Are Your Shoppers Primed to Buy?


Written by: Matt Taylor, Director of Insights. Originally printed in CNHR magazine, Sept/Oct 2021 issue. 

You’re in the middle of a heated team debate. The group is discussing an important topic, and no one seems to agree on anything. However, the meeting didn’t start this way.

In fact, everything was completely fine just a few minutes ago. Everyone was sharing, listening and working together on a solution. But then things took a sudden turn and collaboration turned to contempt.

What happened – was it something you said?

Or, just maybe, it was the briefcase someone carried into the room.

Although I may have overstated the research, objects associated with business (like a briefcase) have the power to prime more selfish behaviour, just because it’s in the room.1

What is a Prime?

Our brains are continually scanning the environment for cues on what to do next. Everything—sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures—trigger associations (meanings) that ultimately influence our thoughts, feelings and actions. Consider these examples:

  • A floral-scented room made Nike shoes seem more valuable (worth $10 more than in an unscented room).2
  • Playing music your shoppers like, and that fits with your store image, can lengthen time in store (which can then impact total spend).3
  • People who used words like ‘fit’, ‘lean’ and ‘active’ in a sentence were then more likely to take stairs over an elevator.4
  • Viewing pictures of nature can help reduce stress and increase relaxation.5
  • After seeing pictures of dogs, the Puma brand of shoes becomes more appealing.6 (Because cats and dogs are so closely linked, seeing one makes it easier for your brain to process the other.)

The Lesson: Everything Matters

Everything you do tells a secret story that primes your customer’s thoughts, feelings and actions. The poster in your window activates a health goal and makes it easier to find the brands you want to sell. The smells, music, store layout and pictures of nature create feelings of safety, satisfaction and relaxation so shoppers can feel better as they shop longer. The aspirational words on the wall prime healthier choices; and the list goes on.

The power of priming is nearly endless. How can you shape your in-store environment to trigger the right thoughts, feelings and actions?

  1. Kay et al, Material priming, 83-96.
  2. Bone and Jantrania, Olfaction as a cue for product quality, 289–296.
  3. Vida et al. The effects of background music, 469-482
  4. Wryobeck and Chen, Priming Techniques, 105-108
  5. Jo et al, Viewing Nature, 4739
  6. Berger and Fitzsimons, Dogs on the Street, 1-14

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