excuse better preserves trustworthiness. From another perspective, saying you lack the time seems to signal that you place a relatively low priority on the relationship.
     The set of studies also identify a condition on this: People who themselves feel high time pressure in their daily lives have extra sympathy with a “no time” excuse from a friend. This might hold especially when the friend giving the excuse is known to be financially secure. For those who have more money than time, time is more valuable than money.
     Other studies indicate that another condition on the phrasing is the nature of the relationship. If you value your friend because they’re a good business client, you might avoid saying you don’t have enough money. Clients hesitate doing business with businesses that lack financial security.
     More generally regarding trustworthiness in close business attachments, researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore found that, if the outcome of a transaction turns out unfavorably, customers who consider themselves close friends of a retailer are more forgiving of the retailer. The consumers gave higher ratings on fairness and satisfaction than when the retailer was considered only an acquaintance. It could make little difference whether you say “no money” or “no time.”
     People consider time more valuable than money when thinking how time is perishable. If you don’t use time now, it’s gone forever, but money not used now can be used later. In fact, if invested properly, the money gains in value. When you reinforce this mindset, friends and shoppers making requests of you are more impressed with appeals to saving time than saving money.

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Elucidate with Close Business Friends 

Monday, July 18, 2022

Angle for Aesthetic Appeal with the Abstract

Consumers appreciate aesthetic design in products and shopping environments. Marketers might translate this appreciation into the consumer’s willingness to pay a higher price for purchases. Pulling from the other direction, though, could be the shopper’s belief that a designer’s or manufacturer’s attention to aesthetics will detract from necessary attention to functionality. “If it’s pretty, it won’t work,” is how researchers at National Chengchi University and Northeastern University tag this belief. The researchers then went on to question how to sidestep this view.
     The answer was to move the shopper away from a concrete perspective and toward an abstract perspective. With utilitarian items—those purchased primarily for the outcomes they produce rather than the enjoyment in using them—an abstract perspective—thinking about the “why” of behavior rather than the “how” of behavior—will increase the valuing of aesthetic design.
     In one of the studies, participants were presented with a set of statements such as, “Chris is considering going to a driving school.” Then those participants who were assigned to the concrete-mindset group were instructed, “Please describe how you think Chris would do that.” Those assigned to the abstract-mindset group were instead instructed, “Please describe why you think Chris would do that.” Following this, each participant was shown pairs of items such as a stapler and a portable charger, with one of the pair having previously been described as significantly more aesthetically appealing than the other by another group of consumers.
     Compared to the study participants primed with the concrete-mindset task, those primed with the abstract-mindset task were more likely to choose the aesthetically appealing item of the pair. The researchers’ explanation is that asking “why” when considering the benefits of a product or shopping environment stimulates attention to the value of aesthetic design.
     You’re unlikely to be asking your shoppers about the particulars of Chris’s driving school plans. Instead, if selling a utilitarian item with aesthetic appeal, you could lead by discussing why the item is a good choice for the customer.
     Where the shopper is looking also makes a difference. Studies at China’s Fudan University found that when considering a purchase in the future, rather than right now, people move toward an abstract mindset. Also when they’re gazing upwards. According to Ghent University researchers, shoppers are relatively more interested in concrete features when looking down at the merchandise and relatively more interested in abstract claims when peering up.

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Sketch Item Aesthetics If Appreciated 

Friday, July 15, 2022

Relieve the Pain with Probabilistic Discounts

Consumers shop for many reasons other than the material value of the items they purchase. This explains why people winning a 10% discount in playing a game of chance spent more money than an equivalent group who were just offered a 10% discount without needing to play the game. The excitement of the game added experiential value.
     Yet, in exploring the best ways to use such probabilistic discounts, researchers at NEOMA Business School in France, University of Utah, and University of Kansas came up with a finding which seems to contradict the love of a gamble: Compared to when the probability of winning the discount is low, when the probability of winning the discount is high, shoppers are more likely to prefer a sure discount. People are more likely to prefer a “10% chance of receiving a $100 discount” over “a guaranteed $10 discount,” but are more likely to prefer “a guaranteed $90 discount” over a “90% chance of receiving a $100 discount.” Why take a chance when you’re so close to a sure thing?
     Another finding from the set of studies is that how you state the probabilistic discount affects the attractiveness of the promotion. Present the reduced price rather than the dollar amount of the discount. “20% chance of paying $150 instead of $200” works better than “20% chance of getting $50 off the $200 price.” The explanation for this is in how consumers consider spending money as a loss. The first phrasing focuses on the sacrifice being less.
     Because paying money is a burden for shoppers, the rules are different when you’re presenting the cost of an upgrade from a standard to a premium version of an item. Suppose that one retailer’s ad states $199.99 as the price for the standard version of a product and $259.99 for the premium version. Suppose that another retailer also advertises $199.99 for the standard version, but then says in the ad, “For $60 more, you can purchase the premium version.”
     Researchers at University of British Columbia and Nanyang Technological University find that the second retailer’s ad will draw more buyers. Partitioning the upgrade cost makes it seem like a smaller expenditure because it’s a smaller number than the total price. Unlike with the probabilistic discounts, you’re stating the differential cost rather than the total cost. Also, it’s usually best to state the additional amount as a round dollar figure.

