New Research Highlights How Looking Up and Down Can Affect Consumers

looking up n down
June 20, 2015

For the first time exciting new research has been published that has measured the effects of looking up and down on consumers and product selection.  A second study investigated the effects of ceiling heights on the brain. Whilst much research has already been carried out regarding how consumers shop at eye level, this is the first time a real studies have looked into the differences between lower and upper level selection choices. This research also links directly with the study on how ceiling heights can affect people’s feelings and perceptions.

Looking Up and Down

The first of the new reports in the Journal of Consumer Research has suggested that people perceive things differently if they are looking up at them or looking down at them. Now it seems the science is really backing up this with the evidence that products placed on levels below the eye level are more likely to be purchased than those above eye level.

As most people look down at watches, computers, phones and books using higher levels of concentration and focus, it seems they do exactly the same when shopping. The opposite is achieved by the action of looking upwards people seem to make a broader and more generalised view. Therefore they do not study the products above eye level as closely so this results in them being less likely to be selected.

This new research carried out by the Ghent University in Belgium has proven that people’s brains process things differently when they are looking down as they do when they are looking up. A series of experiments were conducted where the test subjects held their heads tilted in different positions. The findings were that looking down movements resulted in higher levels of feasibility and selection while the looking up movements resulted in higher levels of desirability of products rather than feasibility.  This would result in a consumer being less likely to purchase an item at a higher level as they would not be as willing to give the product the time of consideration.

These results could mean retailers may reconsider the placements of established brands to lower levels where the consumer has to look down a bit. They also found that when similar items and brands where placed on lower levels together that the market leader resulted in even more sales even when the competitor brands were all on the lower level.

The results also suggested that in store promotional displays and other advertising may need to be adjusted according to these new findings. The authors of this study have said that more research into the implications of this on the retail sector will be needed and will be carried out in the near future.

The Effect of Ceiling Heights on the Brain

In the second study also published this month by the Journal of Consumer Research, the effect of ceiling heights on human brains was tested. The study conducted by Doctor Vartanian, followed up on previous research carried out by the University of Minnesota in 2007. The new study confirmed that rooms with higher ceilings tend to excite the brain, creating a sense of freedom and higher levels of creativity than lower ceiling buildings. The added factor of the new research included the participants having MRI Scans during the study. The findings highlighted two areas of the brain associated with visual exploration where activated when they were shown images of high ceilinged rooms. The higher ceiling rooms stimulated the senses much more than the tests that were performed on lower ceiling rooms.

The lower ceiling findings resulted in feelings of restriction and more confined thinking, focusing more on detailed specifics and a sense of wanting to move from the enclosed space more quickly. With this in mind retail outlets should consider planning for higher ceilings and more airy design.

What Does All This Means for Retailers

Our conclusion on this research means that in the short term retailers are likely to use these findings to carry out their own experiments in stores with product placements. Possibility we will see value brands and budget ranges moving from lower positions to upper positions. It is likely that retailers will analyse current sales performance against store positioning to see how true this matches against this new evidence.

In the medium to long term retailers may plan to remove or adjust upper level and top shelf sales spaces to provide that airy/higher ceiling feeling of more space and less confinement. Shorter consumers would certainly also welcome this move. But most retailers do not have the space to remove it all together and would have to decrease product lines, so it would be more likely part of a long term plan. Most retailers would want to see more evidence before taking such drastic action but would be more likely to ‘play’ a bit with positioning of stock.

In terms of store design it seems the only way is up and the evidence is strong that higher ceilings do in fact provide a feeling of space, freedom and encourage shoppers to stay in stores for longer, thus spending more. Some retailers may assess performance of higher ceiling properties against those with lower ceilings to see how this is affecting sales. It seems things will likely to change in the future of retail with the results of these interesting studies and in the long term benefits can be reaped for the stores that adjust accordingly. We will certainly be considering these results in our planning and all retailers will be watching closely for further results and studies on how all of this will impact on sales.

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