Consumer Behavior and Emotions: How What They Feel Affect Their Choices

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In 1984, Robert Cialdini, a psychologist and professor, released a book that helped change the way businesses do marketing. Among the pages of his Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion are the six principles that explain why people buy—or not.

These principles are liking, scarcity, social proof, authority, commitment, and reciprocity. In his most recently released work, he added one more called unity. Although each is different, there’s one factor that seems to tie them all together: emotions.

To illustrate the power of emotions in influencing a consumer’s buying process, consider it in the context of scarcity. According to Cialdini, people tend to desire a product more when it feels it is in short supply. Desire, meanwhile, is a potent emotion.

All this information then leads to a big question: Just how much power does emotion have over a person’s ability to buy? What kinds of products do they get when, say, they’re angry or happy? How much are they willing to pay?

The Influence of Emotions

Emotions can affect a consumer’s behavior toward a product or a brand. It is also a strong motivation on how, why, and what they purchase. Interestingly, it seems various emotions impact them differently.

Take, for instance, anger. In a research by the Miami Business School and Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University, angry shoppers actually make more satisfied and happier customers.

Across six experiments, people who shop in a foul mood were more decisive and less likely to compromise. They also spend less amount of time looking for the product they want.

To be clear, anger doesn’t compel a person to shop, according to Northwestern University researchers. However, if the individual is already worked up and found an opportunity to buy a particular item, the chances of getting distracted by other products are low.

These behaviors were opposite for those who bought products fearful or neutral (showing or feeling no emotion). This may partly explain political candidates run ads showing the supposed ugly personality of their opponents.

Anger could persuade the audience to be decisive with their pick, and that is the candidate running the ad.

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Happy, Relaxed People Make Excellent Customers

If anger rushes a person’s shopping, what happens when they are relaxed or happy? A study by the Columbia Business School may have the answer.

In several experiments, they learned that those in good spirits were likely to spend more money than their less-relaxed counterparts. In one simulated auction, happy people bid over 10% more than a digital camera’s market value.

Meanwhile, the Journal of Marketing Research shared that, on average, relaxed and comfortable consumers tend to spend 15% more for a product. Moreover, they browse longer, which increases the chance of them shopping for more items.

However, the environment can also contribute to feelings of relaxation and less stress. They needed cues that trick their brain into thinking they didn’t have to rush.

Fortunately, retail shops can already pursue different strategies that promote consumer relaxation. For instance, they can call on commercial grounds maintenance for proper landscaping. The presence of plants reminds buyers of nature, and nature is calming for most humans.

Another option is music. An Indian study revealed that the music’s type or tempo could help determine the length of time the customer stays, how much they order, and whether they will opt for seconds.

In particular, slower music seems to entice consumers to spend more time in a restaurant. It could be because they feel less anxious. Music can lower blood pressure and improve the connection of the neurons in the brain.

In separate research, slow music also correlates to the purchase of higher-end wines in restaurants.

Shopping When Bored

Not everyone who shops carries strong emotions such as anger, happiness, or sadness. Many are just bored, but how does boredom affect their choices?

In the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, the researchers claimed that bored shoppers are more likely to choose items on impulse. This is a way of escaping their reality and coping with their frustration with their daily lives’ monotony.

They also spend more time shopping, but it isn’t because they cannot choose. They want to kill time. Moreover, of the many products they encounter, they tend to pick fashion items. It could be because accessories and clothes help them build some emotion and showcase their identity.

People shop for a lot of reasons, but more often than not, emotions lead the way. When retailers understand the connection, they can harness that to create more effective marketing strategies.


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