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Convert Shoppers with Lucky Discounts 

Monday, July 11, 2022

Limit Healthy Food Purchases

To protect the health of our environment, we’d like to minimize food waste. Food waste generates greenhouse gases. Also, to protect the health of our clients and patients, we’d like to minimize them consuming sugary snacks and saturated-fat dinners. Clogged arteries can kill.
     It’s useful, then, to know that people are more likely to waste virtue foods than waste vice foods. The SUNY Brockport and Bryant University researchers who documented this difference attribute it to counterfactual thinking. Counterfactuals are “what if” questions consumers ask themselves: “What if I’d demanded more information?” and “What if I’d shopped around more?” are examples of upward counterfactuals regarding decisions to return purchased items. These questions help the shopper feel better by giving ways to improve future shopping. Examples of downward counterfactuals include, “What if I’d been unfortunate enough to get a product with even more shortcomings?” and “What if I hadn’t discovered these problems with the product until it caused real harm?” Downward counterfactuals improve the consumer’s outlook by leading to them deciding they escaped a worse situation than the one they have.
     In the case of wasting food, the counterfactual question afterwards is “What if I hadn’t discarded it?” Because vice foods offer greater and quicker pleasure than virtue foods, our answers to that question over time make us more likely to throw out the virtue foods when there’s an abundance of each. Study participants felt discarding vice foods was more wasteful than discarding virtue foods.
     Based on their findings, the researchers suggest reminding consumers to purchase virtue foods only in quantities they’re confident they can consume. There’s a tendency for people to buy virtue foods because they think they should do so rather than because they think they’ll eat all they buy.
     Study results from PoznaƄ University of Economics and Business in Poland argue for reducing food waste by reminding shoppers about proper use of freshness date labeling systems. The researchers saw apparently irrational use of the freshness dates, even when the implications of “use by” and “best before” are well understood. About one-third to more than one-half of consumers will eat food that is past its “use by” date. At worst, this risks food poisoning. But about one-quarter to more than one-half of consumers consider foods unsuitable for consumption when the posted “best before” date has passed. If the taste, smell, and look are still okay, this risks food waste.

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Avoid Recommending If Strict Return Policies 

Friday, July 8, 2022

Right a Wrong with a Wrong

Researchers at Queensland University of Technology and University of Augsburg find an example of two wrongs making a right in a way which facilitates sales dialogue.
     The first wrong in their example is an inauthentic smile accompanied by forced cheerfulness in the voice. Shoppers value authenticity in salespersons’ expressions of positive emotions. The second wrong is a limitation of options available. Shoppers don’t want to be overwhelmed with options, but they seek freedom of choice.
     It might seem that adding sparse selection to a phony smile would make the dissatisfaction worse. Yet in their studies, limitation of purchase options increased in the shopper an appreciation for the emotional pressure which could impede the salesperson from showing genuine happiness along with gratitude toward the salesperson for at least making the effort to project joy.
     It’s best to genuinely smile at customers and to offer customers choices. However, based on their findings, the researchers suggest limiting options when phony smiles and forced cheerfulness are likely. This could be at times of high societal stress, during peak business hours, or as store closing time approaches, for example.
     In response to my email inquiry about the study, Andreas Lechner, one of the researchers, adds, “In studying display inauthenticity, that is, the visibility of unfelt emotions, we take an integrative perspective and look at both facial expression (e.g., asymmetric smile) and vocal expression (e.g., forced high pitch). So, technically speaking, (in)authenticity is a molar and not a molecular phenomenon. A lot of things are going on in the face, voice, and potentially gestures at the same time.”
     Moreover, in status-oriented or competitive situations centered around dominance, you will do best to chill out your emotions, say researchers at University of Arizona, Texas A&M University, and University of Chile. This applies when selling to teens, who expend considerable energy dominating their adolescent insecurities and who consider even authentic shows of emotion to be decidedly uncool. Similarly, show cool in any negotiations where establishing authority takes precedence over cultivating trust. Curbing emotions in order to look cool is also useful when selling luxury items to consumers aspiring to higher status.
     There are other times to avoid a full-toothed, full minute smile. If you’re delivering corrective discipline to a staff member, a smile could make what you’re saying seem unimportant. If a shopper is distraught, the smile could make you look uncaring. That would be all wrong.

