Turning it around: How floors affect the consumer

Home Inside FCNews Turning it around: How floors affect the consumer

Volume 28/Number 3; July 21/28, 2014

By Jenna Lippin

The flooring industry as a whole spends countless hours researching exactly what influences flooring purchases. Is it advertising? The economic climate? The demographic of the consumer? Perhaps a combination of all of the above.

However, have we ever thought about how flooring influences the consumer? According to research conducted by Joan Meyers-Levy, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, the feeling a customer achieves from the flooring in a store affects how she feels, which then influences purchasing decisions.

“It says something about how you want to set up your store,” Meyers-Levy told Minnesota Daily. “When browsing from afar, a customer is likely struggling to have a full sensory experience with the product, missing out on some important details. Therefore, [she] is left to fill those perceptual voids with other physical sensations being experienced at that particular point in time. Customers take their physical comfort into consideration on a subconscious level.”

Meyers-Levy’s study was officially published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research with work from contributing authors Juliet Zhu and Lan Jiang of the University of British Columbia. The researchers explored the feelings induced by two of the most common flooring types in retail environments: vinyl tile and carpet. “When a person stands on carpet, it feels comforting,” Meyers-Levy said. “But the irony is when people stand on carpet, they will judge products that are close to them as less comforting.”

In the study, researchers had participants stand on both vinyl tile and soft carpet in an otherwise bare room to judge items, including a vase, gift basket and a clothes hamper.

According to Meyers-Levy, when the customer is near a product, she has a full understanding of its detail. In this case, the flooring acts as a frame of reference.

When looking at a mattress, for example, it would seem soft and comfortable in comparison to harder vinyl tile.

The researchers first conducted a study to prove that carpeting evokes a greater sense of physical comfort than tile floors. “Given this finding, we then tackled a more practical and intriguing question,” Meyers-Levy explained. “Would these bodily sensations elicited by the flooring transfer to people’s assessments of products they observe while shopping?”

Participants in the study stood on either soft pile carpet or hard tile and viewed products that were either close to them or moderately far away. When the products were a moderate distance away, people’s judgments of them were unconsciously guided by their

bodily sensations. Therefore, if they were standing on soft carpet and viewed a product that was moderately far away, they judged that item’s appearance to be comforting. However, people who examined products while standing on this same plush carpet judged items that were close by as being less comforting than they did if the products were moderately far away.

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