Why Consumers Spend More Money When They're Relaxed

Shopping happy
Shopping happy

It's no mystery that most people like to relax. We know it and so do retailers, who try to create calming store environments to keep customers happy. But new research from the Columbia Business School concludes that relaxation does more than just make for a satisfied shopper. It also produces a consumer who is willing to pay more for a product.

Michel Tuan Pham, the Kravis Professor of Business at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and an author of the study, explains how the team conducted its research, which included six types of experiments, roughly two dozen products and 670 participants.

"We showed [one test population] video clips from a relaxation video tape made by a medical team of researchers. Things like breath in, breath out, positive scenery, close your eyes, monitor your sensations, very soft music, that sort of thing. In the control [group] was a documentary about the effects of robots on modern life."

After a few minutes of watching the videos, the participants -- both men and women -- were brought to another room and shown catalog photos of various products, including candles, massage chairs, picture frames, bungee-jumping lessons, membership at a casino, potato chips, a tire-pressure gauge and a vacuum cleaner.

The Value of Relaxation

The pictures were shown one at a time and, as each picture flashed into view, participants picked from a range of price brackets. "We asked them, 'how much is this worth?'" Pham explains. "They had five price brackets they could choose from, and they circled one. On average, the people who were in a relaxed condition would circle the bracket that was higher than the people on the controlled condition."

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The researchers repeated the experiment, this time with music instead of videos. One group listened to "new age music, very slow, with a lot of electronic sound, the kind of music you might hear in a spa." The control population heard Kenny G tracks, which Pham describes as "pleasant, not stressful, but not as relaxing." Each population continued to listen to its respective music at a very low volume as they were shown the product images and asked to select the appropriate price bracket. Again, those in the more relaxed, spa-like environment opted for higher prices than the others.

Another time, the researchers showed participants the same picture of a camera and asked them to bid on it. "We told them the camera's features and said, 'Imagine you want it and it's available on eBay. How much would you be willing to bid? What's your maximum?' We found [that the relaxed population was] willing to bid 12% more than the people in the control position," Pham says.

Put Off Buying Decisions

According to the report, "Relaxed consumers think products are worth more than less-relaxed consumers because relaxed individuals tend to think about the value of products at a more abstract level. For example, when bidding for the camera, relaxed participants focused more on what the camera would enable them to do (e.g., collect memories) and how desirable and advantageous it was to own it, whereas the less-relaxed participants focused more on the concrete features of the camera itself (e.g., the number of megapixels it had, the shutter speed)."

In light of these findings, Pham's advice for consumers is simple. "Enjoy the relaxation that the environment provides, but defer the making of the purchasing decision until you are outside of this environment." In other words, don't buy that massage chair while you're sitting in it, feeling the machine work out the knots in your shoulders. Instead, lay back and enjoy your loosening muscles. Then go home to your messy kitchen and dirty laundry and make sure that it's really a good idea to bring a giant, expensive chair into your living room.

Loren Berlin is a reporter with the AOL Huffington Post Media Group. She can be reached at loren.berlin@teamaol.com, on Twitter @LorenBerlin, and on Facebook.