Adopting an exploratory mindset: how to induce a spending spree

Research shows that shoppers with an exploratory mindset make more unplanned purchases

New research co-authored by the Business School (formerly Cass) shows that stores could increase unplanned purchases by inducing broader attention among customers.

The study reveals that by activating broader visual attention, it is possible to create an exploratory mindset which can encourage customers to seek out products in peripheral areas of shelves, and navigate to different areas of a store. This increases their awareness of the store’s offering and creates new needs and desires, leading to more unplanned, impulsive purchases.

Key findings from the study show:

  • Broader visual attention increases our intent to purchase items.
  • An exploratory mindset, as developed from broad visual attention, increases both the quantity and variety of desired products, as well as our expenditure on unplanned purchases.
  • Visual attention has the strongest effect on more naturally impulsive shoppers.

The study included a series of experiments, using attentional manipulation exercises on both real and hypothetical customers entering supermarkets and convenience stores. Participants were presented with a range of visual on-screen tasks to test memory and spatial awareness, before being fitted with a variety of tracking devices across different experiments – including visual recorders and pedometers – and being released into a store.

Upon completion of shopping trips, customer baskets were compared with those of fellow participants or with their own initial shopping lists.

The research suggests that alongside strategising the position of products on a shelf and within a store to bring them more readily into view of shoppers, stores can also induce broader curiosity among customers by encouraging more expansive navigation of different aisles and sections.

Dr Zachary Estes, Professor of Marketing at the Business School and co-author of the research, said the findings had implications for both supermarkets and customers.

“Our research shows that consumers’ visual attention affects their exploration of a store and its products, leading them to more or fewer purchases,” Dr Estes said.

“A one-minute visual exercise was powerful enough to increase both looking around and walking around for the duration of a shopping trip.

“In-store displays, such as digital screens displaying products or graphics on electronic coupons, could further activate this exploratory mindset and greatly increase sales through unplanned purchases.

“For store managers, this not only reinforces the importance of layout, product exposure and shelf assortment, but also display communications and visuals.

“On the other hand, while some consumers undoubtedly enjoy an exploratory mindset and embrace adventure on a shopping trip, others with strict budgets and specific needs will not be so keen.

“Narrow visual attention can actually minimise exploratory shopping, so customers wishing to prevent unplanned purchases should strictly adhere to shopping lists and spend as little time in a store as possible.”

‘Exploratory Shopping: Attention Affects In-store Exploration and Unplanned Purchasing’ by Dr Estes, Dr Mathias Streicher from the University of Innsbruck and Professor Oliver Büttner from the University of Duisburg-Essen is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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