The Gruen Transfer describes an effect that shopping malls are said to have on shoppers.

In a 1992 essay, The World in a Shopping Mall, Dr. Margaret Crawford explains, in a discussion on the deliberately confusing architecture of malls:

The Gruen Transfer (named after architect Victor Gruen) designates the moment when a "destination buyer," with a specific purchase in mind, is transformed into an impulse shopper, a crucial point immediately visible in the shift from a determined stride to an erratic meandering gait.

Is the Gruen Transfer a reasonable model of shopper behaviour? Have other, more prosaic, models been discounted?

I perceive a number of predictions from this model:

  • That "destination buyer" and "impulse shopper" are different modes, distinguishable by actual shopping/spending patterns.
  • That these modes are highly correlated with walking style.
  • That the modes typically change, within the same individual, from destination to impulse buyer.
  • That the speed or frequency of these changes are affected by mall design.

I expect that, to be taken seriously, this model should be more predictive than the simpler models:

  • that people get tired while shopping, independent of the mall design.
  • that people spend a fixed amount of effort looking for an item that they need, and then relax and look at other items, independent of the mall design.

Is there any research to demonstrate the Gruen Transfer is a real thing? Is it just pseudoscience from architects and mall-designers, claiming tired and frustrated customers as a success criteria?

  • I don't think just malls try and utilize the Gruen Transfer though, most grocery stories try to get "destination buyer's" to make impulse buy by strategically placing the various displays. – rjzii May 16 '13 at 14:37
  • @RobZ: The context of the quote talks about the apparent effects of simultaneous stimulation & sedation - disorientation, anxiety and apathy. The immediate sentence preceding is "The jargon used by mall management demonstrates not on their awareness of these side-effects, but also their partial and imprecise attempts to capitalize on them." So, the claim is there (for malls, not grocery stores). If you think it will help, I can include that in the question. – Oddthinking May 16 '13 at 14:55
  • Oh, and if it turns out that people are equally likely to impulse buy an item while they are initially on a directed search for a "destination" item as they are an hour later, that would violate the initial prediction I listed, and suggest the Gruen Transfer model has little predictive power. – Oddthinking May 16 '13 at 14:58
  • The later is what I'm thinking since I seem to recall reading a book awhile back that discussed impulse buys and it effectively said that delaying someone longer could result in more but placement and cost of the impulse buys was as or more important that the time the person was exposed to them. – rjzii May 16 '13 at 15:36

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