Stone Age Man at the Supermarket

05. December 2016, Editorial


evolutionary psychology
hunters and gatherers

A few years ago, Tom Jones, aka the “Tiger”, caused a sensation: After blowing up to almost 16 stone (100 KG), he turned around and lost 2.3 (15 KG) within five months. How? He followed the so-called Paleo diet or stone-age diet. Jones was very satisfied with his achievement. “The Paleo Diet tells you to eat the way we ate as hunters and gatherers”, said Jones later in an interview with the British radio station BBC2.

Which is actually not so extraordinary, since we lived as hunters and gatherers for a very, very long time.

traditional behavioural patterns influence our buying behaviour

Researchers are now using this fact to delve deeper into things such as the phylogenetic history of people and studies of hunters and gatherers.  Their insights can be used to derive topics for consumer research and marketing measures, which is what Professor Harmut Holzmüller, Professor of Marketing at the Technical University of Dortmund, does.

The core statement of evolutionary psychology is that this very long period, where we lived as hunters and gatherers in small groups, created certain patterns of behaviour, says Holzmüller.  These traditional behavioural patterns influence our buying behaviour. Professor Holzmüller gives an example: The history of humans was always shaped by scarcity which led to the belief that more is better. So, when more food was available, you simply grabbed all you could.

orientation played a very important role for the hunters and gatherers

Understandable. But in today’s society, this principle is no longer really adequate. For example, think about how many people are fighting obesity, or how quickly we become oversaturated by the sheer volume of products.
“Marketing needs to find ways to avoid these negative effects.” , thinks Professor Holzmüller. In the supermarket, that means giving customers more orientation to avoid over-buying. Such orientation played a very important role for the hunters and gatherers. And the same goes for customers in the supermarket.

Orientation help can be, for example, symbols, different colours and, as studies are showing, scents as well.
Scents, laden with early experiences, can influence our behaviour in very subconscious ways and some retail giants here are making use of that. For example, who doesn’t feel their mouths start to water at the smell of freshly baked bread? But, says Professor Holzmüller, we have to remember that humans are not programmed. That means that even if these patterns exist, we are not obliged to follow them. But they can definitely be used to advantage in marketing. If the principle of orientation is very important, then one should try to offer this orientation. BILLA, for example, has been providing navigation help through its very complicated product situation for years. With common sense.

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