Signs and Sales DO Work


What do you get when you wire up a shopper with an EEG cap and eye-tracking gear? An “inside” view of how that shopper reacts to visual stimuli while shopping. Interestingly, all of those “Buy One, Get One Free!” and “SALE!” signs in your grocery store actually DO get your brain to light up. Here’s Today Show video and commentary from Buyology author Martin Lindstrom exposing some of the ways stores attract your brain’s attention and ultimately get you to put more stuff in your shopping cart:

One of the more interesting parts of the segment is when the shopper buys four cans of shaving cream that are on sale. It’s unlikely that she really needed all four, but the sale offer lit up her brain more than any of the other promotions and she dropped the product in her cart. That’s not to say this was an unwise decision on her part – perhaps, based on her past experience, the deal was amazing enough to stock up.

Overall, though, this segment provides evidence, albeit more anecdotal than scientific, that shoppers really do react to in-store signs and promotions and change their buying behavior.

  1. Ron Wright says

    Roger and readers –
    Before anyone comments on your top frame shot, yes we know that the NBC graphics team reversed the brain image we provided and super-imposed it on the participant’s image backwards.

    Sands Research worked with Martin on the Today Show segment demonstrating our mobile EEG and eye-tracking capabilities. Lots of fun (and trying to keep shoppers out of the aisle in a New York food store at mid-day is a challenge in itself!).

    The part I found interesting was Kelly (our participant) was emotionally connected to the lotion recommended by her peditrician. Whether it was on sale or not, she was buying.

    Of course, again, it should be clearly stated, this was a demonstration and not one of our normal full studies.

    Thanks for all your support of this growing field of research.

    Ron Wright
    Sands Research

  2. Roger Dooley says

    Thanks for pointing out the image goofiness, Ron, I guess the artists decided it fit better in her head that way!

    The lotion part was indeed interesting, and in one sense validates the emotional response to the signage.

    Thanks for stopping by, Ron.


  3. Dr Wright says

    This is great for all businesses. We need to all use signs more often.

    Dr. Letitia Wright
    The Wright Place TV Show

  4. Richard says

    this is great i never knew the true power of signs but how would you translate this more successfully though print?

  5. Roger Dooley says

    Richard, print advertisers use a similar strategy using, for example, a brightly colored “SALE!” or “Buy 1, Get 1 FREE!” burst superimposed on a product photo. I’m sure it works.


  6. Richard says

    Thanks Roger

    What I was trying to elucidate was packaging, with it’s severe limits on individual expression is one of the few designs disciplines that values continuity over bold new design statements. Is most packaging borrowing heavily from broad trends, or perceived tradition to make it sell, and we have only just realized it through science.

  7. Roger Dooley says

    Richard, I’ve seen this same concept employed in packaging (though less frequently). Sometimes, a brightly colored label like “30% More, FREE!” will be preprinted on the package, or big sale stickers will be applied to the existing package.

    The principle is still the same, IMO – do something that catches the consumer eye and suggests exceptional value (or some other product characteristic that might induce a purchase).


  8. Charles Neville says

    All this proves is that this one woman is a ‘value shopper’ and when given visual cues that there is a good deal on a product, takes it.

  9. Richard Barrington-Hill says

    Personally I’m of the opinion that it works in the example given because the supermarket is seen as a third party and not linked to the products themselves, thus the “deal” appears to be real.

  10. Roger Dooley says

    Interesting idea, Richard. Third parties can certainly be more credible.

    Charles, I don’t doubt that you are right. The interesting thing was that they could actual view the brain’s response to the deals being offered, and that the shopper purchased more goods.

    This certainly isn’t news to savvy store operators, who use prominent signage to promote the stuff they want to sell and point out any deals available.


  11. Ian Addie says

    Obviously this is an exercise which is staged for publicity and would not mirror the set-up of a properly orchestrated market research exercise which should cover a sample of individuals and be designed to encourage a more natural behaviour among subjects, rather than having TV cameras roving about and no doubt a number of shots and takes. Nevertheless it poses some interesting questions.
    I don’t think any of us would deny that in-store signage works in terms of driving product selection and sales. There’s plenty of sales anylsis to support the principle and if it didn’t work then the long standing and increasingly adopted practice of in-store marketing would never have flourished.
    However, what’s interesting about this is that it has the potential to evaluate the efficacy of specific in-store promotional mechanics before they are rolled out and the sales data is captured and analysed. In recent times we have seen a marked increase in the spend in in-store marketing. There’s more of it and it is becoming more sophisticated and also costly to implement both for the retailer and manufacturer. As such approaches which allow the efficacy of these investments to be tested are of increasing commercial relevance.

  12. Tin says

    I am thinking how to integrate this to online shops….:) any follow up article on this?:) Thanks.

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