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Using consumer psychology in your store to influence buying

Your merchandising tactics and product selection all play into your shoppers' purchasing decisions. The author of Marketing Nutrition explains how to use consumer psychology to your benefit.

Melaina Juntti

February 23, 2013

3 Min Read
Using consumer psychology in your store to influence buying

Whether shoppers realize it, in-store displays, product packaging, signage and more all play into their purchasing decisions. Top CPG manufacturers know this and invest serious cash in creating goods that will catch consumers’ eyes. As a retailer, you also hold sway, both with your merchandising tactics and with your product selection.

Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Marketing Nutrition (University of Illinois Press, 2007) and director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, has made a career out of studying how consumer psychology influences buying. 

NFM: How can retailers use psychology to promote a specific product?

Brian Wansink: One way is to increase its accessibility. There’s a reason why end-aisle displays increase sales by 30 percent even if you don’t change a product’s price—the items are more visible. You’ll also increase accessibility by placing an item in the first two aisles of your store. Shoppers tend to walk slowly through the first two aisles, but after that they start moving more quickly or skip aisles altogether. Secondly, pair the item with a product that complements it. For instance, if you want to sell a specific tortilla chip, put it next to salsa. Grocery stores in Denmark frequently use displays to promote two items—a primary and a secondary, such as salmon and a food that complements the fish. We don’t see this enough in the U.S., but there are some great opportunities there.

NFM: How can retailers best use signage to lure shoppers to check out new products?

BW: You want to try to increase the sensory appeal of an item shoppers are not familiar with. This isn’t done by simply saying, “Here’s a new product. It’s 79 cents.” Rather, you want to describe its attributes and potential uses. Have a sign that reads something like goes great with fish or tastes like X.

NFM: What about items that aren’t new, groundbreaking or flashy, but just plain good?

BW: Not every item has to look incredibly indulgent, but you want to put enough indulgent products next to non-indulgent items to provide contrast and create a halo for the less-indulgent things. If a tofu is packaged in a heinously ugly way, well, then make sure the complementary products look nicer. This can increase sales of both the primary and secondary items. 

NFM: You say marketing products as healthy is the wrong approach. Why?

BW: Because it’s a health food store, shoppers assume every product has a healthy stamp of approval. So it won’t work to say, “Hey, this item is more healthy.” Rather, push the message that a particular food will be acceptable even to your not-so-healthy husband or is more indulgent than any other item like it. One way to do this effectively—which might alienate certain customers—is to compare a product’s flavor to something tasty that a shopper doesn’t eat because she’s a health nut. Maybe say something like, “This is your blue-cheese-like approach to a great salad.” That will give it more wow factor.

About the Author(s)

Melaina Juntti

Melaina Juntti is a longtime freelance journalist, copy editor and marketing professional. With nearly two decades of experience in the natural products industry, she is a frequent contributor to Nutrition Business Journal, Natural Foods Merchandiser and Melaina is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and is passionate about hiking, camping, fishing and live music. 

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