Comfort Shopping: Sad Customers Buy More

futurelab default header

by: Roger Dooley

Most merchants would include “happy customers” as a key part of their
mission. Oddly, new research shows that sad customers are likely to
spend more money when shopping. Merely watching a sad video clip caused
subjects to pay nearly four times as much for a water bottle than
subjects who watched an emotionally neutral clip.

The new study released
Friday by researchers from four universities goes further, trying to
answer whether temporary sadness alone can trigger spendthrift

The study found a willingness to spend freely by
sad people occurs mainly when their sadness triggers greater
“self-focus.” That response was measured by counting how frequently
study participants used references to “I,” “me,” “my” and “myself” in
writing an essay about how a sad situation such as the one portrayed in
the video would affect them personally…

On average, the group
watching the sad video offered to pay nearly four times as much for a
sporty-looking, insulated water bottle than the group watching the
nature video, according to the study by researchers from Harvard,
Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and Pittsburgh universities. [From AP – Sadness May Encourage More Extravagance]

As Neuromarketing
readers have come to expect, the subjects were oblivious to their
altered behavior and insisted that the video clip they had seen had no
effect on their purchase. The study’s authors are Jennifer Lerner from
Harvard, Carnegie Mellon’s Cynthia Cryder, Stanford’s James Gross, and
the University of Pittsburgh’s Ronald Dahl.

I suppose this is
good news for funeral directors, though they certainly knew this
already. For marketers who deal with customers other than the recently
bereaved, the implications are less clear. One certainly doesn’t want
to sadden one’s customers. Perhaps the best bet is to adopt a marketing
approach that has broad appeal but might resonate particularly well
with those individuals having a bad day. The AP story quotes Edward
Charlesworth, a Houston-based clinical psychologist, as singling out
the old McDonald’s slogan, “You deserve a break today!”

purchase process involves the brain balancing reward seeking, pain
avoidance, and no doubt other factors – it seems that when one is sad,
the reward value of a desirable purchase goes up.

Comfort Shopping

all heard about comfort food, usually carb-laden dishes that hark back
to childhood, and attributed the appeal of these dishes to a
combination of physiological effects and emotional associations. While
that may be true, this research suggests comfort food is a part of a
broader phenomenon in which individuals reward themselves when feeling
down. “Comfort shopping” is apparently part of that same group of

Original Post: