A new university study finds that consumers in crowded environments tend to choose safety oriented products, are more risk averse (less likely to gamble), and are more persuaded by messages that focus on the negative possibilities of inaction.
"We found that being crowded puts people in an avoidance state, where they focus more on evading problems than the potential upside," said co-author Robin Tanner, an assistant professor at the Wisconsin School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Madison, in a statement. "I don't think businesses fully realize how crowding can impact sales."
For example, marketing toothpaste offering cavity protection might work better with a safety-oriented message in a crowded selling floor rather than a toothpaste promising a whiter smile.
The study also found that the impact of crowd size is influenced by whether the consumer considers the crowd an "in-group" or "out-group." Specifically, out-group crowds — people the consumer doesn't identify as peers — lead to increased conservatism and a greater focus on safety.
The study, from professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison University, the University of Kansas and University of Toronto, was recently published in the Journal of Marketing Research.
The was research comprised of six experiments that exposed participants to crowded or uncrowded settings, then had them complete tasks or indicate preferences for messages, products and behaviors. One experiment featured a questionnaire measuring the preference for prevention-themed concepts (like "avoiding enemies") versus promotion-themed concepts (like "making friends"). Another asked participants to do a word-search task for safety-related words (like "insurance" or "helmet") and neutral words (like "coffee"). Yet another gave participants a $10 gift card and asked them to make a series of investment decisions based on different scenarios.
The authors suggested that retailers could use digital signs to quickly change messaging and the type of products featured as a store gets less or more crowded. But they also felt the research extends beyond marketing.
"We believe this research also has potential implications for persuasion and decision making in environments as diverse as trading floors, courtrooms and political rallies," Ms. Tanner said.
Should or can in-store retail tactics be adjusted to traffic conditions?