No.13 Courtesy Bias & Shopping Sustainably

No.13 Courtesy Bias & Shopping Sustainably

Courtesy bias can be found everywhere in the retail industry.

Courtesy bias is the tendency that some individuals have of not fully stating their unhappiness with a service or product because of a desire not to offend the person or organisation that they are responding to.

It is a tendency for a person to respond in a socially acceptable, polite, or positive way regardless of what they feel. Whether or not this strategy works depends on the nature of the problem and the attitude and presentation of the parties involved.

For instance, you go to a store and have a horrible experience. The courtesy bias would occur if, when asked by the manager how your experience was, you didn't want to cause the staff any trouble with their boss and responded that everything was wonderful. In order to be positive and polite your true feelings about the experience are not expressed.

The intention-action gap

When it comes to shopper and consumer research, including studying the subject of sustainability, it is a well-known fact that what shoppers say and what they do are different things. In other words, when it comes to being environmentally friendly, there is a significant intention-action gap. You should take steps to validate shopper responses, wherever possible.

Reality based 

Study how real shoppers actually react to green initiatives in-store instead of asking them after the event.

Go beyond words

Introduce research methods that go beyond what shoppers say and that get to what they really mean: Study emotional engagement and non-verbal communication for example.

Short term memory

Shoppers can remember much of their day to day shopping behaviour for no more than 18 seconds. So, you need to understand what you can ask shoppers that they will actually be able to give a meaningful response to.

The courtesy bias is never more prevalent than when shoppers and consumers are talking to researchers and answering their questions relating to sustainability issues. Recognise this human trait and make sure that your research agency does too.

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About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

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Phillip Adcock

Phillip Adcock CMRS
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

Phillips Signature

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