How Retailers Manipulate You... Without You Even Knowing

Gone are the days where each customer, or consumer for that matter, was treated individually. Front end systems as we are exposed to on a daily basis connect us with our devices and social accounts; we simply cannot live without these little things that we gleefully take for granted. But if you asked any informatics professionals that either designs or works with back end communications systems, prepared to have your minds numbed by the sheer magnitude and depth of integration these systems possess. Think about it, if Google can rather accurately anticipate what you were searching for in the past few minutes you were on its search engine, and then bring up a thematically related advert on another page you subsequently opened, ponder for a second the additional layers of data collection about your behaviors online.

As more and more of human activity migrates from the physical realm to cyberspace, we are commensurately exposing ourselves to the digital stalkers of the web. Unless you live under a rock of a dark cave at the ends of the Earth, you cannot possibly be isolated from this new age of data mining. This should of course be differentiated from cyber espionage, which you should be very concerned about.

Welcome to Big Data.

Information about your spending and browsing habits are recorded without your explicit consent (because there is no legal need to ask for one) whenever you make an inquiry on Google, eBay, Amazon, or what have you. Worse still, if you're logged in with your own account containing personal details, addresses, billing information and other privy stuff you probably didn't want others to know about, you are being profiled. Having worked in retail before, I know first hand what it's like to profile others, and likewise how it feels to know you're being profiled. Two very different things.

With the advent of Big Data, consumers are not only watched and analyzed almost spontaneously by mindlessly smart (sic) algorithms, they are also increasingly being massaged through all their sensory channels by contrasting and captivating visuals and elaborate arrangements, tantalizing scents that stoke both our sensitive taste buds and smell, the warm and fuzzy feeling that greets you when you enter a store as the temperature and humidity are set at a specific range to stimulate buying and attachment, and of course music and sounds our social minds are so loyal to.

Digital catalogs that are periodically to members of a brand or store would probably be customized to his or her profile, not by a human but by software. To dumb things down even further, you are being told what you should buy based on what you have previously viewed or bought. If you think that's absurd, it probably is; but what can you do about it? Nothing much.

We could of course have an endless debate on the goods and bads of big data, but that's not today's story. Today's interests will still be on the rapidly diminishing real physical world we actually live in. You may begin musing at the following observations.

Ever wondered why the lighting at Starbucks cafes are always orangery-warm and coupled with some sort of black decor? Ever walked into an Ikea warehouse-shop and were tempted to buy something even if there was absolutely no need for that? Noticed why MacDonald's outlets almost never provided soft cushioned seats for customers? Walked into a supermarket and be bombarded with a barrage of products that seem to streamline themselves as you walk further, and that there is often background music playing throughout?

As Alternatives Finder reports, there is indeed more than it that meets the eye when it comes to consumer retail. Humans are complex beings but we somehow function in predictable manners when exposed to a known element. This is of course the concept of mass psychology which I recently exemplified through an example provided by the financial markets.

If you notice that display racks this holiday season are nicely scented, it’s not just shops are tidier at year’s end. Scents like citrus and floral can make you linger and stay alert in the shop to buy more. Marketers believe scents do sell, with an increasing number of scientific studies backing such claims, that the whole act spawned a new marketing sub-industry: scent marketing. It reminds us of germ warfare, an unseen weaponry that has your wallet in the crosshairs.

Real estate agents are already deploying this trick to unsuspecting buyers; the smell of freshly baked goods is said to encourage prospects to buy property during ocular visits. Similarly, talcum powder makes you feel nostalgic and, perhaps, want to buy that cushioned reading chair you don’t need.

The use of scent is just one of four sensory marketing tricks being used on us by shops eager for more sales. Collated in the new infographic below you can find a number of scientific studies that indicate what we see, hear or touch affect our buying decisions. You’ll be surprised at some of the seemingly unrelated factors that have a profound effect on your shopping. In one experiment published in the Harvard Business Review, participants were found to be a harder bargainer when sitting on a hard chair.

Likewise, you may already know that colors have meanings. For instance, sale signs are in red (urgency) and many insurance logos are in blue (trust). You’ll also get an idea how a number of your favorite shops, such as Bloomingdale’s, Apple Store, and Nike Town, lure you by playing tricks on your senses. Do you know why Apple Store leaves its notebook display half-open, or why you suddenly crave for a tropical vacation while inside Bloomingdale’s?
Infographic on how retails capitalize on our human psychologies

Infographic on how retails capitalize on our human psychologies

So next time you enter any store, keep a look out for these little nuances, because they make all the difference between you leaving empty handed or with bags full of goodies.