3 Psychological Influences on Consumer Behavior

Certain factors contribute to a person’s interest in purchasing a product or service. For instance, a recommendation from a family member or celebrity can be powerful. Someone’s age, culture, attitude or perception of need can also impact how receptive the person is to marketing methods.

These and other psychological influences on consumer behavior are studied in a field known as consumer psychology. The field recognizes that there are subconscious drivers that motivate consumers’ decision-making. Michael Fishman, an expert in consumer behavior and consumer psychology, told Forbes, “Consumer psychology is all about getting into that unconscious territory where people are being directed to make purchases for reasons they are not clear about.”

An understanding of consumer psychology can make business and marketing “way more predictable and more compassionate in a way,” Fishman said. The following topics represent just a few important influences on consumer behavior.

Psychological Influences on Consumer Behavior

1.     Scarcity

Brands and retailers use scarcity to capitalize on the fear of shortage. This strategy can involve a company like Amazon displaying only two or three products remaining in stock for a listing. Other companies may use artificial scarcity. This is when a new product marketing campaign limits sales (at first) to a certain quantity.

Psychologists generally consider scarcity to be a powerful motivator for consumers. This is certainly true for situations involving more than one product. According to a study in the Journal of Marketing Research, when multiple consumer items are presented as scarce, the perception of scarcity leads purchasers to choose relatively more of their favorite item. Scarcity polarizes people’s preferences and causes them to become less exploratory. Instead, consumers focus on their leading option.

The study’s authors theorized that scarcity produces mild psychological arousal in consumers, which was evident in self-reports. Researchers used words related to rarity to introduce the scarcity effect. Another strategy that increased psychological arousal in consumers was the use of bright colors.

2.     Color Psychology

Color psychology examines how hues influence human behavior. In its guide to understanding color psychology, Quick Sprout attributes 11 percent of its new leads and 20 percent of a wellness blog’s revenue to a product that displays a bright red bar at the top of webpages.

Using bold colors to stand out on a website is one way to implement color psychology and impact consumers. Color psychology is a broad field. It includes the meaning of certain colors, how colors affect emotions and applications such as contrasting dark and bright colors.

According to Quick Sprout, more than 92 percent of people say that visual appeal is the top factor affecting purchase decisions, compared to other sensory experiences like taste or smell.

3.     Price Anchoring

Anchoring is a cognitive bias that refers to consumers’ tendency to place more importance on the first piece of information they receive when making decisions. In pricing situations, marketers place premium products and services near standard options to help consumers choose the best value.

In a presentation, author and behavioral economics expert Dan Ariely used an old ad from The Economist to showcase the power of price anchoring. In this example, 100 MIT students were provided with the following pricing options for a subscription.

  • Web only subscription for $59 a year — 16 percent chose this subscription.
  • Print only subscription for $125 a year — 0 percent chose this subscription.
  • Print and web subscription for $125 a year — 84 percent chose this subscription.

Here is what happened when The Economist asked a different group of MIT students which subscription they would choose, after eliminating the option that provided the anchor effect.

  • Web only subscription for $59 a year — 68 percent chose this subscription.
  • Print only subscription for $125 a year — 32 percent chose this subscription.

Ariely writes that it’s a misconception that “you rationally analyze all factors before making a choice or determining value.” Rather, “your first perception lingers in your mind, affecting later perceptions and decisions.”

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