Discover The Real Why Behind the Buy

Discover The Real Why Behind the Buy

Did you know that the likelihood of a shopper buying your products is significantly influenced by how easy or hard it is to think about them? And that shoppers are much more likely to buy things that are easy to think about rather than items that are harder to consider.

This feeling of easy or hard is known as processing fluency. Processing Fluency is a cognitive bias or mistake in reasoning: It can be defined as a measure of how easy it is to think about something.

Processing fluency literally changes how we think about things and guides our decision making. What’s more, most of us have little or no awareness of the hold it has over us. Typically it is at work in any situation where we consider information (any form of mental input). The full extent of its potential to mislead can be illustrated by the fact that we often misattribute the sensation of ease or difficulty of mentally processing something to actually liking or disliking the thing itself.

To learn more about how processing fluency works, let’s start by looking at some research. Robert Zajonc found that the more people were exposed to certain words, patterns, or images of faces, the more they liked them. His research identified what we now know as the Mere Exposure Effect: From a retail perspective, the more times shoppers are exposed to certain products the more quickly they can mentally process them and subsequently, but mistakenly, the more they like them. Think secondary sitings and gondola ends here.

This insight reveals that mere familiarity has a strong influence over what types of products shoppers find attractive. Therefore, this familiarity is a strong motivator of shopping behaviour. To summarise, shoppers like things that are familiar because they don’t require as much mental effort as things that are new and different do.

Because familiarity with an item in-store simplifies mental processing, it feels fluent. And conversely, shoppers often equate any feeling of fluency with familiarity. In other words, if it is easy to mentally process, I mistakenly think I like/prefer it more.

When researchers presented participants with the names of hypothetical food additives and asked them to judge how harmful they might be. People perceived additives with names that were hard to pronounce as being more harmful than those with names that were easier to pronounce. They were associating ease or difficulty of pronunciation with an assumption about familiarity. When the pronunciation seemed easy, people assumed it was because they’d previously encountered the additive and had already done the mental work of processing information about it. Since it seemed familiar, they assumed it was safe.

Ease of pronunciation is just one of many aspects of processing fluency. In a separate study, researchers asked participants to read instructions on how to do an exercise routine. They presented the instructions in two different fonts—a font that was easy to read and a font that was more difficult to read.

When they asked participants to estimate how long it would take to actually perform the exercise routine, people anticipated that it would take almost twice as long to do the exercise when reading instructions in the font that was difficult to read, compared to the font that was easier to read. With the font that was easy to read, they also assumed that the exercise routine would flow more naturally and were, therefore, more willing to incorporate it into their daily activities.

In this study, participants were misattributing the difficulty of reading the instructions to the task itself. This again demonstrates the potential power (positive and negative) of processing fluency and how it can influence shopper’s purchase decisions. If you want people to adopt a new product, it’s important to consider how easily they will be able to mentally process information about it.

The legibility of fonts can even affect shopper’s perception of truth. In one study, researchers asked people to view unfamiliar statements in either light coloured or darker coloured print. Because the foreground/background contrast was better with the darker print, resulting in better readability, people tended to rate those statements as more truthful.

The darker print with better contrast resulted in better processing fluency. Because those statements seemed easy to decipher, people assumed they were familiar. Is it any wonder that supermarket special offers consisting of black text on a red background, aren’t as effective as the much more legible white on red messages?

Researchers have also found that, when a stimulus feels fluent, shoppers are more likely to make judgments and decisions based on their first, emotional (system 1) reaction. However, when a stimulus feels disfluent, they are more likely to adopt a more rational (system 2) evaluation. Sometimes it’s good to get shoppers to slow down and pay attention; for example, when we want to ‘snap them out of autopilot’. One way to do this is to deliberately make the information harder to process mentally by making its font harder to read or by using wording that is harder to process.

It is beyond doubt that processing fluency plays an influential role in product evaluation and purchase decision making. And that numerous aspects of design can impact fluency, or the feeling of mental effort: From the style and size of fonts to foreground/background contrast.

In general, anything that affects the ease or difficulty of mental processing influences shopper purchase decisions. And don’t think that processing fluency is only related to what shoppers see. It is truly multi-sensory: Researchers have found that a simple (more easily processed) scent led to simpler cognitive processing and increased actual spending, whereas a more complex scent had no such effect.

In conclusion, just once in a while, spare a thought for those consumers and shoppers less familiar with the products you offer. In other words, resist the temptation to over explain otherwise, you might just turn them away. – We make your marketing communications cut through the clutter by combining human psychology with consumer behaviour. Find out more about us and then get in touch for a chat about your communications opportunity.

Path to Purchase – Which showroom is the more effective selling space?

