In a tightly contested marketplace, what influences us to choose product A over product B? What draws different individuals to different brands?
Most of us think that the choices we make to inform our decisions are based upon rational thought processes, and in certain situations this is most definitely true. For example, in instances where we seek something specific – a brand / varietal / region of wine – our previous experience and awareness of products that we enjoy guide us swiftly to our desired purchase. For experienced shoppers, this is therefore a relatively easy purchasing process with minimum psychological effort and conscious decision-making required. However, when your desired result is unknown and you face a sea of different information and products, our decision-making process is susceptible to much subtler, subconscious influences.
Recently, I was reminded of a study that I read last year at university, written by North, Hargreaves and McKendrick in 1999. Titled ‘The Influence of In-Store Music on Wine Selection’, the authors sought to establish the effects of music from different countries on the purchase behaviours of average wine consumers. Their rationale for this research and the results of the study provide us with an interesting insight into the decline of the decisive shopper and what this means for the wine industry.
Many consumer products, including wine, have begun to suffer from cognitive offloading, which is confirmed by many Wine Intelligence studies (mainly Global Wine Brand Power Index 2019 and Global Trends in Wine 2019 – more can be read on the topic here). The term refers to a consumer’s decreasing ability to retain information about brands and products, thanks to the drastic improvements in mobile technology that now provide an array of information at your fingertips. Individuals are claiming to know less about what they are looking to purchase, making them more open to external suggestions. To examine this, the authors of this in-store music study wanted to investigate whether music that is stereotypical and nationalistic in its origin would stimulate relevant knowledge about that country, thus priming the selection of a relevant product. For example, would playing French music make consumers more likely to buy a French wine?
They went about testing this on average shoppers over a two-week period in a supermarket in the UK, selecting wines from France and Germany. These were matched for taste, price and bottle design. The music selection contained an accordion for the French music and a Bierkeller band for the German music, with both pieces played on a loop on alternate days. After a shopper chose a wine and consented to their participation in the study, they were asked a series of questions, including which regional variety of wine they normally prefer and if anything had influenced their decision.
The results showed precisely how subtle nudging can be used by marketers to influence consumer choices. Where there is a casual shopper with limited wine knowledge looking to buy a reasonably priced bottle, they found a definite potential to direct their decision-making process at the point of purchase. On days when French music was played, sales of the selected French wine was significantly higher than those of German wine. The reverse was found when the German music was played. However, I believe that the most interesting result came from the follow-up questions: only one participant said that the background music had influenced their choice of bottle.
The results of this study demonstrate just how easily we can be swayed in our decision-making when we do not have a clear choice already in mind – and how our conscious mind denies the influence of an unconscious bias. With the recent sale of the store front arm of Majestic Wines and rise of online wine sales, the future for traditional brick and mortar wine shops is yet to be determined. Similarly, an increasing number of consumers are looking to online retailers, meaning this in-store tactic may be becoming less applicable to the wine trade.
However, this study also highlights the importance of standing out from the crowd. Experienced shoppers and those who enter the purchasing process seeking a specific wine are growing more resistant to marketing, whilst more open shoppers are the most easily swayed by external factors at the point of purchase. In an era of cognitive offloading and therefore minimal consumer knowledge about wine, your brand must be well-recognised and stand out on the shelf. If your brand is the one that people think about before their search begins, according to Wine Intelligence Director Juan Park, this is a good sign that your wine will be chosen.
Just remember to listen out for any music the next time you visit your local wine shop.
Author: Robert Malhame