Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Consumerism and emotion

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The all-consuming consumer experience:
Retailer tactics targeting the senses and impulsive buying
Epiphany-bookmarks.svg This page is part of the Motivation and emotion book. See also: Guidelines.

The problem[edit | edit source]

Lets go shopping!

Being consumed by consumption[edit | edit source]

There are many reasons to shop: wants, needs, boredom, anxiety, and the (shopping) list goes on. For some, shopping can become a problem when they literally consume more than their budget, home or health can cope with. What is presented here is an informative guide as to why people buy impulsively, and specifically how retailers manipulate motivations and emotions through the five senses to make consumers buy more.

This chapter is aimed at the many people who find they return home from a shopping outing with items they never intended to get. These items are hereafter defined as impulse purchases. Perhaps the most commonplace example of this is the last minute checkout chocolate grab. Whilst people with more serious compulsive tendencies may find some interesting insights within the chapter, this information and empirically supported self-help tools are provided to assist rein the average person’s impulsive spending. As such, this chapter is for you if you answer yes to any of the following questions.

  1. Do you often leave the shops with more items than you had planned on buying?
  2. Do you 'pop to the shops' only to return home much later than you had hoped?
  3. Do you go with a focus to only visit certain stores, and end up browsing in others?
  4. Are you curious how retailers manipulate your behaviour to make you do any of the above?

It’s not just you[edit | edit source]

It seems from research that the problem of impulse buying is not restricted to a few individuals. Most notably, Inman, Winer, and Ferraro (2009) explored the statistics of unplanned or impulse purchase occurrence across America. They calculated the baseline probability of making such a purchase during a shopping outing is 46%. Furthermore, depending on one’s circumstances this may incrementally increase approximately 10%. For example if the shopper is female and familiar with the store, frequency of unplanned purchases rises to around 66%. To add further complication, they discovered in-store displays and shopping all aisles could (literally) be among the most costly contextual factors. Under the right circumstances, the probability of unplanned purchases is as much as 93% (Inman et al., 2009). From these figures, it is then fair to assess that at one time or another, anyone is vulnerable to impulsive spending. |}

Knowledge is power: The effects of affect[edit | edit source]

What is the consumer’s goal?[edit | edit source]

Expectancy-value theories of goal setting[edit | edit source]

Unless ones earnings are limitless, there is no way to purchase all that the heart may desire. Expectancy-value theories of goal setting may help explain how and why consumers choose to buy some items over others. In their 2008 chapter, Baumgartner and Pieters define goals as being persistent, valuable, and achievable plans, according to the individual. Goals are the mechanism by which people engage in approach or avoidance behaviours. The researchers explain that goals are selected according to a person’s assessment of its desirability and feasibility. This is essentially the premise of the expectancy-value theory: if the goal has an achievable outcome that has highly desirable value to the individual, it will be chosen over others (Baumgartner & Pieters, 2008). Goal selection then provides energy and direction for certain behaviours. However, these ideas only partially explain the underlying processes of consumer goal pursuit.

Expectancy theory does have a shortcoming in this context and that is to describe what occurs when consumers struggle with a purchasing decision. Goals can have simultaneous desirable and undesirable consequences (goal ambivalence) and even compete if both are highly weighed in importance (goal incompatibility; Baumgartner & Pieters, 2008). The competition between goals to take priority adds pressure to consumer decision-making. Worse still, shopping without a clear goal in mind can become characteristic of impulse spending (Peck & Childers, 2006).Therefore selecting a goal is a potentially difficult and yet crucial task for consumers. Whilst there may be many factors to aid in evaluating goal’s suitability, perhaps for the consumer this is where affect steps in.

What is consumer emotion?[edit | edit source]

Dessert Anyone?

