The colour green is broadly speaking synonymous with spring-time, young saplings, eco-friendly products, fresh beginnings and the renewal of hope. It signifies the wood element and connotes growth and vitality. It’s the colour of garnets and emeralds, of dense forests, moist young branches and thick damp moss. For the people of China, the much-loved colour green is the hue of their precious jade stone, while for the average consumer in the Western world, we’d be forgiven for assuming that green is the colour of money. Market research, however, indicates that money abounds in all colours and shades of the rainbow and that, as consumers, our reactions and responses to colours significantly influence our purchasing behaviour. Retail customer responses to colour have become high-science in the study of consumer behaviour, as market researchers establish powerful links between the use of colour and the manner in which we make purchasing decisions.
While market researchers have always known that our brains are hot-wired to respond to colour, the extent to which colour influences the way we shop is still being studied and gauged. If we accept the premise that 80% of information reaches our brains via our eyes, it goes without saying that colour helps us to make sense of our surroundings. We’ve long known that cooler colours such as shades of green and blue evoke a sense of peace and calmness, which is why they’re often used in hospital wards and theatres. Blue is also used by large corporates and banks in the wake of evidence that people are more productive in blue rooms.
More in-depth studies involving the use of colour and light have led researchers to the conclusion that colour in the retail environment is far more complex and powerful than we ever imagined. The artificial environments of large retail stores – which generally include bright lights, straight lines and synthetic materials – can cause consumers to feel confused and vulnerable. To counter the stress effects of these harsh environments, retailers have begun using clever combinations of light and colour to create a sense of coherence. For instance, research has shown that when clothing shops used energy-efficient lighting their sales plummeted because the lighting wasn’t strong enough and the clothes appeared a different colour. On the other hand, research is clear that female shoppers prefer a dimly lit lingerie department as they feel more comfortable handling underwear in a darker environment.
Walk into any food retailer and you’ll discover the dominant use of the colours brown, red and green. Why? Because when humans search for food, they learn to avoid toxic colours such as black, blue and purple. Clothing retailers have discovered that while younger generations prefer the energy of bold colours, older people tend to prefer more subtle, refined colour palettes. Fast-food restaurants harness the power of vivid oranges and reds – bold colours that encourage us to eat quickly and leave. And while the colour blue can cause appetite loss, it’s been established that red is an appetite stimulant. More luxurious restaurants use gentler colours that appear more sophisticated and allow us to linger longer.
Being a bright and vibrant colour, red is able to stimulate shoppers to make bold decisions in the moment. It denotes passion and speed, and is often used by retailers to make an impact. In fact, we now know that the colour red activates the pituitary gland and, as a result, is used by bars and strip clubs to entice people to drink more. Interestingly, red is also an aggressive colour and too much red can cause an increased metabolism and raised blood pressure – which is why red is cleverly used as an accent colour rather than the dominant colour on sale and bargain boards.
Conversely, yellow has proven to be the least effective colour to use in a retail stores. Physiologically, yellow is a difficult colour for the human eye to take in and, as a result, can cause fatigue and agitation. The results of numerous psychological studies indicate that people lose their tempers quicker and babies cry more often in yellow rooms. Because yellow is such a difficult colour for the eye to see, it makes it the perfect colour on which to place black text, hence the use of yellow for “caution” signs, crime scene tape and the lowly but oh-so-effective Post-It note.
Although purple is avoided when it comes to food retailing, as the colour of royalty and vast wealth it’s often used to denote luxury when selling lingerie, vehicles and jewellery. It’s the colour of class and sophistication, and is the preferred colour of beauty products and anti-aging serums. It’s close cousin, pink, is a happy, romantic and light-hearted colour and is used ad nauseum to advertise feminine products such as perfumes, lingerie and beauty creams. Fascinatingly, it’s been proven that pink can drain energy, and sports clubs have been known to paint visitors’ locker rooms pink in an attempt to sap the energy of their opponents.
Black is considered sexy, sleek and powerful, and is a favourite colour of electronic stores, high-tech retailers and fast car companies. Naturally, colour trends change over time and have subtle variants throughout the world. Whilst white is considered the absence of colour and a symbol of purity in the Western world, it also happens to be the colour of death in China. Similarly, whereas green has historically been used by retailers to denote products which are fat-free, it’s use has now changed to signify organic produce instead. With the massive international move towards organic, the colour green has become somewhat indomitable. Retailers know that it’s the easiest colour for the human eye to process and that it makes customers relax.
The science of combining colour and light to increase the persuasiveness of retailers is massively complicated. Although consumer behaviourial specialists have only begun to understand the magnitude of colour’s influence in the retail environment, they know that every hue in the light spectrum can most certainly influence our purchasing decisions in the moment. As intelligent consumers, we’d do well to acknowledge the powerful use of colour within the retail sector and that, contrary to popular opinion, money is not limited to the colour green.