Exploring the underlying motivations for how consumers respond to retail product displays By Katica Boric, ESADE Decision Lab Manager A growing body of research has examined how different shelving-related cues, such as the position or arrangement of products on a shelf, influence consumers' attention, inferences, and even brand choice. However, recent research by ESADE professor Ana Valenzuela has found that the relationship between consumer responses and retail product displays is more complex and depends not only on cognitive aspects but also consumers' motivational states. In the recent paper The cake looks yummy on the shelf up there: The interactive effect of retail shelf position and consumers' personal sense of power on indulgent choice, published in the Journal of Retailing, Prof. Valenzuela and her colleagues further explore how shelf displays affect consumer behavior. Through a series of experiments, they demonstrate that consumers' directed head movements (up/down) to locate a product on the shelf interact with their innate personal sense of power to influence their likelihood of making an indulgent choice. What is a consumer's sense of power? Ana Valenzuela: Power can be defined as asymmetric control over valued resources in social relations. It stems from both individual dispositions (personality, physical and physiological characteristics) and context (status, social interactions, etc.). Power can be activated cognitively, structurally (through role-playing), and/or physically through our posture. There is some evidence of the relationship between directed physical movements and individuals' experience of power and self-esteem. For instance, open expansive postures give rise to a higher sense of power, while closed contractive ones give rise to a lower one. More specifically, there is evidence that upward vs. downward head movements can also contribute to the experience of power. Studies have shown that upward head turns are related to greater dominance and approach-related positive emotions, such as joy and pride. In contrast, downward head movements are related to feelings of shame, embarrassment, humiliation, and sadness. In the context of the retail experience, when products are positioned higher up on shelves, consumers need to raise their heads. That movement can interact with their personal power-related disposition and, thus, affect their choices. Upward head turns are related to greater dominance and positive emotions, such as joy and pride So, how does a consumer's sense of power interact with the many other factors involved in the retail experience? Such phenomena are defined as "person-environment interactions." While environmental cues, such as shelf position, may influence consumers' sense of power, consumers also bring their own personal-power-related characteristics and dispositions to retail environments. People react differently to power postures depending on their contextual state and personal traits, which have been shown to vary by gender, body size and shape, testosterone levels, and innate sense of power or dominance level, among other things. In other words... In person-environment interactions, we may find a match (or mismatch) between the person's own sense of power and the sense of power induced by the environment (vertical head movement when trying to locate a product on a store shelf). Mismatches between a consumer's personal sense of power and the environmentally-induced movement-related sense of power can result in an uncomfortable experience. More specifically, in the store, an upward (or downward) head movement to locate a product high (or low) on a shelf can induce feelings of power (or a lack thereof), which can lead to a mismatch with the individual's power disposition, resulting in a state of affective discomfort. What are the implications? We hypothesize that affective discomfort generated in this mismatch between the induced vs. the personal sense of power will redirect consumers' preferences toward more indulgent products when they are choosing between a vice, such as a piece of chocolate cake, or a virtue, such as a healthier choice like fruit. We base our hypothesis on evidence linking affect and self-control, where negative moods (such as the discomfort generated by the power mismatch) reduce self-control, making it more difficult for consumers experiencing a power mismatch to resist the indulgent options. How did you test this idea? We conducted a series of experiments in different student populations from South East Asia, the U.S., and Spain. The basic procedure was similar in all the studies: we invited participants to enter a mock store, where they were instructed to imagine that they were standing in front of a supermarket shelf. The difference between the experiments lay in the task to be completed: product evaluation, choice-making between healthy vs. indulgent snacks, and similar choice-making but with a previous inducement of either high or low power. In addition to these tasks, we evaluated the participants' activation of power through their head movements, both implicitly, through a word completion task, and explicitly, using the personal sense of power scale. (For a more detailed explanation, please see our paper.) Participants who had to look up to evaluate the snacks chose the indulgent option more often when their sense of power was low What were the results? As expected, shelf position had a significant impact on respondents' choices. In terms of the extent of indulgent choices, we found that participants who had to look up to evaluate the snacks chose the indulgent option significantly more often when their personal sense of power was low. Interestingly, when we primed participants with a high sense of power ("describe a situation in which you had power over certain people") before they completed the snack-choice task, participants choosing from the higher shelf position were less likely to choose the indulgent option (cake) vs. the healthy one (fruit). Finally, we tested the power mismatch by priming participants with a high personal sense of power before randomly assigning them to a shelf position (high for a power match, low for a power mismatch, or eye level as a baseline). Participants in the power-mismatch group were more likely to choose the indulgent option than those in the power-match group. Furthermore, participants in the power-mismatch group reported more discomfort-related feelings than those in the power-match group. What are the implications of these results? Consumer responses to retail product displays are not as simple as we previously thought. Consumers' retail experiences are characterized by a complex configuration of motivational states. We helped elucidate the role of these motivations in determining in-store product choice. Some of these data came from the ESADE Decision Lab, right? Yes! I conducted part of one of the studies here, so this is the first time that data generated at the Decision Lab have been published!

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Choosing vices vs. virtues on the store shelf

02/2019

Exploring the underlying motivations for how consumers respond to retail product displays



By Katica Boric, ESADE Decision Lab Manager


A growing body of research has examined how different shelving-related cues, such as the position or arrangement of products on a shelf, influence consumers' attention, inferences, and even brand choice. However, recent research by ESADE professor Ana Valenzuela has found that the relationship between consumer responses and retail product displays is more complex and depends not only on cognitive aspects but also consumers' motivational states.


