Jens Nordfält - academic inspiration

My doctoral dissertation was published 2005 at Stockholm School of Economics. It is a compilation based on an introduction and five essays. During my years as a Ph D student I a) tried to understand how in-store decision-making worked. I questioned models that build on elaborate and conscious cognition and tried to better understand priming and other preconscious, primarily visual, cognitive processes.

On this side I provide some examples of literature that served as my inspiration then and after.

This book meant a lot to me during the writing of my doctoral thesis. I included several of its models in the introductory chapter. At the time there were not many books on cognition that occurred beyond consciousness even though it was growing as a field of research. The book was a bit hard to get but once I had a copy I read it from cover to cover without stopping.
Having read through the major general textbooks on psychology, social psychology, and cognitive psychology as well as all the research I could find by Bargh I finally invested in this treasure. It was especially the chapter on automaticity, by Bargh, that was important for my understanding of non-conscious cognition.
Fiske & Taylor was the no. 1 source on associative network theories of memory. I needed this book to better understand spreading activation and priming. I was, for instance, intrigued by the findings by Nedungadi (1990) where shoppers based their choices on memory rather than preferences; and that exposure to one brand could trigger the recollection of related brands.
My dissertation – on in-store decision-making

When I started as a doctoral student I initially tried to find behavioural patterns by studying transaction data. I read a lot about scripted behaviour, mindlessness and consideration sets. I did an early study together with some other doctoral students where we got a lot of customer data from the Swedish grocery retailer ICA. In the paper that we wrote together we compared consideration sets that were created with versus without visual aid during the recollection process. That is, we compared unaided recall with recognition in the formation of consideration sets. We found that in unaided recall other factors, such as for instance the market share of the brand, influenced potential inclusion in a consideration set. The the shopper could create the consideration set while watching the products other alternatives, such as private labels were included to a greater extent. Important influences at that time were Lynch & Srull (1982) and Hoyer (1984).

Among the articles that shaped my thinking when I started as a docotral student I also have to mention Nedungadi (1990). Nedungadi, sometimes together with others such as Chattopadhyay, did a lot of studies on how perception influenced the formation of the decision process. That is, when shoppers do not see a product they tend not to buy it, even if it is their favourite brand in the category. Together with research by Hoyer on how quickly and perhaps carelessly shoppers made decisions in a store, these readings started to form the embryos of what should become my dissertation.

After having read a lot of core psychology of various kinds. I really dug deep into behaviourism, especially operant conditioning, mere exposure, and various psychological biases such as attribution errors, memory problems, etcetera I turned to reading more about consciousness, short-term memory, working memory, and automaticity. I read more easily available literature like the books by Damasio, but I also ploughed through all the classics. For instance I read all the studied all the 68 articles included in Baars, Banks, & Newman (2003). They had put together a compilation of articles in bookworm and called it “Essential Sources in the Scientific Study of Consciousness”. I loved reading all the original articles about binding theories and object perception, inattention blindness, implicit memories and tacit knowledge, sensory stores, Baddeleys early models etc. I have had many “bibles’ over the years and that compilation is definitely one of them. Apart from the dissertation itself and the paper on consideration sets, I only have one more publication from this era. It is the paper on unplanned purchases (Nordfält 2009). It is heavily influenced by Bettman, Luce, & Payne (1998)and their theory on that choices are more influenced by scripted behaviour the more everything is as usual. When the shopper is on a different kind of shopping mission, in a new environment, etcetera, s/he will make more unplanned choices.

After the dissertation – switching over to in-store marketing

After my dissertation I started to become more focused on retail marketing. I felt that when I had worked on my dissertation I had understood the secrets behind in-store decision-making and now it was time to start applying it. Even if I also remained at the business school where I got my Ph D I changed department at my retailing job. I moved from a department primarily working with education to a department working with consumer insight. As a part of that job I got to fine tune the field experiment skills that I had developed as a doctoral student. Now I could do all the text I wanted, in large scale. I also took the time to start working on my first real book, the one on in-store marketing.

I did literature reviews looking for all published articles on in-store marketing. The first chapter of the book came to be about the assortment in the shelf. Even if I liked reading the old literature about space elasticity and early planogram development, my favourite article in that chapter is the one by Dreze, Hoch, and Purk (1994) where they study assortment organisation. They also published paper that year about pricing strategies. That paper was really good too but the one on assortment presentation was even better. I was drawling over the examples of soup and tooth paste sales. I think it was the first time that I felt that I had found others with exactly the same interests as I had. In the next chapter, on special display, or secondary placement, I think it was the two papers by Chevalier that made the greatest impact on me. Chevalier showed that by displaying a product on, for instance an endcap, sales would go up hundreds of procents. The chapter after that one was on all the peculiarities showing gaps between actual and perceived assortments. This chapter built on research by Barbara Kahn and Brian Wansink to mention a couple. I really liked the seminal work on assortment reduction where it was shown that under certain circumstances as much as 75% of the assortment had to be taken out before shoppers could significantly tell that it had happened. The final chapter on assortment was primarily based on visual perception and work by Chris Janiszewski. I still remember the first time I met with Chris and when he came to visit me in Sweden to look at how I do field studies. I am still a great fan of his. The second part of the book builds on store atmospherics, and here my favourite references are Donovan and Rossiter for their testing of the Mehrabian-Russel model. Julie Baker, Dhruv Grewal and colleagues for their models on store atmospherics. A rather unknown Swedish author (Rita Mårtensson)  showing research on that 83% of all perceptual input comes from the eyes.

A third – more project specific – era – of academic references 

In 2009 I met with Dhruv Grewal who later introduced me to his colleague Anne Roggeveen. When we started to work together my reading became much more project specific. I still build my understanding of the retail situation on many of the early academic influences I had but when we study in-store technology the papers I read are papers of relevance to that topic; when we study store layouts I read material on that and so on.

Thinking back on all the references that I have mentioned above it is perhaps the book by Baars et al (2003), “The Essential Sources in the Scientific Study of Consiousness”, that has helped bridging my largest knowledge gap, and Nedungadi (1990) that gave me the largest insight.

This compilation made my life so much easier. There are so many articles in it that it would have taken me ages to find if it were not for this book. Fascination from page 1 until the very end.
It was partly with the help of this book that I started to dare taking on field experiments.
Like with the article collection by Baars et al., this book really helped me get a wide picture of the kind of thinking that was going on, and that had been going on when it comes to consciousness and fringe processes.