From researchers and marketers to designers and retailers, consumer needs are the driving force of the retail industry. You may think that you’re aware of your needs and how they influence what you buy, but to what extent are you influenced subconsciously?

Aside from the obvious, such as how effective the marketing of a product is or how low your savings account is, why do you return after one shopping trip with bags and bags of shopping, and a seemingly similar Saturday a few weeks later you return empty in hand and heavy in purse?

Mood

Retail and therapy: two words that often stand side-by-side, indicating that shopping is perceived as a mood enhancer. Whilst this very well may be true, how about the mood you’re in initially? Several studies have revealed that mood and finances are related and that mood affects how we respond to advertising and process product information.

According to a study in 2008 by Oono Takahashi et al, a low mood can lead one to being financially impulsive. A similar study by B. Knutson, J. P. Bhani et al concluded that those with low moods aren’t very good at distinguishing between gains and losses, which affects decision making.

A conflicting theory suggests that optimistic people don’t feel the need to save, as everything will work out okay, ergo, money is spent more frivolously.

There is also a train of thought surrounding the idea that negative people may think that there’s no point saving for the future. Being either very positive or negative can lead to compulsive spending behaviour. Therefore, it’s best to g o shopping when you’re feeling ambivalent or impassive to make level-headed decisions.

Mood as a nation

If we’re surrounded by people almost visibly tightening their belts, putting away their purses and frowning at shops, you’re hardly going to feel comfortable spending your hard-earned money. Consumer habits have significantly changed since the start of the recession.

Choice

An article in the Journal of Marketing in 1974 argued that main problem of consumer behaviour is choice. ‘Since the outcome of choice can only be known in the future, the consumer is forced to deal with uncertainty, or risk.’ Despite being published over three decades ago, this article is very apt for the present. This theory is closely related to the paradox of choice, a theory saying that consumers are faced with too much choice, leading to stress and low mood.

Weather

A study in 2010, titled ‘The effect of weather on consumer spending’ looked in detail at the effect of weather on consumer behaviour. The study concluded that sunlight has a strong influence on increasing consumer spending.

Perception

The main factor differentiating one person’s spending habits from the next is perception of the surrounding world, which is a subconscious process. Your perception influences how you see, interpret and remember advertisements and products. It is said that consumers engage in ‘selective perception’, seeing what they want to see and distorting messages to fit in with their perception of the world.

Your morals, values, tastes and phobias all subconsciously influence your spending behaviour. Self-perception is also a strong influence – you may buy products that reinforce how you see yourself.