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How to create the perfect shelf based on product lightness

Relevant topics Archive, Conversion

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Products with light colours sell better at top shelf position, while dark coloured products perform best a lower shelves.
  • Application:
    Pay attention to the lightness of your package and place it in the right shelf position to enhance the decision-making process and the in-store shopper experience.
  • Generally, when visiting a supermarket, you don't want to waste your precious time by searching for the products you're looking for. In order to help us making decisions, our brains have a few biases in their way of seeing things.

    We all know that marketeers are trying to get their products in the centre of a display, and that’s for a very good reason. However, new research shows that there’s another bias that influences our way of checking products. Apparently, our visual attention tends to automatically focus to the upper part of a display when we’re looking for a light-coloured product, and to the bottom for a dark coloured product.

    More than meets the eye

    A lot of psychological research has shown that there are numerous inherent sensory correspondences. Sensory correspondences mean that two apparently unrelated sensory features are linked together in our brains.

    Let’s try a small thought experiment. Below, you see two different shapes. One of them is round and one angular. Which one would you call Kiki and what shape would be named Bouba?


    Well, if you named the angular shape Kiki and imagined that round shape was Bouba, you belong to 95% of the population. This experiment shows a sensory connection between sounds and shapes. A more angular shape feels more like a Kiki, while we associate a rounder shape with Bouba. It just feels right.

    But there are many more examples, where music and smell, or taste and sound are connected. This research also shows a sensory correspondence, in this case a link between height and lightness. Or to be more specific: a connection regarding lightness of packaging colours and shelf location. At first sight, this connection might seem a little far-fetched, but it works the same as the Bouba/Kiki effect.

    Let’s look further into how this interesting neuromarketing phenomenon might benefit you.

    The importance of product location

    Multiple experiments, that tested whether height and lightness were related, showed why putting your product on the right shelf is so important. First of all, they showed that a display with light coloured products on the upper shelves and dark coloured products on the lower shelves benefits perceptual fluency. This is a fancy word for the ease of processing information. High perceptual fluency has shown to be advantageous for your product, because it increases liking and preference for the specific products and consumers are therefore more likely to walk home with your product. 

    However, the increase of perceptual fluency was not the only effect they measured.  The research also shows that placing your product according to the lightness-location principle will benefit visual search. Consumers tend to react quicker (and are thus more likely to buy your product) when light- and dark coloured products are placed in the right way. Last but definitely not least, people were more willing to pay a higher price for products that were in the right location.

    Thus, by implementing this principle it is not only possible to improve the overall sensory experience of consumers, but eventually people will start making better choices. Definitely a win-win situation for both the customers, the shops and brands.

    Take home points:

    • Increase the ease of processing products by placing light coloured products on the upper parts of a shelf, while filling up the lower shelves with dark coloured products.
    • In a "fast-moving" environment where rapid detection is key? Make sure your product colour matches with the place on the shelf for a competitive advantage.
    • It’s no problem to raise the price of your product when applying this principle because willingness to pay is higher for products in the right location.
  • How to create the perfect shelf based on product lightness
  • Reference:

    Sunaga, T., Park, J., & Spence, C. (2016). Effects of lightness‐location congruency on consumers’ purchase decision‐making. Psychology & Marketing, 33(11), 934-950.


    Further Reading

    • How to use behavioral science to influence consumer decision-making

      How to use behavioral science to influence consumer decision-making

      Every day, we make decisions between multiple choices and alternatives. After a while, our brains find shortcuts to help us make decisions faster, in a more “efficient” way. This is called fast-thinking, according to Daniel Kahneman, a behavioral economist and author of Thinking Fast and Slow. When we have more time to decide, we begin to refer to our memories and past experiences to make a final choice; this is considered slow-thinking.

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