BMW and Mercedes Benz showrooms performed poorly!

These ultimate Path to Purchase audits reveal precisely how real customers perceive real products in real ‘stores’. We compare individual brand performances against our central database of 800+ proven and validated psychological and behavioural insights compiled during the last 30 years of analysing shopper psychology and shopping behaviour. This powerful resource is further enhanced with key learnings from leading psychologists from around the globe.

This next post compares car showrooms: Specifically BMW vs. Mercedes Benz. So, how ‘retail’ are they?

BMW vs. Mercedes Benz

2 Leading car brand showrooms were compared and analysed across 12 different psychological metrics. From their ability to gain meaningful attention, through showroom design and vehicle layout, to emotional engagement and the communication of price. In summary, how well does each of these 2 leading car brands align with the psychological drivers and motivations of real people shopping for real cars?

The overall headline finding was that BMW and Mercedes Benz showrooms performed poorly! When it comes to the showrooms being psychologically effective selling spaces, both brands scored just 34%. In other words, for every psychological aspect they got right, they got a further 2 wrong.

So let’s look at the findings in a little more detail.


Firstly we analysed attention: How effectively do BMW and Mercedes Benz emotionally and instinctively grab the attention of potential customers as they enter the showroom. BMW returned a score of 41%, while Mercedes Benz scored slightly better (47%). The typical human brain processes emotional stimuli 3,000 times faster than more rational inputs, yet the modern car showroom is an area bereft of anything emotional. Rows of cars, frankly uninspiring images of cars or parts of cars and a décor that is more in keeping with an operating theatre. Based on how much most car brands spend on emotional advertising, the showrooms certainly should be more emotionally engaging, they just aren’t!

From cars to cards, toffee to coffee, How would your brand perform in this respect?


Secondly, we turned our focus to how well each of the research brands initially appeals to shoppers as they enter the showrooms. BMW scored just 30% and Mercedes Benz, slightly better at 37%. Apart from the cars themselves, a number of visual aspects of each showroom are somewhat similar to each other: White walls, light coloured floors and exposed aluminium present a clean and clinical backdrop on which to present cars. Psychology suggests that there is an opportunity for either brand to drive appeal (pun intended) by tapping into the mirror neuronal activity of the potential car buying visitors. These cold showrooms really lack any form of meaningful humanisation: It’s all about the car, but what about the customer?

 Does your brand appeal as much as it could on in-store/in showroom?


Next, engagement: How psychologically engaging is each brand showroom as it sits there displaying cars? With this metric, BMW (27%) was slightly less engaging that Mercedes Benz (36%). Once again, not all that impressive from a psychological perspective. Mercedes scored better because at least that marque taps into the brand heritage by effectively branding (in direct eye line) the reception desk (first point of contact a visitor has).

Incidentally, if you look at these psychological scores, you’ll see that the showrooms aren’t all that good at attracting psychological attention, they are less effective at being mentally appealing and even less effective when it comes to engaging with potential customers. But what they are is very, very similar to each other: Almost as if each is copying the other.

Ever wondered how engaging potential customers perceive your brand to be?


Moving our attention to the showroom layout, the scores were BMW (32%) and Mercedes Benz (37%). With such a naturally aesthetic range of products (cars), both brands could perform better in terms of how they present their wares to potential customers (location in showroom, graphic support, up-selling and cross-selling price logic, etc.). With such a small selection of models to choose between, there has to be an opportunity to create a more psychologically oriented layout. Such a tactic can significantly reduce cognitive load so that the purchase decision become easier.

” When a store or showroom is easier to shop, shoppers misattribute that ease with liking the products on display more”

Purchase conversion

Next is the browse to purchase conversion ability of each showroom: How well do these premises actively help in closing sales for the staff doing the selling? From a conversion from engagement to purchase, these brands were once again below what we would have expected: BMW 26% and Mercedes Benz 32%.

Psychology has identified that shoppers buying luxury products can sometimes perceive an inner feeling of guilt. Actively managing this psychological barrier can ease up selling and make closing the sales considerably easier; “Yes, you really are worth it”

Do you know the conversion rate for your brand?


In showroom imagery: BMW scored 20% and Mercedes Benz 23%. From a psychological perspective, these showrooms provide weak emotional ‘humanisation’ making them visually functional and emotionally neither appealing nor engaging. In such retail outlets as these, is it really a selling aid to support real cars with images of… …more cars (or bits of cars)? And your journey: Don’t stop believin’.


Concepts that are learned by viewing pictures are more easily and frequently recalled than are concepts that are learned by viewing their written word. Is your brand imagery in-store as good as it could be?