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Chill Out Emotions to Look Cool 

Monday, July 4, 2022

Expose Seniors’ Values Through Virtual Reality

Researchers at Massey University and Federal University of Paraiba point to a difficulty when the shopper is considerably older than the salesperson: The two parties to the transaction are likely to hold different values. Personal values influence purchase decisions.
     Older consumers place relatively higher importance on self-direction, tradition, security, and benevolence. They prize independent thought and action, respect long-standing customs, seek safety and stability, and welcome opportunities to attend to the welfare of others similar to them. Compared to salespeople, who are usually younger than them, the elderly place less importance on accumulating power or demonstrating expertise.
     A potentially useful training technique for salespeople selling to the elderly is inspired by a University of Witten-Herdecke study based on a change in social motivations found to be associated with aging: We come to place relatively less importance on seeking information during transactions and relatively more importance on seeking emotionally meaningful interactions.
     The researchers had people aged between 18 and 30 years individually participate in a fifteen-minute virtual reality session. The surroundings were a copy of the room in which the session was being held. For some of the participants, the avatar reflecting the participant’s actions in a virtual mirror was a young adult, while for the others, it was an older adult.
     Of interest to the researchers was the effect of this experience on a choice given to each participant: Would they prefer to spend a half hour of spare time with “a very close friend,” “an interesting new acquaintance,” or “the author of a book you have read and admire.” The first option was considered by the researchers to represent the most emotionally meaningful interaction.
     Compared to the participants embodied in the VR session as a young adult, those embodied as an older adult expressed more interest in spending time with the close friend.
     The researchers were struck by the strength of the effect, and they recommend further research to pin down the explanations for it. One possibility is that being embodied as an older adult increases empathy for seniors. A related explanation is that the experience stimulated thoughts about the young adult participant’s own aging. This dynamic was used in a study in which young adults became more likely to invest in a retirement account after being shown digitally-altered photos of what they’d look like decades later—with jowls and bags under the eyes.

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Value Different Values Systems of Seniors 

Friday, July 1, 2022

Note If “Not” Drops Price Sensitivity

When a food label states—because of a regulatory requirement—that the package contents include some genetically modified organisms, shoppers’ willingness to pay more for non-GM alternatives in that food category increases. Beyond this, the shoppers become less likely to want to buy any item in that food category. People are on guard when it comes to the unknown, and researchers at Neoma Business School, Concordia University, and University of Wisconsin–Madison point out there is much consumers have not taken the time to know about use of GMOs.
     A label which instead reads—because the claim is considered a benefit—“Non-GMO Project Verified” was found by the researchers to produce a similar effect, although smaller in magnitude. In experiments with potato chips, pasta sauce, and pickles, willingness to pay for a non-GMO item was increased about 8¢ by a “Non-GMO” label and 42¢ by a GMO-present label.
     Either label could start the consumer thinking about the use of GMOs in foods when they weren’t thinking about this previously. They might not have been thinking about it because people are focused on other factors, such as taste and caloricity, in selecting foods. They might not have been thinking about it because of willful ignorance. Since they want to consume the food, they avoid considering the details.
     And then, because the word “not” arouses caution when a shopper does notice it, attention goes to GMO.
     When the movie “Mary Poppins” came out, I was working toward my doctorate in psychology at Stanford University. In that ancient era, “junkie” commonly referred to somebody addicted to narcotics and probably selling narcotics. I tell you that so you can make sense of adhesive signs I started seeing around the Stanford campus reading “Mary Poppins is a junkie.” It looked like some mischievous Stanford students wanted to ridicule Mary’s squeaky-clean persona in the movie portrayal.
     A juicy rumor began circulating that these signs were popping up all over the nation and Walt Disney himself was so outraged about it, he was hiring detectives to locate the miscreants for punishment. A phony rumor, I’d think, but in any case, I did start seeing a new set of signs around campus. Each one read, “Mary Poppins is NOT a junkie.”
     This got me thinking about all those additional people who’d now turn around the “not” to consider the possibility of extra ingredients in Mary’s spoonful of sugar.

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Avoid “Not” in Influencing Shoppers