What’s Better Than an Excited Customer?


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.

Relaxation-Proofing Yourself

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.

  1. Wes Man says

    This is interesting research!

    They say the customers give more value to the presented items, however, how is this related to their buying pattern?

    For example, impulse buying works the other way around. Even the scarcity mindset works the other way around (and I have to say, pretty effectively). Perhaps those are not a contradiction, rather than a specific, narrow niche related to, again, very specific behavior.

    In an airport, as general rule here, especially for the big players, such as Heinemann Duty Free Shopping, they want the passengers early checked-in, so the latter are “at ease”, thus more prone to spending time and last cash of the local currency, in the shops. If the passengers hurry to catch the flight, they skip the shop altogether.

    The idea, to me it seems, way too wide and easy to mistake in. As there are specific varieties of “stress”, some of which causes increase in conversion, other reduce it. Of course, this is related to the target suspects and the type of products.

    Definitely a field, worth exploring.

  2. Roger Dooley says

    I agree, Wes, in some cases stress may speed up purchases and could also increase monetary valuations. If a hurricane is headed your way, you would probably value sheets of plywood more than you would have the week before.


  3. David Brains says

    Hmm, tracking down hurricances and setting up quick plywood sheet shops in towns about to get hit? Sounds like a profitable endeavor to me!

    Thanks for a great article once again Roger!

  4. Adedayo Kunle says

    Nice Article!!

    How do web developers tap into the relaxation effect? I believe websites should also provide a relaxed environment for online buyers.

    In terms of color combination, advert displays, etc. the customer should feel relaxed. A combination of several factors on a website could unknowingly stimulate a relaxed environment for an online buyer or send them away.

    The environment presented to the user should, wherever possible, be a familiar one that the customer can relate with and can feel relaxed in.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Adedayo, I think a website would have to be quite immersive to genuinely create relaxation, though perhaps some combination of video and sound could achieve that with visitors who stuck around. The tough part is to get the visitors to not hit their back buttons if the site wasn’t highly stimulating. One person’s relaxing is another person’s boring.


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