What about the showroom and product (car) colours: BMW 70%, Mercedes Benz 50%. The first positive scores and they show a significant difference between these 2 car brands. So much white as a backdrop and so many white cars on display, at least BMW introduces some colour if only in terms of the colours of some of the cars.

Shopper attention is naturally drawn toward stimuli that are visually salient (Definition: most noticeable or important). And whenever a concept enters our mind quickly and easily, it produces a pleasant sensation in our brain. We then falsely attribute that pleasantness with our evaluation of the stimulus. So what about white cars on a white background???

What’s the best colour for your brand in-store?




In showroom product information: How well do the words presented by each of these car brands communicate with shoppers? Answer, not very! BMW 19%, Mercedes Benz 21%.

It’s well-known is psychological circles that words can be made much more impactful if they resemble what they are talking about. Angled letters to simulate speed, thin letters to signify lightweight, etc. And by increasing the surface size of text, especially emotional words (if there were any), these showrooms could definitiely enhance the impact of their (potential) customer facing copy.

What do the words your use in-store say about your brand?


We then went on to analyse the psychological effectiveness of the fonts used on showroom customer facing communications. Both brands returned identical scores (31%). Although the fonts used are clear and easily legible, they psychologically send out messages of function without any feelings.

Psychologically, there is an opportunity for either or both of these brands to introduce more creative fonts within the showrooms. When people exert greater effort processing information, they encode the memory in greater detail. So not only would obscure fonts enhance the perceived uniqueness of each brand, but they’d also create a stronger memory of that brand.

Which brand in your category has the most effective font?



Specifically looking at how the prices were communicated BMW scored 24% and Mercedes Benz 31%. The techniques these showrooms used to display car prices is frankly, poor! There are many opportunities to make the car prices psychologically more appealing and less visually ‘painful’. From the location of the price on or by the product, to how the price is written and right down to the physical colour and shape the prices message itself. For example, Human judgements of numerical differences are disproportionately anchored to the left-most digit. ‘Reduced from £31,000 to £29,000’ is psychologically perceived as being a better deal than a price cut from ‘£29,000 to £26,000’. All because of left-digit bias.

What does the way the price is communcated say about your brand?


What about the non-price related numbers used by each of the brands? Car showrooms have plenty of numbers in them. The psychological scores were BMW 32%, Mercedes Benz 30%. Neither BMW nor Mercedes Benz appear to be strategic with locations of customer facing numbers at all. Take a look at the following (and this is the order it is presented in too. BMW 7-Series RRP: From £60,360, Dimensions: 5,098-5,248 mm L x 1,902 mm W x 1,478-1,485 mm H, Kerb weight: 1,800 to 2,255 kg, Fuel economy: 22-61 mpg combined (15-52 city, 29-67 highway), Max speed: 152.2 to 155.3 mph.

The biggest number in the spec details I’ve just shown you? The price, by some margin (not good for selling value for money). The smallest number was fuel economy related. Believe it or not, the psychological take out is a very expensive car with poor fuel economy, oh and by the way, it’s a certain size (no context) and weighs a bit too.



In summary, both could be made more appealing just by changing the way numbers are displayed on or next to the vehicles.

Can you count on the effectiveness of any numbers relating to your brand?




What about the psychological effectiveness of the promotional messaging? BMW scored 46% and Mercedes Benz 40%. In summary, the promotional mechanics are relatively effective, but the presentation could be improved. What’s more it would be easy to improve them and give away less margin at the same time. The car retailers need to consider how offers are communicated and not just what the deal is. For example, certain numeric messages are processed by the rational parts of the brain, while others miss reason out all together and go straight to the heart of the reward centres. Or to put it another way, if you can bypass reason, you can sell the dream more easily.

So there you have it: Car showrooms analysed as psychological selling spaces. Some might say this is all ‘psycho-babble’, while others might be offended. But, what if, just what if, introducing more psychology into car showrooms is actually a massive opportunity?

These retail effectiveness audits, are designed to help brands like yours increase sales, grow categories and enrich business relationships. The recommendations have been disseminated from a database of 800+ psychological insights specifically relating to shoppers and shopping.

Access to this database of priceless human (shopper) understanding is now available from our sister OCmany SBXLto you in the form of ultimate Path to Purchase audits. If you would like to know how your brand compares with your competitors, let’s talk. Also, if there’s a specific in-store comparison you’d like us to consider making, drop us a line.

Finally, before blaming Brexit and a host of other possible reasons for under performance of your brand, consider these following questions: Are you losing sales and share because your brand communications aren’t as psychologically effective as those of the competition? Is the performance of your brand suffering because it isn’t aligned with the minds of customers? Would you like to simply and effectively increase sales, grow your brand and enrich trading relationships?