Affect, or otherwise referred to as emotion or mood, is defined as an internal feeling state (Cohen, Pham, & Andrade, 2008). When goals compete, one explanation is that affect itself may become the end goal or a motivator throughout the process (Baumgartner & Pieters, 2008). Consider the conflict between the long-term desire to lose weight versus the want of a delicious dessert. The immediate feeling of satisfaction provided by the dessert is easier to anticipate than any future emotional rewards offered by weight loss, hence people often act to achieve immediate positive feelings (Cohen et al., 2008; Pham, 2004). As per expectancy-value theory, affect offers a readily achievable and valuable goal. In doing so it lends itself to the decision-making process and influences goal choice. Knowing this, advertisers and retailers tap in to emotions and aim to make products more attractive and attainable (Baumgartner & Pieters, 2008).

There are three different types of affect and each offers a unique perspective of shopper affective influences. As defined by Cohen et al. (2008), integral affect relates to the feelings aroused by the specific object under purchase scrutiny. They suggest the features of the object, be it the smell and taste of a luscious coffee or the sight of an infuriating advertisement, elicit feelings to add to the product's interpretation of favourability. The experience of integral affects are often so reinforcing that they can hinder impulse control, especially when deciding between satisfying current hedonic needs and the latter consequences (like eating that dessert now and regretting it on the waist-line later, Pham, 2004). Feelings can also be elicited by things other than specific consumer products.

Of the last two terms, incidental affect is the contextual mood under which the item is assessed, including shopper environment influences and shopper temperament (Cohen, et al., 2008). Indeed, for most individuals, there is pleasure to be found in the shopping environment (Cox, Cox, & Anderson, 2005). That retail environment, or ‘servicescape’ as it is sometimes known, is important to shop designers as it can be manipulated to get consumers in the shopping mood (Bitner, 1992).

Alternatively, task-related affect is somewhat harder for the retailer to control. It relates to feelings caused by the process of making purchasing decisions or product evaluations (Cohen, et al., 2008). Consider for example the stress, effort and perhaps disappointment involved in rejecting (or accepting) the dessert. All three kinds of affect; integral, incidental and task-related, have long been acknowledged to aid in the overall appraisal of a purchase target (Pham, 2004). Therefore it is necessary to more closely examine retailer tactics aimed at emotions.

How do retailers manipulate emotion?[edit | edit source]

Servicescape model[edit | edit source]

There are multiple elements that a retailer could consider adjusting to increase impulse sales. In a very comprehensive fashion, Bitner (1992) proposed the servicescape model in which store layout, ambient conditions and store signage (or symbols) all might be regarded to play a role in manipulating consumer physiological, emotional and cognitive processes. Her work explicitly regarding emotion suggests it exists along two measurable planes: pleasure and arousal. In contrast to expectancy theory, Bitner explains that these are responsible for driving in-store approach or avoidance behaviours. Therefore what is presented here is research supporting this idea of emotions as driving forces for consumer behaviour and what retailers can manipulate within the servicescape to appeal to them. More specifically, the focus concerns the most elementary form of environmental processing an individual can undertake, and that is through the five senses.

The senses[edit | edit source]

Sight[edit | edit source]


If the sight of natural elements like wood are ‘pleasing to the eye’ for most individuals (Bitner, 1992), then the use of colour may have many applications in the store environment. Among the first to describe its uses in a retail context were Bellizzi, Crowley and Hasty (1983). Their research suggested cooler colours of blue and green stimulate pleasant feelings. The optimum level of arousal invoked by cooler colours enables relaxed browsing and does not detract from the product or experience at hand. It is useful for increasing time spent in-store, which in turn allows staff to up-sell and increases impulse purchases (Bellizzi & Hite, 1992).

Furthermore Bellizzi et al. (1983) also found that colours in the warm spectrum like red and yellow have servicescape implications. These colours have attraction appeal with practical uses for catching the eye and drawing customer’s attention. As such they can be useful for store entrances or for sale signage. Bellizzi et al. (1983) clarify warm colours are not recommended for bulk usage as it can become irritating and distracting on a larger scale. This may lead to customers prematurely leaving the store. Noting this idea, there is clearly some reason why stores continue to use warm tones to great advantage.

