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, January 29, 2015

Get it before it's gone!

This is an example of a persuasive tool widely used in marketing to convince us to buy products by implying that there isn't much stock left, and that we could miss out if we don't buy it right away. We've all run into it at some point in our lives- buy it now or it'll be gone forever! Research describes this as the scarcity effect, with consumers feeling a sense of urgency and panic which leads them to find products more attractive.

Worschel, Lee and Adewole (1975) demonstrated this effect in an experiment in which 146 female psychology students from the University of North Carolina were told that they were participating in one of multiple studies being run at the same time, designed to test variables affecting peoples preference for various products. Participants were led to a table which had on it a can of Pennsylvania Sutch butter mints, a package of of Yorkshire slim cigars, and a glass jar containing either 2 or 10 cookies. They were told that they would be asked to sample the products and rate them on a number of dimensions, with the first product being the cookie.

At this point a second experimenter entered the room and one of a number of scenarios played out. In conditions where the participants had seen a jar with ten cookies in, the second experimenter did one of three things:
  • scarce-change demand condition- he switched the jar of ten cookies for a jar of two cookies, stating that participants in his experiment were eating more cookies than expected and that he needed some more.
  • scarce-change accident condition- he switched the jar of ten cookies for a jar of two cookies, stating that the jars had been switched accidentally and he was switching them back.
  • abundant-no change condition- he came in without a jar of cookies and explained that he was coming in to check on the first experimenters supply of cookies.
In conditions where participants had begun with a jar of two cookies, the scenarios were carried out much the same, but with the jar being swapped for one with ten cookies either because participants in the other study were not eating as many cookies as expected (abundant-change demand) or due to switching the jars accidentally (abundant-change accident). Again, there was also a condition where the jar was not switched, and the second experimenter merely inquired about the supply of cookies (scarce-no change). Participants were also told that either the study was large, with a lot of people left to participate (high participation) or that it was expensive to run the experiment and thus not many people were participating (low participation).

The results of this study as shown above indicate that participants reported liking the cookies  significantly more, and finding the cookies significantly more attractive (on scales of 1 to 9) and expensive (dollars per pound)  in conditions where the cookies were seen as scarce (scarce-no change condition) than if they were seen as abundant (abundant-no change condition). In conditions where the cookies were seen as scarce this effect was stronger if the cookies had at first appeared abundant (scarce-change conditions) and even more so if this change was thought to be because of demand.
Participants who saw the cookie as abundant reported liking the cookies less, and finding them less attractive than those who saw them as scarce, particularly if they had at first appeared to be scarce (abundant-change conditions). They also thought the cookies to be less expensive in abundant-change conditions.There was no significant differences in liking, attraction or cost between the two abundant-change conditions, suggesting that the reason for the sudden abundance of cookies did not affect participants' views on liking, attractiveness or cost.

Evidence from this study supports the idea that people are attracted to products that they see as scarce. In other words- consumers are more likely to like and find a productive attractive if they view it as being low in stock, especially if they think that it's because other people are buying it. This is exactly the effect that Topshop is hoping for by saying "get it before it's gone" and "final clearance"- suggesting that there is not much left, and that if you're not quick someone else will buy the last of the product you wanted.

Worchel, S., Lee, J., & Adewole, A. (1975). Effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value. Journal of personality and social psychology, 32, 906-914.

by Georgia Kelly

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