Do angry shoppers make happier customers?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Oct 23, 2019
Tom Ryan

“Anger is an Energy,” John Lydon, Public Image Ltd (PiL)

A new university study finds that consumers who are angry when they are shopping are often more satisfied with their choices than those who were fearful, sad or feeling neutral. Anger was found to help shoppers become more focused on making goal-oriented choices.

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Miami Business School followed up on past research showing angry people feel more certain and in control of their decisions and explored whether this led to them actually make choices more consistent with their goals.

Six studies were conducted. Half of the participants were encouraged to feel angry by being shown pictures of angry faces and being asked to write about a time they, themselves, felt that way. Other participants were similarly primed to feel fearful or sad, while others were kept neutral.

Anger-primed participants were found to be less likely to delay making a choice, less likely to compromise and more satisfied with their choices than those who were fearful, sad or feeling neutral. Michal Maimaran, clinical associate professor of marketing at Kellogg School of Management, said in a statement, “When given multiple options, consumers often get bogged down in making trade-offs, ultimately compromising their original goals.”

For companies, one suggestion based on the findings was that if employees are distracted by negative developments, such as salary freezes or layoffs, redirecting their anger toward external factors — such as the economy or a decrease in product demand — may help the staff focus on goals.

As a marketing tool, anger can be used to guide certain behaviors. Political campaigns often tap anger to encourage people to vote for their candidate.

Consumer brands would have to use anger “in a subtle, smart way” to avoid any backlash, according to researchers.

“You don’t want consumers becoming angry with your product or company,” said Ms. Maimaran. “You cannot use it as a blanket emotional target. We just show that in certain circumstances, anger can have beneficial results.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does it make sense that consumers make better choices when they’re mad? Can and should anger be used as a marketing tool to influence behaviors or as an employee motivation tool?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"What brand wants people to be angry? Understanding shopper biases are important, but no one is going to open a store catering to the angry shopper."
"As someone who started his career teaching in a Doctoral program in Environmental Psychology I could not disagree more."
"Fascinating study (and it explains a few savvy shoppers I know!). Although we tend to view anger as negative, it’s simply a signal that something needs to change."

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27 Comments on "Do angry shoppers make happier customers?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

This seems flaky to me. While I don’t dispute that angry people may be more focused, I don’t see any practical way to use anger to influence shopper behaviors – frankly, lots of shoppers are already angry because of the poor in-store experiences they have, they don’t need to be angrier. And as for using anger somehow with employees – how could this possibility be good?

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Well this is great except that the students are not actually shopping for anything. Writing about your emotions may well dissipate the emotion – indeed, it may be the dissipation that makes choice easier and more satisfying. Lame.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

I’m angry people wasted time with this study. What brand wants people to be angry? Understanding shopper biases are important, but no one is going to open a store catering to the angry shopper.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust
Well, there you have it — show this study to all the retail CEOs and now they can justify having horrible customer service! I don’t buy it, and I am afraid I have to disagree with the study. Sorry, call me old-fashioned if you like. One’s emotions can indeed affect their shopping. If they’re not in a great mood and worried about something, they may very well buy something quicker with less interest than if they were in a good mood. But they’ll also not remember the shopping experience because they are preoccupied. So if a store associate goes out of their way to assist the customer, the chances are that too will quickly be forgotten. So let’s do a better job of making the customer feel good while shopping and use that time to get them in a better mood, hopefully. If it’s in-store, make sure you’re playing upbeat and well-known music. Make sure you have a friendly and engaging staff. Arrange your merchandise with items easy to find. If online, make your website… Read more »
Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Is there not enough anger in the world to go around? Instead how about studying the consumer decision to purchase in-store? Now that will blow your socks off!

Ken Wyker
Guest

The only emotion retailers should be trying to create is the emotional connection customers feel with the retailer. You accomplish that by improving their experience and making them feel valued, not by triggering negative emotions.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

While this finding is vaguely interesting, I don’t see any practical use for it. As a marketer, setting a goal for creating angry customers feels more like the plot of a bad reality show than a practical strategy for success.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

This study seems to miss another important factor with anger: Those choices which seem so clear in the time of anger are later seen as poor choices once customers see more clearly.

This reminds me of a lot of academic research into marketing and sales: There’s probably some truth to it. But it doesn’t help a retailer because there’s nothing actionable about it.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Fascinating study (and it explains a few savvy shoppers I know!). Although we tend to view anger as negative, it’s simply a signal that something needs to change. That’s why anger is beneficial: it helps us focus on finding solutions. In the context of shopping, anger can focus our mind, so we tune out products we don’t need, and gain clarity and efficiency in our purchase decisions.

