Conservative when crowded? New research by a professor at the University of Kansas reveals that crowds are significantly impacting the purchasing behavior of consumers. The researcher, Ahreum Maeng, found that socially crowded environments lead to conservative consumers who are less willing to make risky investments. Maeng revealed that socially crowded settings activate an avoidance system that initiates a more prevention-focused mindset. For her research, Maeng organized six experiments that collectively exposed participants to crowded or uncrowded settings. Next, she had them complete tasks or indicate preferences for messages, products, and behaviors.
Maeng’s innovative findings revealed that consumers become increasingly conservative and safety-focused in a crowded store—and all crowds are not created equal! When consumers are in crowds with people they consider part of an out-group, or people who are not their peers, they will be even more conservative. So what does a safety-focused consumer look like? MarketWatch notes that a safety-focused male consumer would choose a shampoo bottle that promises to prevent hair loss rather than a bottle that promises to boost shine. Likewise, a safety-focused female would opt for a face cream that claims it will ward off wrinkles rather than one that will make her skin brighter.
How Can Retailers Benefit?
Although these findings seem negative, crowds are not always bad! Consumers may get increasingly conservative, but retailers can use this knowledge to appeal to the safety-focused consumer. Freakonomics points out that stores should consider changing their signage or product placement to account for different levels of crowding. Furthermore, stores should market safety-oriented products on crowded shopping days.
With holiday shopping just around the corner, marketers may fear that large crowds will turn off in-store shoppers. This is not the case for competitive holiday consumers. In my post last week, The Psychology of Black Friday Shoppers, it notes that a study by professors indicated that female shoppers who are generally turned off by crowds enjoy the sense of competition on the holiday. Additionally, shoppers state they can relate to other Black Friday consumers—which would make them part of what Maeng refers to as an “in group.” When consumers are part of an “in group,” they are likely to be less conservative in a crowded environment. So, it is important that markets adapt to these special occasions when consumers are being driven by competition!
Ahreum Maeng’s research will be detailed in the article titled “Conservative When Crowded: Social Crowding and Consumer Choice,” which can be found in the Journal of Marketing Research.
Is your business optimizing crowded environments?
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