Views on the world of shoppers, retailers and brands Views by Shopper Scientist Accelerated Merchandising Shopper Scientist The Shopper Collective

Increasing Sales by Triggering
the Subconscious

September 8, 2020
Ray Sorensen, Editor, pending 3rd edition of Inside the Mind of the Shopper
with Herb Sorensen, PhD, Shopper Scientist LLC
2013 Charles Coolidge Parlin Award | American Marketing Association
2007 EXPLOR Award; with Wharton group | American Marketing Association
2004 Top 50 Innovators | Fast Company Magazine



In his book, Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore, Dr. Neale Martin describes how our subconscious mind drives a vast majority of our behavior. The dictionary defines subconscious as “mental activities just below the threshold of consciousness”. Our conscious mental activities are just the tip of the iceberg. Some of our subconscious activities occur just below the surface of our consciousness, such as the habitual routine of brushing your teeth. And even deeper within our subconscious, our autonomic mind controls physiological processes such as breathing and heartbeat.

Think about that. 95% of the decisions we make in a day never rise to the level of our conscious mind, we never actively think about them. Instead, our subconscious propels us through hundreds, possibly thousands, of small decisions, actions, and re-actions without ever engaging our conscious mind.

From the moment we first open our eyes as infants we begin learning the subconscious triggers and responses that regulate our behavior and enables us to function in society. Subconscious triggers act as auto-behavior triggers that prompt our actions. When you meet a person and they smile and hold their hand out to you, chances are that long before your conscious mind can form a response you have already extended your hand. Your subconscious recognized the trigger – a person smiling and holding out their hand – and executed the socially appropriate response without you having to consciously think about it. We could probably identify dozens of similar examples of subconscious behavior in our daily lives: red lights at intersections, the ding of an elevator bell, the exchange at a fast food drive thru. For our purposes, the thing to note is that all subconscious behavior has a trigger – an input, a signal – that clues your subconscious mind to the appropriate response.

Our increasing understanding of subconscious behavior and the triggers that initiate that behavior has major implications for the study of shopper behavior. Triggering is a significant support of Top Selling items in the store. I have proven that a simple “TopSeller” tag strategically placed in the aisle drives higher sales by providing that subconscious trigger and alerting the shopper to the item (IMS pp18-21).

In his mega bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow , Daniel Kahneman, world-famous psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.

This Nobelist citation illustrates how fast thinking drives the lion's share of TopSeller sales. Shoppers purchase top selling items more frequently which makes them habitual purchases requiring little or no conscious thought. When the shopper’s subconscious mind recognizes a habitually purchased item, it is triggered to efficiently select it and move it to the cart.

Understanding the role of the subconscious in shopper behavior calls into question the massive amount of visual screaming from retailers and brand suppliers attempting to engage their shopper’s conscious mind. It is more reasonable to rely on Kahneman's fast thinking to "close the sale" quickly, which has been demonstrated to lead to the shopper buying more (Kantar Retail). Retailers and brands would benefit from tools and methods that engage their shopper’s subconscious mind to expedite their habitual purchases to increase sales. For further reading: Whisper, Don't Shout (or Mumble!); Crowd-Social-Nudge Selling; How to Observe, Measure, and Think about Shoppers.

Here's to GREAT "Shopping" for YOU!!!
Your friend, Herb Sorensen