Directing people's natural tendencies in your favour

Key point: People are hardwired to ‘react’ in the opposite of whatever situation and decision they are face with.


Research: Child psychologists have traced back to the so called ‘terrible twos’ (Cialdini, 2001) when children would develop and test their persuasion skills by doing the exact opposite of what you want for them or even what you give them. (Does it ring a bell J ?)


Consider this example: 

Have you ever heard of the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ effect? Runaway couples commit more strongly to each other. (Driscoll et at, 1973.)


Or how about juries awarding damages? When a defendant has no insurance, the jury award the less money than when they had no insurance. No surprise there. But when the judge rules that the evidence is inadmissible (must be ignored) the average payout is the biggest of all. (Broeder, 1959).


Talk about defiance! These are powerful insights that our drug-abuse educators and censors don’t seem to get. People want what they can’t have.


In the retail environment you get ‘reactance’ when employees approach customers with the traditional ‘can I help you?’ We all know the standard response.


How to apply to retail sales:

1.      In the first instance, STOP asking customers if you can ‘help’ them. They know you really mean ‘what can I sell you’ and they will react accordingly. (People hate being sold to - but love to buy.)

2.      Use scarcity to prompt the anticipated reactance response. When there is fear that something will unavailable tomorrow, they are more likely to buy today. But note; customers must perceive competition for that supposedly scarce resource. With no evidence of the pending scarcity, they are unlikely to respond.

I know some whitegoods retailers who only stock one item at a time on the floor and always claim it is the last one – until it is sold, and then they wheel out the next one from the store room.

A more ethical approach would to play the ‘insider’ card; advise the customer that it is not general knowledge that a product will be ‘scarce’ soon. (Create a mini-conspiracy – if you can do so legitimately.)

3.      The price point OR the product can be ‘scarce’, or the availability may be limited. One of the most successful shopping centre promotions I know of is the ‘3-Hour Sale’ initiated way back by one Property Manager. This has been copied, but I believe not as successfully. An 8-hour sale or 3-Day sale has a ring of the ‘business as usual’ to it and did not seem as effective as the 3-hours only idea.

4.      Announce the closing time 30 minutes before you close for the day.

5.      Create a ‘feeding frenzy’ perception at SALE time by effectively using loss leaders to attract the initial crowd (the competition for your scarce resource.)

But here are two very important warnings/ issues that senior management must understand, which do not specifically relate to selling, but leave for you to ponder anyway:

  • When you change something, even though it is for the better, you can expect reactance. (Does ‘New Coke’ ring a bell?)
  • You have a massive opportunity to generate goodwill with the customers who have lost out because of scarcity.

(The above principles are applied in Sell$mart – The Applied Psychology of Shopfloor Sales.)

Part 1 of 3: On success

Stretch your mind

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