Yellow Signs and the Power of Association: How Stores Influence Your Shopping Choices

A yellow sign caught my attention.

I was grocery shopping yesterday and noticed the frozen spinach I normally buy was on sale.

Actually, it wasn’t on sale, it just had the same color as the sale signs around the store, but with a “low price” indicator.

Spinach with yellow "Low price" sign.

In the world of influence, this is referred to as “association”.

How association works:

In practice, as a shopper, I associate yellow signs with saving money and am more likely to check out the product. The grocer cleverly puts this yellow sign on items they are trying to boost sales for. The folks who shop here weekly associate yellow with saving money and are more likely to check these items out.

Association can work in the other direction as well. If you’re shopping for a diamond ring, where quality might matter to you, people are more likely to purchase something if it is actually marked up. Stores know this and will mark something higher than the actual value so the shoppers looking for quality can associate the price with a high-value purchase. This also sets up the store to take advantage of the principle of “contrast” when they mark the item down if it does not sell, but that will be a discussion for another day.

“Association” is similar to the “liking” principle. It is why a celebrity who has no real expertise on a topic can juice its sales through endorsement just because people like them.

Understanding these principles may make you less likely to fall for them and will give you another tool for your toolbox.

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