As the other measure of emotion, arousal offers a slightly alternative view for the usefulness of warm colours. Van Rompay, Tanja-Dijkstra, Verhoeven, and van Es (in press) differentiated warmer and cooler tones as capable of provoking high arousal and low arousal feelings, respectively. Moreover, they clarified certain colours can invoke more pleasure and suitable arousal levels depending on the shopper’s motivation.

In the study by van Rompay et al. (in press) browsers (or recreational shoppers) were more invigorated and indulgent in a red shopping environment. Whereas, the same red store was too distracting or arousing to allow easy concentration for goal pursuit. Ultimately, shoppers with a goal discovered the optimum level of arousal and greater pleasure in a more relaxing blue store. This would seem to somewhat contradict Bellizzi et al.'s (1983) statement that red should be used modestly, but instead offers a more useful interpretation. That is, colour can be used according to the store’s target demographic or shopper style. In doing so it creates the perfect incidental mood and potentially minimises negative task-related affect


Store layout is a critical visual element for stores to consider, as a poor layout impedes the view and manoeuvrability within a store. Bitner (1992) stressed that organised layout was most important when shopper motivation is goal oriented, or when time might be limited. A disordered layout would not be conducive to positive task-related affect and certainly increase arousal to an irritating level in a supermarket. Indeed, Bäckström and Johansson (2006) analysed interviews from a large participant sample and found this is the case for display and store layout. Alternatively, more chaotic servicescapes offer optimum levels of arousal for recreational shoppers, increasing their browsing times and purchases (Kaltcheva & Weitz, 2006). Again it seems that intended arousal levels should be matched to the environment and intended demographic.

Taste[edit | edit source]

Food sampling

Food sampling presents the most obvious of ‘taste’ sense experience and appeals to each of the three types of affect. In a field experiment, Heilman, Lakishyk, and Radas (2011) found 73% of shoppers took food samples on offer, especially if those items were hedonistic treats like ice-cream or if they were hungry. Samplers had a 52% increased buying rate between those who planned the purchase and those who did not. It was also likely that up to 60% switched from their usual brand of purchase, which is detrimental to the consumer if the sampled brand is more expensive. In other ways the study showed sampling added to the enjoyment of shopping (incidental) and inferred that it makes decisions easier (task-related) by increasing product familiarity and appeal (if taste was liked; integral).

Inviting the consumer in to taste... (BaycrestCC-BY-SA-2.5)

Touch[edit | edit source]

Peck and Childers (2006) propose that consumers without a clear purchase goal, such as browsers, more readily process hedonic-orientated touch sensory information. In other words, they use touch to seek enjoyment and arousal from the environment. Similar to the idea of Pham (2004), Peck and Childers clarify that in a cognitively demanding servicescape, (e.g. supermarket) the consumer turns to the simpler affective system and senses to make a decision. In their study, shoppers were observed to buy fruit on impulse more frequently if they touched it first. Moreover, using a priming sign over the fruit suggesting customers “feel the freshness” of the product increased both the touch-rate and impulse purchases. The implications are that touching a product appeals to integral affect and aids the product’s evaluation of suitability.

Hearing[edit | edit source]


Few shopping outings are accompanied with silence. The importance of ambient sound, particularly music, for store experience is nearly indisputable. The review of this topic’s empirical evidence by Jain and Bagdare (2011) clearly supports this idea. As per Bitner’s (1992) model, Jain and Bagdare summarise music’s effects to include cognitive, emotional and physiological responses. Indeed they confirm that these all flow into behavioural responses, such as spending or even willingness to loiter, when used appropriately. In another example, Broekemier, Marquardt, and Gentry (2008) found in-store music that was both happy and liked had the strongest effect on shopping intentions due to its ability to incite pleasure and optimal arousal. Music is therefore interpreted to manipulate incidental affect to create a more positive evaluation of the product and experience.

