This post details research by Dr. Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy of Neurons Inc. He is a speaker at the Neuromarketing World Forum in Barcelona March 25-27.
Little is still understood about the actual in-store purchase process, and research is often limited by traditional research methods that rely on conscious self-reports. While traditional market research methods only allow recording of actual purchase and customers' self-reports about the reasons behind their choices, neuromarketing methods allow better assessment and understanding of key unconscious processes underlying consumer choice. Here, we report the result of two consumer neuroscience studies that explore whether in-store decisions can be traced to immediate neural responses that precede conscious deliberation.
In Study 1 we used mobile eye-tracking and electroencephalography (EEG) to identify key neural responses that predict in-store purchase. Customers were asked to complete five different purchase tasks, and were free to use or save money they had previously been given. We used Area of Interest analysis to extract attentional and neural responses when customers looked at a particular product. All data were corrected for movement and eye blink artefacts. To assess customer motivation, we analyzed the prefrontal asymmetry index (PAI) in the gamma frequency.
In Study 2 we employed the same methodology to test the effects of prior ad exposure on in-store physiological, neural and behavioral responses. Customers were shown a series of commercials prior to entering the store, and while one group saw a particular commercial for paint, the control group saw all other commercials except this one. We assessed both the level of visual attention and neural motivation (PAI) while customers performed tasks inside the store. Crucially, we compared the effects of prior ads on visual attention and PAI when customers were instructed to purchase paint.
In Study 1, we found that consumer decisions could be traced to their immediate neural responses when looking at products, as noted by the prefrontal asymmetry "motivation" response (PAI), that occurred seconds prior to conscious experience of making a choice. In Study 2, prior ad exposure was found to affect instore cognitive and emotional responses, ultimately leading to an increased likelihood for purchasing the branded product. Unbeknownst to participants, the ad effect was driven by increased visual exploration of the product shelves for the brand that was presented during ad exposure, and a stronger neural motivation score (PAI).
Customer in-store choices are rapid and unconscious. Our two studies demonstrate that long before customers are consciously aware of it, unconscious responses are driving their in-store responses. Besides showing this main effect, we demonstrate that prior exposure to ad materials can affect unconscious attentional and motivational responses that ultimately lead to increased chance of purchase.
Our results highlight the importance of the assessment and understanding of rapid, unconscious responses in the in-store situation. Our method provides a protocol for assessing these responses, allowing future studies to improve our understanding of the actual drivers of in-store consumer choice. Such studies could explore the effect of entry signs, in-store signage or long-term effects of ad exposure on in-store behavior.