That said, anger is powerful. Companies need to be cautious of the risks of using provocative marketing and HR strategies to rile up consumers and employees.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

I, for one, have rarely made, “better choices” when I was angry. Maybe that’s just an Irish thing. Many customers get angry when they enter a store, no reason to prime the pump. I’ll buy that there is less ambiguity when you are mad — hence the phrase blind rage. But I don’t think anger will ever be an effective merchandising tool. Time for these students to get out of the lab and into the real world a bit more.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

Are you kidding me? Using anger as a proxy for making decisive purchases lacking any thoughtfulness or nuance is inconsistent with any sustainable business strategy or ability for in-store (or online) execution. Tread carefully and don’t check your business sense at the door.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

So the choices presented to the study subjects are “angry,” “sad,” “fearful” or “neutral”? And a retailer or marketer is supposed to build a strategy around those false choices? How about “happy,” “curious” or “excited”? Showing participants pictures of angry people seems like a shaky methodology.

This study is also contrary to the theory of the “consumer pyramid,” in which the bottom tier of customers — the “lead” as opposed to the “platinum” — is more trouble than it’s worth. Most retailers have dealt with angry customers who tie up the operation in knots and deflate associates’ morale in the process. Why would you want to build a strategy around these people?

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

How can you fake anger when shopping by showing someone a picture? I am not ready to buy into this other than maybe there is a possibility that angry customers are more focused.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I find this very odd and methodologically questionable. Emotions are very complex and there’s no real way to artificially induce them and replicate a real-world shopping experience. As such, I don’t see this study as being of any practical use.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

I am all for some friction during the shopping experience, as it leads to a more interesting journey. However, you have to question the validity of this study, as an angry customer simply is going to abandon your brand for somewhere else where they are appreciated. There are enough anger- and hate-fueled social media posts out there, and consumers look to a retail store for a much more positive experience.

George Anderson
Staff

When I first started thinking about this, I too thought the time and dollars invested in this research could have been spent better elsewhere. After further reflection, however, I think maybe the word anger is the issue here. Many, rightly so, think that being angry, especially very angry, can cloud a person’s judgement. I do think a better word may have been disenchantment, known or unknown, which can be exploited by retailers and brands for their own benefit. Isn’t that what Best Buy and Walmart are doing when they advertise free next-day delivery without a membership being required? Each is clearly trying to drive a wedge between Amazon and some of its Prime members. Perhaps an Amazon customer being reminded of the money they plunk down on their annual subscription becomes disenchanted (angry) enough to drop their Prime membership and move on.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

George – the research is still lame no matter what we call the emotion. There are times when “lab” research doesn’t translate into the real world – this is one of them.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

A brilliant attempt at putting lipstick on rather porcine research my friend, but I’m not sure disenchantment works any better. Isn’t it better to attract customers because of what you offer rather than what your competitor doesn’t? If I’m really disenchanted, I’m not going to shop at all.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Sorry George, I think that’s a lame justification for even having this on RetailWire. It’s a story that’s beneath you.

Paco Underhill
BrainTrust

As someone who started his career teaching in a Doctoral program in Environmental Psychology I could not disagree more. Sounds like a lab study transferred into real world retail – 40 years of research tells me it doesn’t float.

Joan Treistman
BrainTrust

There is only one way I can see that anger results in better choices. If the anger is directed at the purchase process in the store consumers will be more engaged in the pros and cons of their decision. At the end of the day they will be more cognizant of what they are considering and be satisfied with the end result.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Anger-primed and being angry are not the same. When someone is angry there is a reason and focus for that anger. Seems to me that would make focusing on shopping or a different goal more difficult. Can any other emotions be primed to increase focus? Is it the process of being primed that promotes focus?

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Could be the stupidest thing I have read all year. I question the reasoning, I question the methodology, and I certainly question the preposterous idea that people should be angry when shopping.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

There are much bigger fish to fry than intentionally fueling the anger of shoppers. Trust me, there are more positive approaches to marketing that are just as, if not even more effective. Not interested in this, sorry. Not sorry.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I guess you can “prove” anything if you set the research up the right way. Uhhm. no, I don’t find merit in this argument: to be quite candid it strikes me as so frivolous as to make me … well, angry.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Look, no one of us looks forward to creating or working with angry customers. In my 25 years of department store history, I found that if an angry customer was well taken care of by a well trained, solution-based salesperson, and that customer received a fair solution that made them happier, they most generally turned out to become advocates of the stores. Many times the customer would apologize for their anger. Find the need and heal it … you win.

Howard Radford
Guest

I think this might have more to do with how the 5 stages of grief works. Stage 2 and 3 being anger and bargaining. When in the early stages of grief you are still hopeful that being angry and bargaining will end your grief and when successful customers maybe happier. Stage 4 and 5 being depression and acceptance, they lose hope and become complacent because they know they have to accept the situation.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"What brand wants people to be angry? Understanding shopper biases are important, but no one is going to open a store catering to the angry shopper."
"As someone who started his career teaching in a Doctoral program in Environmental Psychology I could not disagree more."
"Fascinating study (and it explains a few savvy shoppers I know!). Although we tend to view anger as negative, it’s simply a signal that something needs to change."

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