Marketers spend a lot of time studying human behavior. They like to understand how and when people are motivated to buy, and what factors stimulate buying. These might include advertising, the retail environment, the décor in the store, the time of year or how they behave based on personal demographics.
According to new research from the University of Kansas (KU) however, they may have another factor to take into consideration: the crowd size in the shopping environment. New research headed by Ahreum Maeng, an assistant professor in the KU School of Business, found that when shoppers are in socially crowded environments, they tend to be more conservative with their buying. In fact, the researchers found that when they shop in crowded settings, consumers are more likely to turn to safety-oriented buying options as opposed to more frivolous purchases.
“Consumers in crowded environments get conservative and safety-focused,” Maeng said. “We believe this is because people in socially crowded settings activate an avoidance system that results in a more prevention-focused mindset. This, in turn, makes socially crowded individuals more likely to choose options that provide prevention-focused benefits.”
The research studied consumers in the context of two different types of groups: “in-groups,” or people who were perceived to be the peers of the shoppers, similar in demographics, or “out-groups,” or people who were distinctly dissimilar from the shoppers. Shoppers were most likely to make safety-related purchases when surrounding by an “out group” crowd.
To arrive at these conclusions, Maeng collectively exposed participants to crowded or uncrowded settings, then had them complete tasks or indicate preferences for messages, products and behaviors, according to a KU News blog post highlighting the study.
The research will be presented in an article titled “Conservative When Crowded: Social Crowding and Consumer Choice,” in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Marketing Research. It was co-authored by Robin J. Tanner at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dilip Soman at the University of Toronto.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi