10 Ways To Use Consumer Psychology To Increase Sales In Retail

All humans share similar psychological and emotional triggers — gravitating toward pleasure versus pain, amusement versus boredom, and satisfaction versus discontent.

The average consumer naturally weighs costs and benefits when shopping. Retailers can utilize a range of psychological techniques to influence shoppers’ behavior and ultimately increase conversions and total sales during the holiday season and throughout the year.

1. Apply the Principle of Reciprocity

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At its most basic, the principle of reciprocity is: give to get. Retailers successfully have employed this psychological technique for ages. It works — from the grocery store that offers samples, which leads to the customer adding the tasted item to his or her cart, to gift-with-purchase promos. Customers who receive free samples, trial-size items or gift-with-purchase are significantly more likely to return and make other purchases — as well as share positive feedback through social media.

Brands like Lancôme do a great job of advertising the added value customers receive when purchasing their products (as seen below).

Photo credit: Lancôme

2. Appeal to the Senses

Consumers choosing to visit a physical store often want a complete shopping experience. Appeal to their senses to maximize the experience and increase sales. What we hear and smell have the power to influence mood greatly. Shoppers expect to hear holiday music during the holiday season and this type of background audio boosts mood and embodies the spirit of the season. Aromas such as the distinctive scent of pine or hot cocoa also add to the mood. Visuals such as a crackling fire, faux snow, and other seasonal decor serve an important role when creating an atmosphere primed for holiday shoppers.

3. Celebrate Novelty

Science tells us that when dopamine is released in the human brain, it stimulates a pleasure response. It’s been thought that this “feel-good” natural chemical was released when you received a reward — like tasting a favorite food. However, it’s now known that the anticipation of a reward is what actually stimulates the good feeling. Waiting in line for hard-to-get concert tickets or being in the first showing of a new movie is all about the anticipation before the event.

Retailers can utilize this by celebrating novelty. Hype around the release of a product creates anticipation — even if the product is a next-gen with only minimal updates. Plan a big reveal for a new product or an unveiling of the hottest styles of the season with creative displays designed to increase customer anticipation. Box the display in holiday gift wrap with signage tags with the reveal date. Make the reveal an in-store event and celebration.

4. Tell a Story

People connect better with items when there’s a relatable story. It may be something whimsical, heartwarming or inspiring. Tell a story with your visual merchandising displays to engage the shopper. Lighting, props and the right display fixtures are key elements.

5. Establish Urgency

Nobody likes to feel like they’re missing out, whether it’s on a great deal or to take ownership of the newest “it” item. Retailers can encourage early holiday shopping by creating a sense of urgency. Limited release products, doorbusters, and special one-time-only in-store events are ways to get shoppers to purchase now, helping to boost sales.

6. Offer Something Extra

Year-round, but in particular during the holiday shopping season, consumers appreciate the little extras. Looking beyond a gift-with-purchase, these extras are more about elevating the shopping experience. Offer a bottle of water or a cup of coffee while a shopper is browsing. Vince’s Market advertises free fruit for kids which is a healthy snack while you shop (as seen below).

Photo credit: Vince’s Market

Consider providing adequate seating near change rooms for companions, and consider creating a child’s area staffed with an employee to supervise coloring and craft activities while parents shop unhindered.

7. Instill a Sense of Community

Let your customers know your store supports and values the local community. During the holidays sponsor a toy drive, Giving Tree or card shower for military individuals serving overseas. Foster that community feeling year-round through customer appreciation events and loyalty programs.

8. Promote Exclusivity

Like urgency, people want in on the “thing” when it’s exclusive. Humans like to feel special, and exclusivity is key. Through visual merchandising, it’s easy to showcase an item and promote its exclusivity. Set the display prominently to engage foot traffic and include signage that clearly highlights the importance of the product. It may be an item only offered for the holidays, something solely available in your store or even a customer appreciation event held after hours.

9. Share Social Proof

Worldwide, 3 billion people are active on social media. When consumers want to know about a brand or new product, they’re more likely to turn to social media first before visiting the brand’s official website. People post regularly about what they like and don’t like through social media, offering social proof of your store’s service and product likeability. Track those positive posts and share them in-store via digital displays or signage. Shoppers will take notice of what other consumers think, especially if it’s been posted to social media.

10. Create Calm and Comfort

It’s easy to sit wrapped in a cozy blanket on the couch sipping a glass of wine or mug of cocoa while shopping online. Show your customers they can have a calm and comfortable in-store experience as well. A clean, uncluttered store is one of the most important factors in creating a calming environment. Chaos isn’t calming. Draw on other psychological tactics, such as appealing to the senses, for a feel-good environment that makes shoppers happy they chose to visit the store.

Using consumer psychology can help increase retail sales and establish customer loyalty. It’s important during the holiday season when stores compete not only against one another but also against the lure of online shopping. Try these psychology techniques this season and see how your sales trend.


About the author:
Robin Brower is Senior Vice President of Business Development at OPTO, where she leads the design and business development teams. Brower built the design department from scratch in 1983 and has been the organization’s lead designer for the past 35 years.

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