So what happens when shoppers buy under pressure?
Consumers are more likely to do what the retailer wants. And they want you to spend more money, says retail psychologist Tim Denison.
“If you are under time pressure, you are basically looking for cues and shortcuts in the process,” he says. “You’ll be more likely to look at products that the retailer has positioned in places for you to pick out easily.”
So when a shopper is looking for a can of beans at the supermarket, they are more likely to pick out the more recognisable brand, the can placed at eye level, or the one with a price promotion, he says.
Sales can also put undue pressure on buyers for two reasons, says Consumer.ology author Philip Graves. Sales usually last for a limited time and products on sale tend to have limited stock.
Most shoppers attach greater significance to potential loss – missing out on a bargain – than they do to a reward like having bought something that was needed. The purchaser thinks if they don’t buy the item at that instant they might miss out entirely, Graves explains.
So when an item is discounted, consumers focus on the discount as opposed to the actual price of the good, even if the ticket price is still high, says Dr Denison.
“You’re thinking ‘this is a bargain’ rather than ‘this costs £100’.”
Most shoppers have felt the effects of this stress on more than one occasion.
But sometimes the pressure consumers feel can actually be a good thing, says Graves.
An abundance of choices can confuse shoppers because there is too much to consider. “We tell ourselves we like choices, but when we have more choices we get confused,” he says.
Barry Schwartz is the author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less and more recently, Practical Wisdom.
If you’re interested in this, you’ll probably like: Inside the Secret World of Trader Joe’s.