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How Retail Shopping Displays Affect Consumers' Buying Decisions

Iana Castro

Dr. Iana Castro

Every shopper knows the retail environment is carefully crafted to encourage sales. But despite retailers' best intentions, consumers often encounter messy, half-empty shelves, which also influence consumers' buying decisions.

Iana Castro, an assistant professor of marketing in the SDSU College of Business Administration, has focused her research on understanding when and why disorganized shelf displays and limited quantities of products affect the likelihood that consumers will buy displayed products.

In an upcoming article she co-authored for the Journal of Marketing, she reports on studies that look into the interactive effects of display organization, product quantity, product type and brand familiarity.

"We looked at how these factors interact with one another," Castro said. "You have to consider all four to really understand if consumers' reactions will be positive, negative or neutral."

"People were less likely to buy the products when only a few products were left and they looked messy," she said. "They felt the products were contaminated even though they were packaged products."For example, Castro and her colleagues found that people were less likely to buy familiar food brands when the shelf display was disorganized and understocked.

The opposite, however, proved true with unfamiliar brands of non-ingestible products. In that case, a picked-over display signaled popularity, and contamination concerns weren't an issue, so an understocked and disorganized display actually increased the likelihood that customers would buy.

These results indicate that managers who want to encourage sales must be aware of the inferences consumers draw from the way products are displayed and avoid cues that could decrease the likelihood that consumers will make a purchase, Castro explained. Finally, they need to understand how these factors interact.

Castro finished her Ph.D. at Arizona State University and joined the SDSU faculty the following year. A native of Puerto Rico, she spent a few of her growing-up years in Mexico City, where her father was an executive for a global retail branding company.

"The display cues we address–shelf display organization and product quantity–are cues that managers can directly control. " 

"I was introduced to the world of retailing at an early age," she said. "My father would take me to the store and let me help him figure out what was wrong or right. "

Not surprisingly, it was her father and other retail managers Castro had in mind when studying how product shelf displays influence consumer decision-making.

"The display cues we address–shelf display organization and product quantity–are cues that managers can directly control," she said. "Our research demonstrates the importance of understanding how consumers perceive and interpret different cues in the retail environment in order to manage their overall experiences."