In the recent paper The cake looks yummy on the shelf up there: The interactive effect of retail shelf position and consumers' personal sense of power on indulgent choice, published in the Journal of Retailing, Prof. Valenzuela and her colleagues further explore how shelf displays affect consumer behavior. Through a series of experiments, they demonstrate that consumers' directed head movements (up/down) to locate a product on the shelf interact with their innate personal sense of power to influence their likelihood of making an indulgent choice.


What is a consumer's sense of power?


Ana Valenzuela: Power can be defined as asymmetric control over valued resources in social relations. It stems from both individual dispositions (personality, physical and physiological characteristics) and context (status, social interactions, etc.). Power can be activated cognitively, structurally (through role-playing), and/or physically through our posture.


There is some evidence of the relationship between directed physical movements and individuals' experience of power and self-esteem. For instance, open expansive postures give rise to a higher sense of power, while closed contractive ones give rise to a lower one. More specifically, there is evidence that upward vs. downward head movements can also contribute to the experience of power. Studies have shown that upward head turns are related to greater dominance and approach-related positive emotions, such as joy and pride. In contrast, downward head movements are related to feelings of shame, embarrassment, humiliation, and sadness. In the context of the retail experience, when products are positioned higher up on shelves, consumers need to raise their heads. That movement can interact with their personal power-related disposition and, thus, affect their choices.


Upward head turns are related to greater dominance and positive emotions, such as joy and pride


So, how does a consumer's sense of power interact with the many other factors involved in the retail experience?


Such phenomena are defined as "person-environment interactions." While environmental cues, such as shelf position, may influence consumers' sense of power, consumers also bring their own personal-power-related characteristics and dispositions to retail environments. People react differently to power postures depending on their contextual state and personal traits, which have been shown to vary by gender, body size and shape, testosterone levels, and innate sense of power or dominance level, among other things.


In other words...


In person-environment interactions, we may find a match (or mismatch) between the person's own sense of power and the sense of power induced by the environment (vertical head movement when trying to locate a product on a store shelf). Mismatches between a consumer's personal sense of power and the environmentally-induced movement-related sense of power can result in an uncomfortable experience. More specifically, in the store, an upward (or downward) head movement to locate a product high (or low) on a shelf can induce feelings of power (or a lack thereof), which can lead to a mismatch with the individual's power disposition, resulting in a state of affective discomfort.



What are the implications?


We hypothesize that affective discomfort generated in this mismatch between the induced vs. the personal sense of power will redirect consumers' preferences toward more indulgent products when they are choosing between a vice, such as a piece of chocolate cake, or a virtue, such as a healthier choice like fruit. We base our hypothesis on evidence linking affect and self-control, where negative moods (such as the discomfort generated by the power mismatch) reduce self-control, making it more difficult for consumers experiencing a power mismatch to resist the indulgent options.


How did you test this idea?


We conducted a series of experiments in different student populations from South East Asia, the U.S., and Spain. The basic procedure was similar in all the studies: we invited participants to enter a mock store, where they were instructed to imagine that they were standing in front of a supermarket shelf. The difference between the experiments lay in the task to be completed: product evaluation, choice-making between healthy vs. indulgent snacks, and similar choice-making but with a previous inducement of either high or low power. In addition to these tasks, we evaluated the participants' activation of power through their head movements, both implicitly, through a word completion task, and explicitly, using the personal sense of power scale. (For a more detailed explanation, please see our paper.)


Participants who had to look up to evaluate the snacks chose the indulgent option more often when their sense of power was low


What were the results?


As expected, shelf position had a significant impact on respondents' choices. In terms of the extent of indulgent choices, we found that participants who had to look up to evaluate the snacks chose the indulgent option significantly more often when their personal sense of power was low. Interestingly, when we primed participants with a high sense of power ("describe a situation in which you had power over certain people") before they completed the snack-choice task, participants choosing from the higher shelf position were less likely to choose the indulgent option (cake) vs. the healthy one (fruit).


Finally, we tested the power mismatch by priming participants with a high personal sense of power before randomly assigning them to a shelf position (high for a power match, low for a power mismatch, or eye level as a baseline). Participants in the power-mismatch group were more likely to choose the indulgent option than those in the power-match group. Furthermore, participants in the power-mismatch group reported more discomfort-related feelings than those in the power-match group.


What are the implications of these results?


Consumer responses to retail product displays are not as simple as we previously thought. Consumers' retail experiences are characterized by a complex configuration of motivational states. We helped elucidate the role of these motivations in determining in-store product choice.


Some of these data came from the ESADE Decision Lab, right?


Yes! I conducted part of one of the studies here, so this is the first time that data generated at the Decision Lab have been published!

More Knowledge
The cake looks yummy on the shelf up there: The interactive effect of retail shelf position and consumers' personal sense of power on indulgent choice
Wongkitrungrueng , Apiradee; Valenzuela Martínez, Ana; Sen , Sankar
Journal of Retailing
Vol. 94, nº 3, 09/2018, p. 280 - 295
What goes around, comes around: How beliefs in karma influence the use of word-of-mouth for self-enhancement
Valenzuela Martínez, Ana; Bonezzi , Andrea; Szabo-Douat , Teodora
Journal of the Association of Consumer Research
Vol. 3, nº 4, 10/2018, p. 490 - 502
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