Now that government restrictions on social distance are loosening and we are finally going out of our homes, we start to perceive on our skin what it means to have many people physically close to us. Before the pandemic, we were used to experience crowds in our life: on the streets, in subways, in trains, during concerts. But after months of isolation, we have become very sensitive to people entering our personal space. So how is crowding experiences impacting consumer behavior? What do retailers, restaurants, and advertisers must know about crowding?


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3 basic effects of crowding:

  1. Increased Arousal. Crowds make you in a tense state, with surprising effects on your satisfaction. For example, if you are watching a game or a movie in a crowd, the experience seems more exciting and more fun. This is because the crowd makes you excited (that is, aroused) and you implicitly think that the cause of your state is the game/movie/etc. and not the environment.
  2. Negative mood. Being in a crowd may make you hate people. When consumers are in a crowd, they lose control over the situation: the crowd limits movements and puts them in a bad mood. This can have important effects on their willingness to buy things.
  3. Aversion to threats. Being lost in a crowd is not just unpleasant, it can be also frightening. Given the physical dangers that consumers perceive, consumers in crowds become more suspicious and make more prudent decisions. For example, when other people are too close, consumers become more risk-averse, more focused on preventing threats, and less altruistic.


Consequences on consumer behavior:

  • Crowds make experiences more exciting. Many studies have shown that comedy movies are perceived to be funnier when watched in crowds than when watched in small gatherings. Do you want to create an exciting experience for your customers? You may want to invite people to create the impression of a crowded gathering. The crowd will increase the arousal level of your customer and give the impression of a more exciting event. However, be careful not to make your environment too cluttered: extreme crowding has mainly negative effects on consumers’ decisions.
  • Crowds lower the perceived value of objects. Studies in retail stores have shown that the perceived value of the same object is lower when there are many other people in the room and higher when there are few people. Therefore, you may want to give space to your consumers and limit the crowds. You will not just create a more relaxing experience, but you will also increase the perceived value of your offering.
  • Crowds increase the online buzz. Since consumers in crowds perceive that they are losing control over the situation, they want to re-establish their independence in some way. Surprisingly, studies suggest that a common way to re-affirming the self is to share online content. Consumers share more tweets, IG pictures, Tik Tok videos, and so on when they are in more crowded areas. So, if you want more buzz around your product or service, you may want to place it in a crowd.
  • Crowds decrease altruism. Being in crowds makes you less pro-social because, at that moment, other people interfere in your personal space. This decreases your general willingness to help others. Therefore, you may not want to advertise your charity in a crowded place.
  • Crowding increases brand attachment. Crowds make you hate your neighbor, but consumers have also a basic need for socialization that they want to re-establish when they are in crowds. For example, consumers in crowds prefer to buy from the brands they already know to maintain their basic need for belongingness. In crowds, brands can be a substitute for people, and reinforce their social needs for people. As a result, consumers may have a higher brand attachment with the brands they buy in crowds.
  • Crowding increases the efficacy of mobile advertising. Have you ever commuted in a crowded bus? If your answer is yes, for sure you also spent time watching your phone, probably scrolling your social media. There is nothing wrong with it: since the presence of many other people is aversive, people prefer to turn inward and look at online content, including advertising. And here there is the good news for marketers: not only people do use mobile ads to distract themselves from unpleasant environments, but they pay more attention to the products they advertise. A recent study showed that mobile ads were much more effective in crowded subways (vs. non-crowded subways), both in terms of click-through and conversion rates.


Take-at-home message:

Crowding has a generally negative effect on consumer behavior, but if you manage it appropriately, it can make the experience more exciting, increase word-of-mouth, brand attachment, and the efficacy of mobile advertising.



Want to score on a date? You can prefer crowded places, with many other people. Your significant other will feel the excitement of the environment and misattribute it for sexual arousal toward you. Even if you are not particularly attractive, your date may find you hot.


Monthly Consumer Discoveries is a Monthly newsletter that brings you the most interesting updates in consumer behavior research.




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