Smell[edit | edit source]

Can you smell that? (Tangs)

Ambient scent

Like music, the ambience effects of scent have also been researched. Doucé and Janssens (in press) confirmed that ambient scent like lemon-mint can increase pleasure and arousal, create a more positive evaluation of the store and products, and also manipulate intentions to visit the store in the future. The results are similar also to Mattila and Wirtz (2001) who found that lavender and grapefruit scents can be especially pleasing, and lead to favourable appraisals of the environment, customer satisfaction, approach rate and impulse buying. However, their findings suggested that this occurred most reliably when in-store scent and music were congruent, or suitably matched in their arousing abilities.

Critique the collective senses[edit | edit source]

If research suggests that certain colours, scents and types of music are best manipulating consumer behaviour to sales advantage, then it is questionable why stores do not appear identical. This is where image congruency enters. Congruency within the servicescape means that the individual factors in the servicescape compliment each other and combine in harmony. This should be true for the collective portrayal of the store; the servicescape should suit the store’s desired image, demographic and shopping motivation (Bitner, 1992).

More specifically, it appears that matching the shopper style to the optimal level of arousal for the store’s purposes is also highly effective (Verplanken & Sato, 2011). Indeed, from the senses research presented above, many clarify affect and arousal congruency as a critical factor (e.g. Jain & Bagdare, 2011). Theoretically, the holistic view of the servicescape is how the consumer categorises the store, thereby assessing its suitability for goal attainment.

From an emotional perspective, congruent feelings and arousal levels enable smoother and faster judgement, whereas inconsistency flags that something is ‘not quite right’ (Pham, 2004). This pause may be all that is necessary to shatter the customer’s expected outcomes (as required by expectancy theory) and deflect approach behaviours. Critically speaking, it is perhaps the most important element to consider when analysing any individual factor and consumer outcomes.

One further difficulty in analysing sense research is that there may be cross-contamination between sensory inputs. In the evidence presented here, there was often no way to discern if the psychological impact (e.g. arousal) and observed behaviour (e.g. impulse buying) was specifically due to one sensory input alone. For example, in Peck and Childers (2006) fruit touching study, the participants may have been swayed by the smell of ripe fruit as well as the touch.

Another limitation was that only some of the sense elements of the servicescape were considered. Indeed there are multiple factors that have been considered by research and shown to manipulate consumer emotions and buying behaviours (for example social interactions, see Bitner, 1992). These are a potential significant contributing factor in impulse spending outcomes and should be considered in future chapters. However there is still much useful advice to be garnered from this specific field for those who wish to control consumption.

Quiz: Making sense of the senses[edit | edit source]

Think the servicescape image of a JB Hi-Fi store (pictured right): the mayhem of displays, bright yellow signs with bold red writing, and blaring modern music. In analysing the above information, which of the following statements are true or false about that servicescape.

JB Hi-Fi

1 They consider most of their customers to be task-focussed and goal driven, hence they utilise warm tones to make their shopper's task easier.


2 They use warm tones to catch attention and draw customers into the store.


3 The environment would be highly pleasurable for recreational shoppers.


4 The colour scheme, chaotic layout, and music discourage loitering and browsing.


5 Moderately loud, modern music is likely to enhance the atmosphere and experience for their target audience.


6 Through the sense of touch they appeal to hedonic-seeking browsers by providing try-before-you-buy displays of games and electronic devices.


Controlling consumption[edit | edit source]

Self-regulation[edit | edit source]

As one researcher stated, it is a logical extension that impulse buying is due to a failure of self-regulation (Verplanken & Sato, 2011). Therefore one may employ self-regulation to adjust psychological processes and subsequent behaviours to keep consuming activities appropriately in check (Vohs, Baumeister, & Tice, 2008). Vohs et al. (2008) describe a four-part recipe for self-regulation:

  1. Set goals that are unambiguous, realistic, and consistent with personal standards;
  2. Be motivated to attain the goal;
  3. Keeping standards in mind, plan and monitor goal progress; and
  4. Use willpower and self-control to stay focussed and driven toward the goal.
Controlling consumption: hear no evil, see no evil...

