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New BYU research shows that shoppers who wear high heels think differently when they shop. Jaren Wilkey | Photo courtesy of Brigham Young University
Could stilettos change the way you shop?
BYU study » Focus on keeping the balance may help choose medium-priced products.
First Published Aug 26 2013 02:18 pm • Last Updated Aug 27 2013 08:41 am

A new study from Brigham Young University says wearing high heels might change the way you shop.

That’s because people focusing on balance, whether on stilettos or a Wii Fit, tend not to buy the most expensive or the cheapest things they see. Instead, they stick to the middle, influenced by a physical sensation they may not even be aware of, according to a paper in the current issue of the Journal of Marketing Research.

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"People don’t always buy what they want or what’s best. They often use the context of the shopping experience to determine what they want to buy," said co-author Jeffrey Larson, a BYU marketing professor. "Oftentimes, they choose the middle option, and that tendency is exacerbated by this concept of balance."

He and BYU co-author Darron Billeter asked their subjects to either stand on one foot while making buying choices, lean back in a chair while shopping online, wear heels or use a Wii Fit.

They completed five studies that each included between 60 and 150 people for the paper. For the high heel test, they went to the Provo Towne Center mall and asked Payless shoppers to walk down an aisle, first in heels and then in a similar pair of flats.

They then asked the subjects to complete a survey about buying a printer based on speed and ease of set-up. As with other balance-activation methods, they "invariably choose the middle printer," Larson said.

In another example, consumers whose sense of balance was activated were more likely to go with a 42-inch TV for $450 rather than a smaller $300 set or a larger screen for $650.

The balance subjects were also less likely to view a particular brand as better than another, according to a survey question that ultimately wasn’t included in the study.

The paper is part of an emerging field of research on how customers’ physical feelings, such as warmth or a heightened sense of adrenaline, influence their purchasing decisions, assessments that are more subtle than the effects of say, store music.

"I think we want consumers to just be more aware of what influences their decisions and choices. There is a link between thinking about balance and the choices they make in consumer settings," Billeter said.

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While people with champagne taste could push themselves to the middle with a footwear choice, bargain shoppers may want to stick with flats.


Twitter: @lwhitehurst

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