Customer experience insight Supermarkets are part of our everyday lives and we generally take them for granted.
Eye tracking studies show us how people spend their time in the supermarket
To make a sale, the retailer and product manufacturer first need to capture our attention and get us to slow down, stop and look at the products on sale.
Once they’ve captured our attention we become shoppers, rather than just passing traffic. The process of shopping then moves on to the next stage, closing the sale.
In closing the sale the jam experiment demonstrates one of the limitations of the human brain with respect of decision making. That is that the ‘Pre-frontal Cortex’, the area of our brains which is concerned with weighing up odds and making considered decisions, is only capable of handling around seven pieces of information at any one time. Overwhelm the Prefrontal Cortex and you scupper the decision making process meaning that as a shopper you are more likely to give up and default to a natural risk-averse behavior of withdrawing from the task at hand.
In situations where we are confronted with a complex decision we have two strategies available to us. Firstly we can take a pen and paper and assist the Prefrontal Cortex in the process of making a rational decision. In a supermarket environment this is not very likely for two reasons, firstly we don’t have the time to spend on such an exercise and secondly the exercise does not seem worthwhile given its relatively inconsequential outcome. Does it really matter to you that much which jam you buy?
A second course of action is to bypass the Prefrontal Cortex and rely instead more on our “gut instincts”. This process employs different parts of the brain, including the Nucleus Accumbens and the Insula which act as a subconscious barometer of a situation, taking in a wealth of sensory information and processing it to give us a guide to our actions. We are not consciously aware of the rationale behind the balancing act between the Nucleus Accumbens and the Insula, the former of which provides positive cues and the latter tempering these with negative signals, we are only aware of the outcome and the feeling or drive that they provide. How often have you been questioned about a decision you have made and been unable to give a reason behind it other than to reply “it just felt right!”?
The Prefrontal Cortex, Nucleus Accumbens and Insula in the human brain
So relying on our gut instincts and employing the Nucleus Accumbens and Insula would seem like a good tactic. Unfortunately this decision making system, in evolutionary terms, is very old and is something we share with many other species. It is designed to cope with relatively straightforward situations such as choosing a berry that is good to eat or fighting or fleeing from attack. In the complex world that we have built around us this subconscious and emotional decision making tool can often prove flawed and susceptible to being hoodwinked. Consequently, whether they understand the science behind it or not retailers and manufacturers alike have developed an arsenal of tricks which capitalize on its limitations.
Compiled in Editorial Board of Retailiran