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These hormones that make us buy

Exposing customers to pictures of muscular men or attractive women would be enough to push them to over-consumption. This is the conclusion of a study that opens the way for the biological manipulation of our preferences. Explanations with Stephane Mailhiot.

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You come back from the mall with your shopping. You bought more than you expected. And you have also opted for more luxurious and ostentatious products than usual. Your partner questions you about your sudden materialism. You answer that it’s the fault … hormones and porter.

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This is, in any case, the conclusion of the study of Tobias Otterbring reported in Harvard Business Review. The researcher compared the consumption of clients with and without the presence of a physically imposing man at the entrance of a business. While the presence of the Hercules did not change the buying behavior of women, it did incite men to spend a lot more. In the presence of this highly visible rival, they bought on average $ 165 worth of goods, compared to only $ 92 in the others. An increase in purchases as important as it is unconscious.

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The difference in billing is attributable to the average purchase price, which rose by 80%, while the number of items sold at the cash desk changed little. According to the researchers, it is the desire of these gentlemen to report their status to this potential competitor who has opened their portfolio and led to the acquisition of more luxurious goods.

The biological cause of this unconscious behavior is testosterone. In another laboratory test, researchers have shown that taking male sex hormone capsules changes men’s preference for certain prestige brands. These men have for example choosing a jean perceived as more famous rather than a less prestigious product, but of equivalent quality. Men boosted with testosterone have also responded better to prestige-based advertising, while their receptivity to quality messages or promises of power has remained unchanged. The pre-testosterone level of about 250 participants already revealed a significant correlation with a search for status in the brand preference.

Hormone therapy at the mall

Brands can influence our hormones. For example, testosterone levels rise in certain contexts, such as sports competitions (especially when they are won), or after conspicuous consumption experiences, such as driving a luxury car (rather than our usual minivan). Given that the sex hormone also tends to increase in the presence of potential partners, the use of trophy women in some luxury stores is not surprising.
The influence of hormones on female consumption has already been demonstrated, while the preference for clothing and food fluctuates with the hormonal cycle. Women, like “testosterone” men, are looking for prestige as they approach ovulation. The mechanism would be similar: the desire to establish social status to attract better partners.

Creating the ideal context for buying is at the heart of marketing practice. The fact that certain environments tend to secrete certain hormones opens the door to biological manipulation of our preferences and raises a series of ethical questions.

Attention, manipulation possible by Images

The mere presence of images can influence our preferences. Being exposed to pictures of beefy men is enough to push men to a more ostentatious consumption and to choose, for example, clothes with larger logos. In the same way, women who have watched pictures of attractive women have tended to over-use products to maintain their weight, focus on extreme physical activity and even opt for less discreet beauty products, such as the self-tanners.

Since the effect of imposing models is especially felt among smaller men, some businesses may assign particularly large sellers to small men, in the hope that their willingness to compete makes them open their wallets. Beyond the moral aspect of the thing, it would be necessary to evaluate the level of satisfaction of these customers as for the whole experience and project their propensity to set foot in the store. Short-term manipulation or long-term loyalty?



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