Over the recent Christmas holidays, the convenience store on campus, formerly known as Costcutters, underwent a renovation to become ‘The Rootes Grocery Store’ - supplying ‘fresh’ and ‘local’ produce to the hungry students at Warwick.
A number of persuasion techniques have been employed to encourage students to satisfy their cravings at The Rootes Grocery Store. For example, ‘putting down rootes in the campus community’ and ‘reinvesting in campus is at the root of our values’ invokes the social identity of ‘Warwick University’ for students and staff and places The Rootes Grocery Store in the same in-group as the customers (Tajfel and Turner, 1979). Part of having this Warwick University identity involves behaviours such as supporting local and Warwick related businesses such as shopping at this outlet. Additionally, ‘We’ve rooted high and low’ and ‘only at Warwick’ gives a sense of scarcity which suggests you can only buy these products at The Rootes Grocery Store and thus increases their perceived value (Worchel, Lee & Adewole, 1975). Finally, the use of reciprocity, which shall be the focus of this article, encourages customers to shop at this store through a feeling of indebtedness.
The norm of reciprocity is found across human and chimpanzee societies. This norm predicts that if someone does something for you, you should do something in return. Failure to reciprocate this favour may lead to feelings of guilt and indebtedness.
With the case of The Rootes Grocery Store, the university has made an effort to improve the shop’s aesthetics, prices, product range, layout, and queue waiting times. This effort to improve from Costcutters already gives the potential customer a feeling that they should shop there as the university has made these improvements for them and so they should reciprocate this.
A more powerful feeling of reciprocity is employed by the slogans branded on the exterior of the shop. These claim that ‘reinvesting in the campus is at the root’ of the store’s values and that they stock goods at ‘affordable prices’. This makes the potential customer feel indebted to the grocery store by thinking ‘if the shop is reinvesting their money in my university experience and already cutting prices to make food more affordable for me, surely I should do something to help them out too?’. Additionally, this slogan almost suggests that it is detrimental for students to avoid buying from the shop as the money a customer spends there will help to improve campus.
Similarly, the other slogans shown in the pictures above suggest The Rootes Grocery Store is going to great lengths to supply you with ‘the region’s finest’ ‘fresh, local produce’ ‘when you need it’ and therefore we feel indebted to buy from them if they have gone to so much effort to get these products specially for us.
Research by Regan (1971) shows how reciprocity can increase compliance. In this experiment, a participant and a confederate completed a task of evaluating paintings. This was irrelevant to the study’s aims but the participant did not know this. In reality, the experiment was measuring how many raffle tickets the participant would buy from the confederate after the experiment and whether this number was affected by a reciprocity inducing act of kindness from the confederate.
This act of kindness occurred during a break in the experiment. The confederate left the room and either returned with a coke both for himself and the participant (to invoke reciprocity), with nothing (control) or with nothing but the experimenter gave them a coke each (to control for reasons such as a positive mood induced from an unexpected drink which could affect raffle-buying behaviour).
After the painting evaluation had ended, the confederate asked whether the participant would like to buy some raffle tickets that he was selling. As reported in the table below, it was found that doing the favour of getting a coke increased the number of tickets bought compared to the other control conditions. Additionally, it did not matter whether or not the confederate was liked by the participant. The overall mean number of tickets bought in the favour condition (1.73) was significantly greater than that in the control conditions (1.08 and 0.92).
This experiment shows how doing someone a favour invokes this social norm for reciprocity and increases the chances of them complying with your request.
Regan, D. T. (1971). Effects of a favor and liking on compliance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7, 627-639.
Tajfel, H. and J. C. Turner, 1979, ‘An integrative theory of intergroup conflict’, in W. G. Austin and S. Worchel (eds), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations, Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, pp. 33-47.
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.