Topped your tan up? Don’t go shopping!

It’s been a beautiful sunny day today, something rather rare since Christmas in my particular part of the world. Fortunately, we had an early start today and got the weekly grocery shopping done much quicker than normal because, as might be predicted, the sun brought out a lot of shoppers and both the car park and the roads generally began to fill up as we headed back home for lunch. There does seem to be something about a touch of warmer weather that makes many of us want to head to the shops, but what’s gong on here?

Retailers have long known that nice weather often correlates with an increase in trade, but the cause is sometimes not all that clear. Is it the nice weather in general that’s making us hit the malls? Is it the temperature or the sunshine itself, perhaps? Or is it maybe more the fact that good weather puts us in a good mood?

As we might expected when it comes to psychology, there isn’t a simple answer to these questions. In reality, it is probably a combination of all of these things and many more besides. Having said that, however, we have made good progress in terms of understanding what the main ingredient in this process is. One of the best papers in this area is the study by Kyle Murray and his colleagues, involving some quite innovative measures captured over a series of well-designed studies.

In their first study, the researchers looked at a whole range of weather variables (snow, sunshine, rainfall, humidity, etc.) and correlated them with consumer spending. Sunshine was found to be associated with  a significant increase in consumer spending in general, but the effect was most pronounced when the temperature itself was low. In another study, Murray et al found that sunlight was again the most salient weather-related factor that reduced negative mood-states, producing a subsequent increase in spending. And in their final study, they found that this effect was not confined to natural sunlight, it also happens (sometimes more that normal, depending on duration of exposure) when consumers have simply been using a sunbed. And for me, the most interesting common result amongst all of these studies was the increase not just in spending, but in actual willingness-to-pay (WTP).

So what do all these results tell us? Well, it seems that sunshine is the most important weather-related factor when it comes to increasing our desire to spend, even more so if the temperature itself is relatively cool. The sunlight seems to be exerting its influence via a positive effect it has on our mood states. We need to be very careful not to get carried away, however, as sunlight doesn’t simply increase spending, it also increases the price we are actually willing to pay for the goods we buy!

I suspect those running tanning salons have known all this for a long time. That’s why they offer you those expensive designer products to buy after you’ve been on the sunbed – you’re much more likely to buy and you’ll be willing to pay a higher price for the products available, too. And if you’re a consumer prone to visiting one of these salons, my advice is to never do this before heading off to a mall, especially in cold weather – if you do, you’ll buy more and accept higher prices throughout your shopping trip. Best wait until you get back before topping that tan up, eh?

Categories: Cognition, General