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From Black Friday to July 4th sales, so much goes into our planning for these days of deal grabbing and holiday spending. Where can we score the best deals? Which store should we visit first? And, how early should we wake up to stand in line with several hundred other shoppers before sunrise?


While our planning as shoppers may seem extensive, it pales in comparison to the planning marketers and retailers undertake to create an optimal shopping experience for us. Of course – for them – optimal means more than efficient or enjoyable. They are intensely concerned with how to get us to buy more.


A study at Bangor University revealed how retailers are going to great lengths to gather their information. Brain scans are joining the consumer behavior tools at their disposal for understanding why we buy.


Students from the School of Psychology at Bangor, along with retail researchers SBXL, are using a 20-ton medical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner to study supermarket shoppers’ reactions to promotions and special offers in this groundbreaking project.


Project participants will be asked to “shop” in a simulated grocery store environment, where they will choose from a full range of supermarket products, based on a shopping list they are given. They will be confronted with a wide range of promotions and special offers as they shop.


As they make their choices, their brain activities will be monitored using the MRI. The research team will identify which part of the brain is involved in making product choices by measuring blood flow and brain activity.


Early findings suggest that shoppers begin making choices with the emotional part of their brain around 23 minutes into their shopping experience. The emotional part of the brain differs from the cognitive part in that it is incapable of computation and logical decision-making; it merely guesses at the value of money. Retailers can use this information to place products, promotions, and other information throughout their stores for a more profitable shopping experience.


The team has also used eye tracking to study what we see when we make our product purchases, but this study will go beyond the eyes to actually monitor what’s happening inside our brains. How do you feel about such marketing research? Is it just another way to maximize business potential, or have retailers gone too far this time?