Consumer Research Roundup: 7 Studies Explaining Why You Buy, Why You Have No Free Time, and Why a Designer Good Purchase Can Snowball

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Also, there are theories as to why the layout of IKEA stores is so damn confusing, and why the presence of a Walmart in your neighborhood may have caused you to gain weight.

Studies indicate that …

Walmart makes you fat. Two economists traced a decade’s worth of health and population data (between 1996 and 2005), and found that the opening of a Walmart supercenter coincided with a weight gain of 1.5 pounds for the average person living nearby, and the obesity rate rose 2.3%. (One question: How much did the overall obesity rate go up during that same time period?) Read more.
The “last-name effect” makes you more eager to buy stuff. If your surname begins with a letter toward the end of the alphabet (R through Z specifically), you’ve probably become accustomed to standing on the back of the line since grade school. Now, research indicates the result of all this wait-your-turn, second-class citizenship may be that consumers with last names at the end of the alphabet—who perhaps have never gotten over the feeling of losing out and not getting first pick—decide to purchase goods much faster (and correspondingly, with less thought) than their early-in-the-alphabet counterparts. Read more.
(Read: Why ‘For a Limited Time Only’ Makes Shoppers Spend Like Crazy.)
IKEA is designed to be confusing—to spur on impulse purchases. A professor in the UK theorizes that the trademark zig-zagging, maze-like design of an IKEA store is intentionally confusing. Why would the retailer want customers to feel lost and disoriented? Picture the typical IKEA customer who stumbles upon an item that seems somewhat interesting. Scared that he’ll never be able to fight his way back through the maze and find the item later, he picks it up even before he’s sure it’s something he really wants. That’s exactly what IKEA wants to happen. Read more.
(Read: Q&A with the IKEAhacker.)
The more you earn, the more you feel pressed for time. People don’t necessarily feel rushed based strictly on the ratio of hours worked versus free time. Instead, studies show that a rise in income generally coincides with a rise in time pressure, and it’s not just because people who make more have to work more—because sometimes, they don’t. The idea here is that as people earn more, they value their time more, and therefore they’re more likely to get stressed about a lack of time. Whether they actually lack time or not is a different issue. Read more.
High-end handbag logos actually grew more prominent during the recession. The widespread assumption was that flashy, conspicuous consumer behavior was distasteful during the heart of the recession. A more subdued approach was called for, even among the rich. But guess what? Between January 2008 and May 2009, Gucci and Louis Vuitton made the brand logos on their handbags even more pronounced and identifiable, according to marketing professors who study this kind of thing. Read more.
One high-end purchase begets another. What’s the problem with bringing a beautifully-designed item into your home? Well, such a good may set off a feeling researchers called “aesthetic incongruity resolution,” and this feeling will push you to resolve the aesthetic incongruity. In other words, the new item will make the rest of your house look shabby by comparison, and you’ll want to buy all new stuff to match the gorgeous newcomer. And if you feel compelled to purchase a whole new wardrobe or a whole new kitchen just so that the scene won’t seem so incongruous, that’s a problem. Read more.
(Read: Look in Your Closet for Some Perspective on the Great Recession.)
You will spend money to gain social acceptance. In a series of experiments, participants who felt socially ostracized were more likely to buy goods that made them feel like part of a group, such as a school spirit wristband. When paired with a partner, those who had been made to feel socially excluded were also more apt to buy whatever the partner wanted to buy. Read more.