Why consumers wait in line for latest gadgets and greatest sales

Last Updated: Sun, Nov 18, 2012 11:00 hrs

Psychology can explain why consumers wait in line for the latest sales, gadgets and experiences, a Kansas State University professor has said.

Different people wait in long lines for different reasons, said Laura Brannon, a professor of psychology who also researches consumer psychology. A line of people can represent a wide variety of personalities and motivations for waiting-or camping-in line.

"People who are very motivated to have scarce items tend to have a high need to be unique. On the other hand, people who are motivated by social proof tend to want to fit in with everyone else. You might see a bunch of people waiting in line, but different things might be going through all their minds. It's a little more complicated than it might first appear," Brannon said.

Brannon said that at least two social influence principles explain consumers' willingness to wait in line for products or experiences: the scarcity principle and the social proof principle.

The scarcity principle is similar to playing hard to get in the dating arena. The principle states that people naturally want things that are rare or difficult to obtain, Brannon said.

In reality, many things-such as diamonds-are naturally rare and are actually valuable. Marketers understand this effect on other products, too.

"Marketers create a demand by imposing an artificial scarcity on an opportunity. Research shows that people tend to react against limits on opportunities and reassert their freedom to have and do what they want," Brannon said.

Even though people could wait an extra week for a new smartphone or a few extra days to see a movie, the scarcity principle motivates people to buy the smartphone or see the movie because they are difficult to obtain.

The social proof principle is the concept that if other people are doing something, we use that as evidence that it must be good, Brannon said.

Advertisers emphasize when their products are the best-selling or leading brand. It is usually the case that the reason a product or experience is very popular is because people realize it is of good quality or value.

"Once the lines form, there's a tendency to assume that's a cue to the value of the experience or opportunity, and people want to join in," Brannon said.

With the social proof principle, there also is an element of normative influence, which is when people want to fit in with what other people are doing, Brannon said.

"Solidarity might be one part of it. For some people it might be more about the information that others' behaviour provides, and for others it might be wanting to fit in. But for most people it is probably a combination of these two," Brannon said.

Similarly, people's willingness to wait in line also involves how the waiting is framed. People might complain about waiting in line for two hours for something required, while they are less likely to complain about waiting overnight for the latest gadget that they want. (ANI)

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