Your Favorite Brands Are Manipulating Your Senses to Make You Buy More

|Posted by | Psychology of Money, Shopping

shoppers in a busy shopping mall

Watch out for the ways your senses are being manipulated. Retail stores in Singapore use sight, smell, sound and touch to make you buy things.

Shopping online makes life easier, especially with the arrival of Amazon Prime Now and the points you can earn from online shopping credit cards.

But sometimes, nothing beats walking into a bricks-and-mortar store. Not only can you see what you want to buy; you can pick it up, smell it, and listen to how it sounds. And when it comes to food, nothing beats trying before you buy.

As you probably suspect, retailers don’t invest in huge sums of money dressing up their stores for our shopping pleasure. Offering a multi-sensory experience makes shopping attractive, but it is also through these channels that stores influence what we buy and how much we spend.

The next time you go shopping, be aware that your senses are being manipulated in the following ways.

Store Colours, Window Displays and Winding Routes Encourage You To Spend

Human beings are primarily visual creatures, relying on sight to perceive up to 90% of all incoming information. It is not surprising, then, that stores invest most of their efforts in drawing shoppers’ eyeballs.

One of the primary ways brands influence us is through the use of colours. Broadly speaking, there are certain traits we tend to associate with certain colours. For example, red is generally regarded as stimulating, so it’s most often used during sales. This also works online; the presence of red made shoppers bid more aggressively, become more willing to pay more, and more likely to buy the item.

A second way stores make you spend is through the window display. By presenting an artfully constructed scene, and putting it where you’re sure to see it, brands hope to get you to feel a certain way. If you can see yourself living the lifestyle suggested by the window displays, you’re more likely to buy their products.

A third way stores manipulate your sight is by making you see more products than you need to. And since shops can’t force you to view a conveyor belt full of products until you break down and buy something, they make you walk all over the store instead. Think about your last visit to Ikea, and how you ended up with an entire trolley-load of stuff, when all you wanted were some forks.

Picking Things Up Make You Want To Buy Them

Nature has designed fresh fruit and vegetables to be picked up and eaten on the spot. Yet supermarkets think nothing of displaying them out in the open, within reach of every inquisitive, snot-nosed toddler that comes trundling along. Why aren’t we locking up fruit and vegetables behind glass doors, away from germs and boogers?

Because then you’d never buy those rosy Fuji apples, according to marketers.  

Apparently, the more you handle something, the more likely you are to buy something. Holding a product can create a sense of psychological ownership, which increases the drive to buy it.  Stores attempt to capitalise on this by creating ample opportunities for customers to touch the products.

Think about the open shelves and racks in stores like Under Armour and Hang Ten. By including a range of sizes on the clothes rack, you’re encouraged to rifle through the pile yourself. Not only does this strengthen your initial interest by making you take the initiative, it also increases your contact with the clothing, helping to seal the deal.

Some stores even go so far as to arrange their products slightly off kilter. By presenting a less-than-perfect display, browsers feel more comfortable handling the products.

Store Scents Put You In The Mood To Buy

Another channel stores use to bypass your conscious control is your sense of smell.

We know that scents have the ability to evoke feelings and thoughts. Baby powder may make you think about babies, even though you’re nowhere near a nursery. The scent of coconut may make you think of sunny beachside days, whereas a combination of rose and citrus can remind you of that Singapore Airlines flight you once took.  

Why do smells evoke memories? That is likely because the sense of smell is closely linked to the brain’s limbic system – the centre for emotion, memory and motivation.

Brands that invest in scent marketing strive to evoke moods and feelings through scents that match the lifestyle they are trying to project. Hugo Boss was said to spend 2 months (and no petty sum, no doubt) tweaking their signature scent to convey just the right image.

Other business use scent much more directly. The distinctive, mouthwatering scent of McDonald’s fries originated from the use of beef tallow in the original recipe. (This has since been changed to an undisclosed flavour additive, following public outcry over the fries’ high cholesterol.)

No matter how they deploy scents, stores that get it right bypass many of the barriers standing in the way of your purchase, seeming without effort.

And that’s how you keep walking out of L’Occitane with bottles of S$60 shower gels.

Music And Sounds Shape Your Shopping Tempo

Like smell, music also has the ability to evoke certain moods and emotions. And because buying behaviours are driven more by emotions, and not logic, stores play music to influence your mood.

Brand choose musical genres that match their target audience’s tastes. Think about Superdry, Uniqlo and other fast fashion stores, and the pop soundtracks they play. When the target shoppers come visiting, the familiar aural background puts them at ease, while fostering familiarity and acceptance.

Stores also use volume and tempo to manipulate shoppers. Research has found that playing slower music in supermarkets causes shoppers to linger longer, which translates to higher sales. Meanwhile, fast tempos are used by businesses that rely on a fast turnover of customers, such as fast food restaurants.

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Alevin ChanBy Alevin Chan
A Certified Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin’s mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He’s also on an ongoing quest to optimise happiness and enjoyment in his life.