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Why it Pays to Help Holiday Shoppers Relax
 

Retailers use festive music and decorations to put customers in the giving spirit. Perhaps they should also consider back massages and pedicures.

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Retailers typically use festive music and decorations to put customers in the giving spirit during the holiday shopping season. But according to a recent study, merchants might want to consider throwing in some back massages and pedicures.

The Findings

In the study, "Relaxation Increases Monetary Valuations," researchers found that when people are more relaxed, they are willing to spend more money. Luxury retailers have long used calming cues such as mood lighting and pleasant aromas to coax customers into opening their wallets. But relaxed customers will spend more for all kinds of merchandise, including utilitarian items and products that require physical activity, like a bungee-jumping session, says Michel Tuan Pham, a business professor at Columbia University. Pham co-authored the study with Iris W. Hung and Gerald J. Gorn, two business professors from Singapore and Hong Kong, respectively. Relaxation, says Pham, isn't just pleasant. It promotes abstract thinking, which causes customers to focus on the general benefits of products rather than on specific features or details.

Loose Spending
Relaxed study participants thought products were worth more money

The Methodology

In the first of six experiments, participants were randomly shown one of two videos. One was a relaxing 10-minute video that included nature scenes and a soothing voice coaching the viewer through breathing exercises. The other was a 10-minute video about robots. After watching one of the videos, participants were shown photos of 10 products, such as a picture frame and an LCD monitor, and were asked how much each was worth. The people who watched the relaxing video thought the products were worth more, by an average increase of about 11 percent. In another simulation, after watching the videos, participants were asked to bid on a digital camera on eBay. Those who watched the robot video had an average maximum bid of $295. The participants who watched the relaxing video bid $32 higher, on average.

The Takeaway

Unfortunately, with the holiday season upon us and the nation's economy still in the dumps, it's tough to help shoppers reach a Zen-like state. "Consumers are quite tired and a bit worn out with the idea of the holiday season," says Greg Hodge, global retail strategist at Iconoculture, a Minneapolis-based firm that researches consumer trends. "Getting them to relax is going to be quite hard to achieve right now."

Retailers may not be able to station massage chairs on every aisle, but there are some practical things entrepreneurs can do to make stores a bit more relaxing, says Hodge, such as playing soothing music and reducing lines. "Customers are put off by the sheer volume of people, and a lot of them find shopping very, very stressful," Hodge says. "People find checking out the most stressful part." He recommends a system like that used in Apple stores, in which roaming salespeople are equipped with hand-held card swipers, to reduce lines.

Even online retailers can make the shopping experience more relaxing, says Hodge, by making websites easily navigable. It also helps to simplify the checkout and shipping process, the way Amazon does with its one-click ordering feature. "You want to take away that stress," he says, "and the final burden of paying for the gift at the end."

 

IMAGE: Dan Page
From the November 2011 issue of Inc. magazine

J.J. MCCORVEY is a reporter at Inc. magazine, where he covers a wide range of topics, including technology and business research. He has covered metro news for The Detroit News, and his work has been featured in Men's Fitness.
@jmccorvey




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