TORONTO - Imagine getting a promotion and being publicly praised by the boss for your hard work. On the way home, do you buy a fancy watch or comfy couch?
A research study into buying habits of "happy" consumers says you will probably go for the watch because its showiness complements your feeling of pride. Buy the bling, you've earned it.
Now, imagine you've just had a long, delicious meal at a wonderful restaurant - doesn't the comfy couch beckon?
The study, to be published in August in the Journal of Consumer Research but available now at www.journals.uchicago.edu/jcr
, also found that contentment makes consumers seek familiar places to "savour and integrate" their pleasant emotions.
When it comes to clothes, the person with pride buys flashy suits while the contented person picks track suits. One is for public display and approval, the other for private comfort and pleasure, says the study, titled Rose-Coloured Glasses Have Many Shades.
It has long been known that "happy" shoppers buy - but what they buy was less well-known. Heightened competition in the retail sector has spurred numerous studies in consumer psychology as stores try to figure that out.
Business professors at the University of Minnesota and Arizona State University asked participants to select which consumer products they would buy after reading short stories designed to induce pride or contentment. Those who read the pride story picked "display" products such as a watch, laptop, computer or shoes, while the contented group picked home products such as a bed, vacuum cleaner or dishwasher.
The researchers recommend that retailers use lighting, advertising, store displays and service to induce "a specific positive emotion." They also mention that, if you sell home furnishings, being beside a restaurant is a good idea - restaurants being filled "with full and contented potential shoppers."
Brent Barr, marketing professor at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management, says 85 per cent of our purchases are made "at the store counter," so the in-store experience is important.
He says stores can put up pictures of Olympic athletes, for example, or other heroes such as astronauts. This will induce pride in shoppers who "believe they have the same attributes."
Retailers who want to create an atmosphere of contentment - say, they sell track pants or furniture - "need places to sit and music that is not overwhelming."
Barr says stores have to make it easy to shop, "create an atmosphere that is not unlike your living room."
David McDermid, co-ordinator of visual marketing for Seneca College, says stores draw shoppers inside by using flashy window displays - think Holt Renfrew - that showcase their wares. Here's where the emotional shopping experience begins, he says.
His students practise window decorating at the community college. These days, they have Olympic-themed windows and windows dedicated to raising funds for Haiti relief. Both themes inspire pride, McDermid suggests, as they appeal to our nationalism as well as our altruism.
Although stores can play around with lighting and colour for mood - blue and green are said to be calming, he says - the shoppers have got to see the merchandise.
Stores like Anthropologie, which sells clothing as well as home furniture in a setting filled with art and accessories, "have a relaxed feeling, soft lighting and chairs to sit in." This atmosphere helps create feelings of contentment, he says.
Another consumer study to be published in the journal and available online, titled Planning to Make Unplanned Purchases, reports that shoppers actually mentally budget for spontaneous purchases. Whether they spend this amount - or more - depends on the time they spend in the store.
Dale Peers, who teaches the history and psychology of fashion at Seneca College, says stores do their darndest to keep us inside once we are through the door. That's why the aisles in supermarkets are so long, she says, so we can't "zigzag through the store" to get what we want. Also staples, such as milk, will be right at the back of the store, she says, making us travel past many products to get to them.
"As you are walking to the milk, you see the Oreo cookies and say, `That would go well with my milk."'
Another staple, bread, is way across the store in another direction, she adds. The study showed the more aisles people walked down, the more they bought.
There may be 12 cash registers but there will never be 12 cashiers, says Peers, as "they don't want you to get out fast. They want you lined up, looking at the end of the aisles and all those impulse items."