Action-oriented goals produce higher probability of purchases

September 15, 2019

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Action-oriented goals produce higher probability of purchases

According to a new paper if you want to sell something quickly, it helps to try a busy consumer.

People are more likely to enact behaviors—whether it's redeeming a coupon or following through on receiving a flu shot—immediately after moving than after sitting, according to the research.

Movement—whether it's walking or running—is associated with action-oriented concepts and goals, whereas stasis—standing or sitting, for example—is associated with inaction-oriented concepts and goals.

Across one field experiment and three lab experiments, the researchers found that prior movement was associated with a higher probability of enacting behaviors while under a tight deadline.

What the researchers say: Consider two people—one walking, the other sitting—who each face the decision of whether to go to a pharmacy for a flu shot.

"What we found is that walking involves activating action representations that in turn promote other actions outside of the context of walking," said the lead author. "Likewise, sitting involves activating inaction representations that may promote inaction outside of the context of sitting. These general goals of action and inaction are broad enough to guide decisions about the flu shot: The person who's in motion will get the flu shot, and the person who's inactive won't."

The reason for this is that when you're in a hurry and you're under a close deadline, "both being in a hurry and having the deadline push in the same direction of completing the transaction as quickly as possible," she said.

"You're thinking, 'I can make this deadline,' and you can make it when you have thoughts about being active and energetic. Likewise, sitting involves rest and relaxation, which promotes more general inactivity and transfers to any behavior relevant in the moment."

The concepts and goals, whether they're action or inaction-focused, can transfer to any task at hand, the researchers noted.

"If the task is a purchase, people are more willing to complete the purchase," they said. "But the goals elicited by movement affect decisions that need to be made immediately. So, someone walking around a park is more likely to complete a deadline-driven purchase than someone sitting on a park bench contemplating life. But walking or sitting would not affect decisions about future purchases."

The research has implications for marketing and advertising, said the lead author. "If there's a deadline to buy a product or service and there's someone who's more action-oriented versus someone who's more static, you want to give the action people a tight deadline, because they'll respond really quickly, whereas the more sedentary people will just say, 'Eh, whatever.'”

These findings also might extend to the types of products you're trying to sell, according to the researchers.

“If you're trying to sell a product with a very short shelf life, like food or coffee, you can use movement to your advantage,” they said. “You give people a really tight window to purchase the product, and the more action-oriented people are going to snap it up. But if you have a product that has a longer shelf life, like a car or a computer, whether your audience moves or not may not matter.”

So, what? This study confirms earlier studies which showed that movement led to more impulse buys and less attention to cost. Hence airport retail outlets are usually close to where people must walk or in malls or other areas where the opportunities for sitting and relaxing are few.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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