While retail merchandising may not seem very scientific at first glance, a great deal of thought goes into understanding why we buy and how the psychology of shopping works. Some of the theories make conventional sense, such as retail anthropologist Paco Underhill’s “butt brush factor,” which says women are much less likely to buy if brushed from behind in a narrow retail aisle. But as Time magazine reports, there are stranger factors that influence consumer behavior.
Flexing muscles fights off the urge to buy
If you find yourself being drawn in by a sales pitch, some psychology of shopping experts suggest flexing muscles to fight off wasteful impulses to purchase. In a series of experiments regarding shopping and self-control, scientists found that those subjects who clenched their muscles when confronted with purchase decisions had an easier time of accepting “immediate pain for long-term gain.” The muscle group clenched didn’t seem to matter, so perhaps any brief discomfort – like a stick in the eye – would do the trick. According to the study authors:
“The mind and the body are so closely tied together, merely clenching muscles can also activate willpower. Thus simply engaging in these bodily actions, which often result from an exertion of willpower, can serve as a non-conscious source to recruit willpower, facilitate self-control, and improve consumer well-being.”
Keep both hands on the cart and push
Another interesting element of consumer behavior exposed by research studies is that when shoppers push a cart instead of carrying a basket, they are less likely to seek instant gratification. Researchers believe this is because the long-term strain — as opposed to temporary, sharp pain — on the arm muscles while carrying a basket prompts shoppers to seek relief. For instance, those carrying a basket in one study bought chocolate much more frequently.
The last-name effect
For those who have names near the end of the alphabet, shopping experts believe you’re more likely to fall prey to a sales pitch. This supposedly dates back to school when children waited until the very end of the list for their name to be called. Study co-author Dr. Kurt Carlson of Georgetown University writes:
“For years, simply because of your name, you’ve received inequitable treatment,” he said. “So when you get to exercise control, you seize on opportunity. It’s a coping strategy, and over time it becomes a natural way to respond.”
Beware that second paycheck
With a paycheck, many things are possible. Unfortunately, according to various researchers, that includes the increased likelihood of your death. Specifically, a study found that after receiving the second paycheck from one’s employer, the payee is more likely to spend frivolously. This in turn leads more often to negative behaviors, guilt and even suicide – at least compared with those who haven’t just received that dreaded second paycheck.