Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Personal Shoppers

(Skip to 32m43s or click here)

I'm still unsure as to what I'll be doing in a future career, so I decided to write about the use of Applied Behaviour Analysis in personal shopping. The above clip shows the process: an unwitting customer books an appointment, hoping to be in and out quickly with not much thought about what they're buying, after all, someone else is picking all the clothes out for you, and the customer ends up spending far more than they came in intending to. Just how does a personal shopper manage to make you part with so much of your cash?

Thorndike's 'Law of Effect' (1927) states that behaviour is a function of past consequences of that behaviour, reinforcement can provide consequences for behaviour that leads to an increase or decrease in the probability of behaviour occurring. As a personal shopper, you want the customer to spend as much money as possible in your store, and to do this, you need to make them feel good in the clothes, this is where reinforcement comes in.

Personal shoppers will provide the customer with an item of clothing and then immediately compliment them, and then compliment them again, and then get the assistant to compliment them - definitely reinforcing the idea that this shirt looks great on you, and the only way to keep getting the great feeling is to wear it again, and of course to do that you must buy it. So, complimenting the customer serves to reinforce the wearing of the garment which leads to the customer purchasing it in order to wear it again. Positive reinforcement has been shown, in slightly different situations, to increase customer's purchasing behaviour (Carey, Clicque, Leighton, & Milton, 1976).

Another, slightly more subtle, mode of reinforcement is the negative reinforcement of price. As the presenter says, when she goes shopping she always looks at price, and potentially will be put off buying something because of how much it costs, but in the world of the personal shopper, the focus is on the clothing and how great the clothing looks on you, rather than price. And so the negative feelings produced by a high price are removed when the personal shopper hands you the clothing and immediately whisks it away again once you've changed into the next item.

The combination of these two techniques leads to a customer who is so happy with what they've picked out that they've forgotten to think about price. Alas, the personal shopper must eventually tell the customer the amount they want them to fork out for the experience, and the customer is inevitably shocked that they weren't in fact shopping in Poundland. But more likely than not, they'll still spend more than they meant to, and so it's round one to the personal shopper.

Of course, the positive feelings they get during the experience, all the compliments, free drinks, and courteous service serve to reinforce the behaviour of going to the personal shopper, leading to potentially increased sales in the future. 


Carey, J. R., Clicque, S. H., Leighton, B. A., & Milton, F. (1976). A test of positive reinforcement of customers. Journal of Marketing, 40, 98-100.

Thorndike, E. L. (1927). The law of effect. The American Journal of Psychology, 39, 212-222.

Xenia Millar (Blog 4)

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