Recent research in the American Marketing Association‘s Journal of Marketing Research finds that, as the environment becomes more socially crowded, consumers show an increased preference for products with safety connotations. A crowded environment causes consumers to process marketing messages differently and actually appear to become more averse to risk in general.
Whether shopping for groceries at a supermarket, making investment decisions on a trading floor, or eating at a restaurant, this study concludes that many important consumption decisions are made in environments that vary in crowd size. The authors explore the consequences of that crowdedness on how individuals make decisions and find that, as crowdedness increases, individuals show a greater preference for safety-oriented options, preferring, for example, to visit a pharmacy rather than a convenience store.
Moreover, consumer’s susceptibility to marketing messages is also affected, with prevention-framed messages (e.g., the harm of not eating vegetables) becoming more persuasive than those with a promotion frame (e.g., the benefits to eating vegetables) as the level of crowding increases. Even our likelihood to gamble is affected, with individuals in a crowded environment being markedly less willing to take part in a simple real money gamble.
Among the authors claims are that the effects are attributable to an automatic avoidance state invoked by crowded environments.
According to the authors, “We believe this research has potential implications in decision making environments as diverse as retail stores, trading floors, courtrooms, and political rallies…The bottom line is that if you are in a setting that varies in how crowded it can be your decision making process might be influenced.”
The primary takeaway is that people appear to automatically think and behave differently when in crowded environments. They become more safety oriented, more risk averse, and more persuaded by message that focus on the negative consequences of inaction.