Psychology of The Store - Part 2: How a Consumer Shops

The Psychology of The Store Experience – Part 2

In this four-part series, GSP explores the psychology of shoppers, how the consumer processes information in-store and how to translate that into an effective in-store strategy. Part 1 reviewed why the consumer shops and what they consider when shopping.

SEE ALSO: The Psychology of the Store Experience – Part 1: Why a Consumer Shops

In part two of this series, we consult The Cognitive Psychology of Shopping and in-store Marketing by Hugh Phillips, PhD. to better understand HOW a consumer arrives at his/her purchase decision.

Part II: Understanding how the consumer shops

Shopping is like driving. When we’re learning how to drive, we follow the instructions from our driving lessons to a T: adjust mirrors, check lights, etc. Once we get our license, driving becomes more ‘automatic.’ Our instructions have become almost second nature to us and we tend to drive more subconsciously.

Men, for the most part, shop like they have one of those student driver signs on their car. They search aisles and scan displays for products that are right in front of them. How many also realize later when they’re home that they forgot to buy something? In general, they find the whole shopping process unpleasant.

More learned shoppers (typically women), have developed routines that help them “cope” with shopping. But they have become subconscious routines that we need to understand if we want to reach them and enhance the shopping experience.

In 2004, a British store tested a Pringles promotion. In the TV ad, it specifically mentioned that Pringles would be featured by the store entrance. In the test store, sales of Pringles doubled. But in the other stores, where Pringles was in its normal shelf position next to all of the other potato chips, sales increased by five times! The test underscored the fact that consumers shop subconsciously, going about their usual routines.

What happens when we design store communication thinking the consumer is shopping consciously? The signs may as well be in another language. We are…

  • communicating with the consumer ineffectively
  • depriving the consumer of the opportunity to shop in his/her way
  • reducing the value of the store

The fact is that our conscious attention span is simply too small to take in everything around us. So we use selectivity and subconscious processing as our coping mechanisms.

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For the most part, we can reason that…

  1. When the consumer is browsing, s/he is shopping subconsciously and “sees” things with minimum detail.
  2. When the consumer is making a purchase decision, s/he is shopping consciously and “sees” in more detail.
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The following factors are important to consider for consumers to shop effectively:

  1. How easily one can process visual elements and identify brands or products.
  2. How much extra “clutter” is around that obscures those key visual elements.

If we clutter the store with too many extra elements, we deprive the consumer of the ability to shop effectively. It could irritate him/her, and we could lose a sale.

Next time: How a consumer decides what to purchase