Why shoppers choose products from the center of displays

Based on an interview with Selin Atalay, assistant professor of marketing at HEC Paris, research@HEC no 27, June-July 2012.

Previous research has established that consumers are more likely to pick articles located in the center of supermarket shelves than those on the sides. Selin Atalay, Onur Bodur, and Dina Rasolofoarison explore the underlying mechanisms of this phenomenon, showing that this “horizontal centrality effect” is linked to the tendency of centrally located items to to receive more visual attention from shoppers rather than conscious inferences about products.

Business Digest partners with HEC Paris and the HEC Foundation in the production of research@HEC.

Whether selecting clothes from a rack, dishes from a buffet, or a movie from an online selection, consumers are constantly choosing from options displayed horizontally. Even in supermarket aisles, goods can only be stacked so high or so low before getting physically out of reach, so they are lined up on long shelves. In such contexts, shoppers tend to go for the option in the center of the horizontal array, the snack at the center of the vending machine, the bathroom stall in the middle of the row, and so on. This tendency, known as “horizontal centrality,” is well documented and, of course, highly relevant to retail shelf management. But Selin Atalay and her co-authors go a step further, identifying why and how the brand in the middle was consistently preferred. “The existing literature is mostly speculative or contradictory in its explaination of the effect, with one stream of research arguing the product in the center gets more attention and another the opposite,” says Selin Atalay. “We reconcile that by looking at the mechanisms.” [read more]

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Why shoppers choose products from the center of displays
Published in research@HEC, no 27, June-July, a journal that has been promoting the research of HEC Paris professors since 2007.
Based on an interview with Selin Atalay and the article “Shining in the Center: Central Gaze Cascade Effect on Product Choice” (Journal of Consumer Research, to be published), written with Onur Bodur and Dina Rasolofoarison.