These steps can be applied to many personal areas requiring self-control, such as dieting and impulse spending, but there are further cautionary notes that Vohs et al (2008) make. Firstly, each element is necessary in maintaining firm, self-regulated behaviour. If one is weak, the rest may fail. However, insufficient monitoring toward goal progress is perhaps the most common reason why goals are not attained. Therefore strengthening this element may aid many people improve self-regulation. Nevertheless, even plans made with the best intentions can go awry.

The fourth element of self-control is perplexing in that the individual may have it in abundance when forming the plan, but over time it seems to fold. Bruyneel, Dewitte, Vohs & Warlop (2006) support previous findings regarding self-control depletion and expands on it by identifying that consumers increasingly become more susceptible to affective or hedonic product features. They believe the sum of prior topic research suggests that the act of shopping and the shopping environment itself, engage cognitive and emotional faculties to the point where they tire. This is when the affective system takes over and eases decision-making (Bruyneel et al., 2006; Pham, 2004). More specifically Bruyneel et al. (2006) report that decreased control increased the likelihood of purchasing more expensive or more attractive products toward the end of shopping. Moreover it increased the rate of impulse purchasing for affective products (like candy) in general.

With regard to self-help, this research has many implications. Vohs et al. (2008) explain this by likening self-control to a muscle: it may tire during use but repeated ‘workouts’ will help strengthen it. In other words, whilst controlling impulse spending may be hard at first, persevere and it will become a readily available asset. At the same time, beware that exerting self-control on a repetitive basis throughout a specific occasion may weaken resolve. For example, the same way feet tire at the end of a grand shopping outing, so too will self-control and this may be when most impulse spending occurs.

To further reduce the pressure on decision-making, and therefore self-control, Bruyneel et al. (2006) also recommend creating clearly written shopping lists. They stipulate to include the preferred brand and even the amounts required. In this way it would not only provide a perfect method to monitor goal progress as advised by self-regulation theory, but would also minimise decisions to be made whilst browsing (Bruyneel et al., 2006).

Self-regulation question[edit | edit source]

When interpreting research of consumer self-control, which of the following might NOT be useful to the supermarket retailer?

Placing more expensive items near the purchase point or in end of isle displays.
Offering only a minimal selection of choices within a product category on the selves.
Placing more attractive items near the purchase point or in end of isle displays.
Making shoppers walk through the store by placing essential items like milk or toilet paper far away from the entrance.

The take home message...(pun intended)[edit | edit source]

Would you like a bag for that?

Whilst self-regulation provides a clear guide to creating, and sticking to a goal, there are other suggestions made by research that may reduce impulse spending. Not only did the study by Inman et al. (2009) discuss impulse purchasing statistics, they recommended several methods used by consumers to successfully reduce their probability of impulse spending. Namely these are shopping with a detailed list, paying with cash rather than cheque or credit, reducing time spent in-store, reducing the number of aisles visited, and increasing the frequency of shopping trips for groceries throughout the week to three or more. Each subscribe to the necessary formula stated by self-regulation. Particularly by creating immediately identifiable feedback of behaviour (using cash or list), and easing the burden of decision-making thereby increasing control (e.g. reducing time spent in-store).

The final element recommended by researchers to reign in impulse spending is to simply provide consumers with background information about their thought processes (e.g. Verplanken & Sato, 2011). Such is the aim of this chapter. Expectancy theory is one method to explain the process how consumers create goals, whereas self-regulation offers a guide with which to do so effectively. In addition, whilst expectancy theory claims goals direct behaviour, Bitner (1992) also offers emotions as a factor. From the evidence it seems both may have relevance to the consumer. However, what is most likely is that with or without goals, consumers do rely on emotions during decision-making. Retailers are aware of this and can target the senses to manipulate integral, incidental, and task-related emotions. Furthermore, it appears that in order for emotions to translate into action the servicescape should portray an emotionally congruent theme and offer the optimum level of arousal for its target audience.

