Consumers prefer self-checkouts when buying ’embarrassing’ products, UBC study finds

By Emily Marsten

Do you use self-checkout when you’re buying products like condoms or menstrual pads?

A new study out of the University of British Columbia (UBC) shows that when people buy “embarrassing products” they tend to head for self-checkout options or to choose cashiers who aren’t as likely to strike up a conversation.

Researchers studied the choices of people in grocery stores or places like dry cleaners and found that if human interaction was the only option, buyers would “choose the most robotic one they can find.”

“If they have to choose a person, they would prefer a mechanistic person who isn’t known to be particularly friendly,” JoAndrea Hoegg, a co-author of the study, said in a news release.

If they end up going to a more engaging person, researchers say customers try to “compensate by thinking of the person as less human–and by extension, less social, emotional and judgemental.”

“They engage in this mental process of mechanistic dehumanization. They think, ‘That person doesn’t care about me or what I’m doing. They’re just doing their job,’” Hoegg said.

“They do that to make themselves feel better. But we didn’t find any evidence that strategy actually works. They were still embarrassed.”

As a result of the study, Hoegg says workers should consider being mindful of how consumers may be feeling when they are purchasing such products, noting that the notion of engaging in customer service may not always be the best choice.

“When people are buying embarrassing things they don’t seek out conversation. They don’t want that social interaction. They want to get in and get out—and they want someone who isn’t judging them or reacting to them,” Hoegg said.

Related articles: 

“They should be mindful of the purchases people are making, and if the person isn’t making eye contact, they don’t need to engage them.”

She adds if the purchase is making them uncomfortable, ring it through with haste.

“If the product they are buying is one that might be embarrassing for them, don’t try to create a connection…just get the person out quickly.”

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today