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Retailers Entice Shoppers To Get Ready For New School Year


Depending on where you live, kids are already back in school or they're getting ready to go. So parents are doing their fair share of back-to-school shopping. This is something Martin Lindstrom thinks about quite a bit. He's the author of "Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use To Manipulate Our Minds And Persuade Us To Buy." He told us this is a time of year where retailers are using plenty of tricks to lure shoppers in.

MARTIN LINDSTROM: One is the visual side. So they would never show a kid standing alone in some of the ads on the windows displays. It will always show kids standing in groups, indirectly saying, hey, you're never left out. You're safe if you buy this bag or whatever.

GREENE: So I'm seeing a picture of a bunch of kids dressed, you know, sort of well, altogether. And the message to me, as a parent, is I could see my kid there, standing there in that group, but wearing something that isn't as cool as the other kids.

LINDSTROM: Yeah, you can. And you have to remember, when you combine that with all the other signals which are sent in the retail store, like, for example, playing that retro music which you, as a parent, so much remember when you were a kid. And then you're walking around with a kid and you see, for example, like, the mannequins which no longer just are standing there wearing clothes. They're also wearing an iPad and an iPod. Well, parents are thinking, hey, I'm kind of out-of-date with this. I kind of can relate to it. I had those emotions because I listened to the music, but I need to speed up my mindset around this. And that's where they start to buy stuff which they don't need.

GREENE: Has there been a study that shows that that's what retailers are doing and whether it works or not? Or is it just something you're sort of sensing?

LINDSTROM: Well, a mixture. First of all, we've done quite a lot of neuroscience-based studies on the effect of music on your brain. And there's no doubt about it that if I do play music back from when I was 16 to 20 years of age, I get this warm, fuzzy feeling. And typically, I'm taken back in time. And if you mix that music with modern music so you sort of have an upbeat version, you kind of feel you're not lost. You feel that you still are in touch with reality. So that music is used more and more in retail now. Some of it I'm sure is by coincidence. And some of it is pretty well-planned because you have to remember that sound is an enormous factor in a retail environment in order to create an ambience. So it is becoming more and more a calculated move rather than a coincidental move.

GREENE: How important is the back-to-school season for retailers?

LINDSTROM: It probably is the third most important season. Of course, you have the holiday season. And then you have the January period. I wouldn't call the Black Friday is really a season. So this is number three. But it's very important for several reasons. I tend to say that this is kicking the consumer into spending action because they've been relaxing and really spending the money more on food and on travel then actually in consumer products in general. So this is the first, you could say, kick-off into spending behavior.

GREENE: So for retailers, one big thing that's happening here is getting people into the brick-and-mortar stores which is obviously something in this age that's getting harder and harder for stores to do.

LINDSTROM: It's getting harder. And just to give you sort of an insight into that - only 6 percent last year actually bought stuff online, and today it's 28 percent. So that is the dramatic change we've seen over just one year.

GREENE: 28 percent now of back-to-school stuff is bought online and it was 6 percent last year?

LINDSTROM: That's right.

GREENE: So a lot of pressure on retailers.

LINDSTROM: Enormous. And the reason why is simple - parents today, they're very price conscious. And because still we can feel the financial pressure, it means that they're starting to do the work at home rather than going to the store because they know they're going to be stimulated to buy so much more. So they sort of keep themselves out of the brick-and-mortar stores.

GREENE: Martin Lindstrom, interesting stuff. Thanks so much for talking to us. We appreciate it.

LINDSTROM: You're welcome.

GREENE: Martin Lindstrom is the author of "Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use To Manipulate Our Minds And Persuade Us To Buy." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.