Blinking On

02 Aug 2005|Darrel Rhea

Because our work was profiled in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Blink,” it generates a lot of questions for me on a weekly basis. It makes sense to comment on how “thin slicing” connects to the reality of shoppers making buy decisions on packaged goods. (For tips on how to deal with the retail experience overload, see my previous blog, “Mastering the Grocery Shopping Experience.”) People base their buying decisions on a strong feeling they get which isn’t necessarily rational but usually justified on some levels. The feeling that drives their decision is intuition, and what Gladwell calls “thin slicing” – but it’s not always right, just as any subjective opinion isn’t always right.

Why do we thin slice in the store? People do it out of self defense, simply because there’s so much stimuli in any retail environment that it virtually impedes shoppers from operating rationally. After all, most stores carry between 25,000 and 40,000 separate products, each with multiple packages. If you attempted to consciously “see” even a fraction of those, you would experience mental overload! –your brain would slow to a crawl and you would vulnerable to predators (like those old ladies with shopping carts that might run you over). It’s an evolutionary coping mechanism.

If every purchase were a carefully weighed, rational decision, it would take several hours to get through a grocery store. It’s like speed dating, only you’re making a fast decision about a different kind of package than the date wanna-be sitting across from you, and you’re using the personality that the package communicates to make the decision about whether to spend real time with it. Would you date Mr. Clean? Betty Crocker? Orville Redenbacher? I’m sure you’ve tried (dated) a lot of products that looked attractive but failed to deliver the expected experience…that’s what thin slicing can do for you in this context, even though it did get you through the store in a reasonable amount of time.

And, on the other side of this shopping coin, that’s one key reason why package goods manufacturers must be careful with their marketing messages, many of which are communicated by the look and feel of the package. While the package needs to be designed to attract buyers, it also can’t over-promise, or you lose those next critical sales that mean profitability for the line. The thin slicing process is a sharp edged blade itself, on both sides.

prev next