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Try Using Our Brains to Please Customers

Try Using Our Brains to Please Customers

From the storybook land of Wales comes a new kind of fantasy story.

Bangor University, located in North Wales, is embarking on a research experiment that can best be described using the headline from a local media outlet:

“Supermarket Shoppers to be brain scanned to test reactions to special offers.”

As outlined in that article from WalesOnline, researchers will attempt to simulate a grocery shopping experience by placing people in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. The subjects will watch a screen that displays grocery products and special offers, and will be asked to make choices. The experiment will monitor blood flow and brain activity to determine which part of the brain drives this decision-making.

There are already early findings. Researchers discovered that after about 23 minutes shoppers begin making choices with the emotional part of their brain, which is less likely to decide based on logic and price, and after 40 minutes the brain gets tired and can no longer think rationally.


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So what’s the usefulness of this experiment, which is funded by grocery and health care companies? One benefit, according to a research partner quoted in the article, is helping to determine when grocers are making special offers that aren’t needed because shoppers would pay the full price anyway.

I don’t need a brain scan to reveal what I think of all this. I’ll save the researchers some trouble by disclosing the best lab for testing shopper reactions. It’s called a food store, and we’ve already got tons of proof about what works there:

• Sharp pricing: Look no further than Wal-Mart.

• Exemplary customer service: Ask Publix.

• Variety and unique offerings: Contact Wegmans.

• Personalization: Check with Kroger.

• Attention to nutrition and health: Turn to Whole Foods or Safeway.

In addition, we can track the most progressive online platforms, including Peapod and AmazonFresh, to gauge consumer response to these types of offerings.

I hope the U.S. food industry doesn’t get sidetracked with this type of research. I’m sure the media here would have a field day exposing that the industry is paying big bucks to test how to get shoppers to pay more.

Let’s instead watch how customers are behaving in our food stores, which presumably offer a better experience than brain scanners. Leave the MRIs for patients in need.

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