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Stand on One Foot, Wear Stilettos and 4 Other Weird Ways to Curb Spending

Wacky research findings reveal how your sense of balance impacts what you buy.

| August 27th, 2013
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Shop in Heels

When you’re making a vital purchase decision it often comes down to balance: features vs price, style vs value. Striking that balance is likely to mean compromising on specs to stay under budget. For those who have a hard time trading down for a less costly item, science has a curious piece of advice: Wear heels.

COLUMN: How to Control Impulse Shopping

Two marketing professors at the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University have drawn a link between the metaphorical concept of balance, actual physical balance and how the two help you make smart, balanced decisions in the face of shopping temptation. In an August 2013 paper in the Journal of Marketing Research, Jeffrey S. Larson, Ph.D., and Darron M. Billeter, Ph.D., show that being attuned to your sense of balance makes you more likely to buy a product that compromises on cost and features. 

And how do you tune into your sense of balance, you ask. Try striking a one-legged tree pose, tilting backwards in your chair, or wearing teeter-tottery high heels. Whether you’re perfectly balanced or feeling fully off-kilter, the heightened awareness of your body’s equilibrium will affect your shopping strategy. “The concept of balance is connected to the concept of parity or equality, which affects choice,” says Larson. Balancing the scales, balancing a checkbook, balancing your responsibilities—they’re all metaphors for equalizing opposing forces. Priming your brain for balance will help you see that the smaller, cheaper version of the product you want isn’t all that different from the top-of-the-line model you can’t afford.

MORE: Material Girls Are Less Happy

In their experiments, Larson and Billeter had volunteers lean on the back two legs of their chairs, play games on the Wii Fit balance board, stand on one foot or imagine walking on a balance beam while virtually shopping for a printer and a computer. They had three options to choose from: one that was best in one way and the worst in another, one with the reverse attributes and one that was average in both ways. Across the board, the participants who were focused on centering themselves were more likely to buy the product in the middle. Balance begat balance.

“Marketers hope to influence consumers by changing their thoughts and beliefs surrounding a product,” Larson says. “But they are unaware that a consumer’s physical state can also change the way she thinks about and chooses products.”

Until Sony starts putting its showrooms on cruise ships, you can use these findings to your advantage. Go straight from yoga to the mall, stand on one foot while perusing the shelves, or don your sky-highest stilettos. Making your mind focus on standing up may keep you from falling straight into a marketer’s trap.

QUIZ: How Balanced Is Your Life?

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