Key learning points for your doggie bag - bombardment on the senses and strategies to prevent impulse purchases

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Bäckström, K., & Johansson, U. (2006). Creating and consuming experiences in retail store environments: Comparing retailer and consumer perspectives. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 13, 417-430. doi:10.1016/j.jretconser.2006.02.005

Baumgartner, H., & Pieters, R. (2008). Goal-directed consumer behavior: motivation, volition, and affect. In C. P. Haugtvedt, P. M. Herr, & F. R. Kardes (Eds.), Handbook of consumer psychology (pp. 367-392). New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

Bellizzi, J. A., Crowley, A. E., & Hasty, R. W. (1983). The effects of color in store design. Journal of Retailing, 59, 21-45.

Bellizzi, J. A., & Hite, R. E. (1992). Environmental color, consumer feelings, and purchase likelihood. Psychology and Marketing, 9, 347-363.

Bitner, M. J. (1992). Servicescapes: The impact of physical surroundings on customer and employees. Journal of Marketing, 56(2), 57-71.

Bruyneel, S., Dewitte, S., Vohs, K. D., & Warlop, L. (2006). Repeated choosing increases susceptibility to affective product features. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 23, 215-225.

Cohen, J. B., Pham, M. T., & Andrade, E. B. (2008). The nature and role of affect in consumer behavior. In C. P. Haugtvedt, P. M. Herr, & F. R. Kardes (Eds.), Handbook of consumer psychology (pp. 297-348). New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

Cox, A. D., Cox, D., & Anderson, R. D. (2005). Reassessing the pleasures of store shopping. Journal of Business Research, 58, 250-259.

Doucé, L. & Janssens, W. (In press). The presence of a pleasant ambient scent in a fashion store: The moderating role of shopping motivation and affect intensity. Environment and Behavior. doi:10.1177/0013916511410421

Heilman, C., Lakishyk, K., Radas, S. (2011). An empirical investigation of in-store sampling promotions. British Food Journal, 113(10), 1252-1266. doi:10.1108/00070701111177674

Inman, J. J., Winer, R. S., & Ferraro, R. (2009). The interplay among category characteristics, customer characteristics, and customer activities on in-store decision making. Journal of Marketing, 73, 19-29.

Jain, R., & Bagdare, S. (2011). Music and consumption experience: a review. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 39(4), 289-302. doi:10.1108/09590551111117554

Kaltcheva, V. D., & Weitz, B. A. (2006). When should a retailer create an exciting store environment. Journal of Marketing, 70, 107-118.

Mattila, A. S., & Wirtz, J. (2006). The role of store environmental stimulation and social factors on impulse purchasing. Journal of Services Marketing, 22(7), 562-567. doi:10.1108/08876040810909686

Peck, J., & Childers. T. L. (2006). If I touch it I have to have it: Individual and environmental influences on impulse purchasing. Journal of Business Research, 59, 765–769.

Pham, M. T. (2004). The logic of feeling. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14(4), 360-369.

Underhill, P. (1999). Why we buy: the science of shopping. New York: Simon and Schuster.

van Rompay, T. J. L., Tanja-Dijkstra, K., Verhoeven, J. W. M., & van Es, A. F. (In press). On store design and consumer motivation: Spatial control and arousal in the retail context. Environment and Behavior. doi: 10.1177/0013916511407309

Verplanken, B., & Sato, A. (2011). The psychology of impulse buying: An integrative self-regulation approach. Journal of Consumer Policy, 34, 197-210. doi:10.1007/s1063-011-9158-5

Vohs, K. D., Baumeister. R.F., & Tice. M. D. (2008). Self-regulation goals, consumption, and choices. In C. P. Haugtvedt, P. M. Herr, & F. R. Kardes (Eds.), Handbook of consumer psychology (pp. 349-366). New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

External links[edit | edit source]