Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=143931
Story Retrieval Date: 5/20/2013 9:24:35 AM CST
Are you more likely to buy a cupcake or carrot sticks?
You may actually end up getting both—one for now and the other for later. It all may depend on whether you see a display of fitness magazines or a row of sumptuous sweets at the grocery counter, a new study suggests.
Marketing professor Juliano Laran of the University of Miami found that people’s choices for current and future consumption are unknowingly swayed by a store’s atmosphere.
“Consumers do a lot of things unconsciously,” he said. “We think that when we go to the supermarket, we know what we are doing and we have a plan. But in fact we don’t.”
To understand this phenomenon, Laran conducted four experiments with 1,542 participants. His findings, which are already available online, will appear in spring in the Journal of Consumer Research, a University of Chicago Press publication.
In a key experiment, 400 subjects randomly joined either an indulgence group or a self-control group. Those in the indulgence group unscrambled sentences with words such as delicious, taste and savor to put them in an indulgent mindset. Those in the self-control group, on the other hand, unscrambled sentences with words such as weight, healthy and fit to put them in a disciplined mindset. To determine the effect of this manipulation, they then chose from a buffet with healthy and fatty foods for their immediate and future consumption.
“The people who unscrambled sentences associated with indulgence made more indulgent choices and chose fatty foods for the present,” Laran said, “but they also chose healthy foods for the future.”
He explained that consumers unwittingly make disparate decisions for the present and for the future to achieve a sense of balance. “We tend to do in the future the opposite of what we would do in the present to balance between behaviors—to be indulgent and to exercise self-control,” he said.
Laran noted that both consumers and retailers can gain practical insights from this study. “Retailers have to be careful about the information they place in their stores because that will affect their consumers,” he said. “As for consumers, they need to pay attention to the information they’re exposed to so they can control their behavior.”
Academics praised Laran’s latest work for examining this balancing behavior.
“[Laran] proposes a thoughtful and elegant theory that illuminates when and why one might be more or less likely to consume a vice in the future as well as in the present,” stated Kelly Goldsmith, a consumer behavior expert at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Uzma Khan, a marketing professor at Stanford University, agreed. “For a decade now, people in our field have talked about how consumers often balance different goals,” she said. “What he talks about in this study is why that goes on. And that 'why' part is interesting.”