Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Anthropologists among shoppers

To analyze shoppers buying batteries, for example, [Jennifer Argo] asked her mystery shoppers to stand at a rack looking at camera film located near a rack of batteries. There was no interaction between the battery shoppers and the film browsers. Argo wanted to know if the mere presence of another shopper affected a buyer's choice. It did.

When anyone was standing beside the battery shoppers, most would buy the most expensive brand. If no one was there, they'd buy a cheaper brand; if there was a crowd of three or more, they would always buy the expensive brand. [...]

"It's impression management — people don't want to look cheap," she says. "We will spend more money to maintain our self-image in front of others."

From this story by Leslie Scrivener in Toronto Star. It's not just the anthropologists who are on the prowl and on the superstores' payroll; there's a whole army of them: psychologists (evolutionary and other types), sociologists, ethnographers, (consumer)behaviorall scientists, and -- this is going to make Charu shudder -- neuroscientists doing brain scans on consumers.

All for what? To find better ways of making you buy, and buy more -- shop until you drop.

In the Star article, I found something that sounds, well, hokey:

"The brain designed for hunting and gathering on the savannah is being used to define the way we work, our leisure, our relationship to others and our shopping," [Charles Dennis] says.

"Gathering is like comparison shopping. That's the way women tend to shop, taking it very seriously."

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One of the best articles on the science of shopping (from 1996, well before brain scans were used for this purpose) is this New Yorker piece by Malcolm Gladwell [via Ramnath].