Think the way to sell more is to have a frenetic pitchman whip customers into a buying frenzy? Actually, relaxed customers are bigger spenders. A new study that will appear in the Journal of Marketing Research found that relaxed subjects would pay about 15% more for a variety of goods and services than less-relaxed subjects.
In the first part of the study, the researchers showed the subjects videos, with some seeing one known to produce a relaxed state and the others one that was not relaxing (but wasn’t too exciting, either). They were then asked to place values on a variety of products (car tires, a paper shredder, a tennis racket, etc.). Other experiments used an eBay-style auction which enabled the subjects to place bids for items. The researchers, led by Dr. Michel Tuan Pham of Columbia University, also varied the products to include diverse items like bungee jumping, potato chips, vodka, and a cruise.
Overall, the relaxed subjects assigned higher monetary values to the items than the control group. The researchers determined that this effect was an inflation of the value by the relaxed subjects rather than a deflation by the less-relaxed subjects.
The Relaxation Effect
It’s clear that if you are working on a sale, a relaxed customer might be less prone to break off the deal solely because of price. While the experiments implied that people might overvalue items when relaxed, I think in a real-world situation relaxation wouldn’t be a tool to overcharge but rather a way to deal with the price anxiety that accompanies many purchases: “Am I paying too much? Could I find a better deal at a competitor? Will the price be lower next week?” Even fairly-valued products spark these questions, and the relaxation effect could help soften their influence as deal-blockers.
In most real-world situations, of course, you won’t be able to get your customers to sit through a relaxation video. But creating a comfortable, relaxing environment is a step in the right direction. Pleasant and calming decor, soft music, perhaps some beverages and snacks, will all reduce stress and increase relaxation. In evolutionary psychology terms, you are reducing the “threat level,” which the paper identifies as a key element of relaxation.
High end car dealerships often make a relaxing environment part of their low-key (but highly effective) sales process. Infiniti even included “contemplation zones” in their early showrooms, specifically for their calming effect in what is all too often a high-pressure location. (One minor error I’ve seen in customer seating areas intended to be relaxing: a television, often tuned to a news channel featuring the latest financial meltdown or global turmoil, not to mention loud, argumentative hosts or panelists. Stressful news has the potential to undo the relaxation benefits of architecture, comfy chairs, and other amenities.)
Relaxed customers tend to focus on the abstract benefits of a product (fun family times with the new recreational vehicle) vs. hard specifications (gas mileage, length of warranty, etc.) Good salespeople have sold this way for years, of course. If you are selling health club memberships, you sell a more attractive appearance and success in love and life, not the number of Stairmasters.
If you are getting ready to make a major purchase and find yourself being “relaxed” by the seller, the researchers found it was fairly easy to reduce any value distortion that might occur due to the relaxation effect. One experiment showed that subjects who thought about the product’s value in concrete terms didn’t inflate the value even when relaxed. So, be sure to focus on the objective aspects of the purchase, what you know about competitive pricing, etc. and you can enjoy the calming ambiance without fear of overpaying.