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Festive retailers risk repelling stressed holiday shoppers at Christmas


New research shows sensory overload leads to store avoidance

| November 30, 2011

In the final days before Christmas many a shopper will be feeling the pressure of the holiday season – with gifts to buy and preparations to make – leading to undue stress. New research by Nancy Puccinelli, Associate Fellow at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford reveals that this stress may lead to consumers avoiding stores reveling in the festive season.

An expert in the psychology of marketing, Puccinelli has studied how consumer mood affects behavior. She finds that consumers in bad moods will avoid salespeople who are overly positive and upbeat, and retail outlets holding celebrations. The extreme contrast between consumers’ negative feelings and the atmosphere in the store, be it festive decorations, overly ebullient salespeople or relentless Christmas music actually makes them feel worse and less willing to purchase. Consumers compelled to remain in the store may ultimately feel more positive but have been found to undervalue the retailer’s offerings.

The impact on retailers, who invest heavily in the run up to the holiday season to lure consumers into stores, can be twofold. They may see less traffic through the store resulting in fewer sales. In the longer term, consumers - perhaps having found the atmosphere aversive - do not return.

“There are a number of things that retailers can do to overcome this phenomenon and improve the consumers’ shopping experience to produce more satisfied customers who spend more, and to foster greater long-term loyalty” said Nancy Puccinelli:

Tone down the décor. Instead of bright reds and golds, consider more muted blues, silver, and white which are shown to be more relaxing for the customer

Consider the imagery. Is the store filled with laughing Santas? Consider a greater focus on the contentment of getting the family together.

Rethink the music. Puccinelli’s research shows the profound effect of music on how people feel. Consider classical melodies (e.g., Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker) that celebrate the holiday without hitting consumers over the head with the joy they should be experiencing.

Be sympathetic with your service. Encourage staff to be sensitive to the holiday stress of customers.

Be strategic with your slogans. Instead of “Tis the Season to be Merry” in your windows, consider a more contemporary twist “Engage in the Season” as research shows this might give consumers the motivation they need to improve their mood and increase consumption.

Following up on the original research, Nancy has found that consumers may respond more favorably to moderately positive retail environments. Alternatively, retailers can help consumers improve their mood. Her research finds that subtle suggestions for consumers to take action lead consumers to be more proactive about their mood – they will choose products that will cheer them up.

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