Well first things first the blog title should have been ‘the customer is usually right (handed)’ but that just didn’t fit in with my play on the infamous retail saying. Anyway I do acknowledge that there are left handers & ambidextrous individuals in the world and they do go shopping.


“The customer is always right” – the phrase that shop assistants everywhere despair at hearing when a customer is most obviously wrong! However I don’t want to discuss the meanings of this phrase, what it means for my job, my decision making, my anguish at when I can’t convince a customer that my way (i.e. the business’s way of thinking) is what they think is right etc etc but rather how handedness can affect the consumer world.

A few of you may be thinking ‘how boring is her job that she stares at customer’s hand movements, assesses their hand dominance and muses about this on the shop floor’ but it wasn’t quite started like that. My undergraduate dissertation focused on hand and brain laterality and since then I have become a little bit focussed on what hands people use for different tasks and the shop floor provides ample opportunity to watch a  range of individuals engage in a variety of tactile tasks.

The majority of the population are right-handed and considering left handers were stigmatised for most of history, the world has become one designed for right handers (e.g. most of the World writes right to left; table settings are designed so you can reach for a glass with your right hand) which can also be applied to the consumer world such as the design of packaging.

Firstly when designing packaging it appears often the designers neglect the lefties of this world. In fact in a study by Winder et al (2002) it was found that left handedness was the variable that predicted the highest correlational relationship with problems opening packaging and subsequent accidents (this was over variables such as age). Packaging should be as user-friendly as possible to ensure customers do not get frustrated by a task as simple as opening a product. This is ultimately part of the end-user experience and the user’s rating of this experience will impact future consumer decision making and purchase (Blackwell et al Consumer Behaviour book).

FUN TASK! – Try using a tin opener with the opposite hand and see how difficult and frustrating it is (though I’m told amusing to watch!) I gave up and didn’t have carrots with my tea in the end.

Left Handed in the Simpsons

Most consumer products as also designed with a right hand affordance. An affordance is a quality of an object that offers explanation of its use. You’ve probably never noticed but when you walk down the chemical part of the supermarket (detergents, cleaning products etc) the majority of bottles are designed with the handles on the right side (if the brand name is facing outwards). Experiments testing stimulus-response compatibility, such as by Tucker & Ellis (1998), have shown that the direction of an object handle promote a better response from the corresponding hand.  By having the handle on the right of the bottle it is instantly more ‘grab-able’ for the vast majority of the population.

But maybe you want you’re washing detergent packaging to be different, to stand-out, to disobey the washing detergent packaging norms and have the handle located on the left!! Problem is the vast majority of the population won’t find this product graspable. The handle is incongruent with what their brain is telling their dominant hand to do. Additionally by using their left hand to reach for the washing detergent they will be slower at doing so, be less accurate and the whole process will require more cognitive resources (references here 1, 2, 3).

An individual’s handedness also indicates in general what side of the body is dominant (e.g. kicking foot, visual field) which can influence our aspects of shopping such as direction. There is a statistic floating around the internet that states ‘90% of customers turn right when walking into a department store’. It seems unlikely this is really true, after all when you walk into a store you probably have an idea where you already heading or you follow the signs to your required department, but science would suggest your body dominance would determine which direction you would choose if you had two equal options and no reason to go in one direction other the other.

Thinking about it myself in stores where I know I plan to look round the whole store I will usually gravitate to the right and go round anti-clockwise. Furthermore on a walk to an office the other day with a colleague we were faced with the option of going through the left wing of the building to get to it or the right – turns out I always pick to go through the right wing whereas my colleague, who is a left-hander, picks the left wing. From a consumer perspective it is hence important to consider how the majority of customers will gravitate to the right when shopping when planning a shop layout to create a logical flow e.g. tops – jeans/skirts – shoes – other accessories.

Right handed individuals also have a bias to attend to the right side of space; they will pay more attention to information received from their right visual field. Hence on a shop floor it makes more sense to put products you want to sell, your best-sellers, to the right of a customer. As customers usually develop habits of walking around a store it shouldn’t take much analysis to work out which side is to the right of customers the majority of the time. This task becomes even easier when the customer is stationary such as at the till point. For example one would hypothesise that because the majority of people are right handed, right sided POP displays should make more sales then their left sided counterparts due to this attentional bias (I could find no research on this but someone should look into it! If you do, tell me what you find :D)

So to conclude this week’s blog I thought I’d add ANOTHER FUN TASK – test your hand dominance. You can use a psychological inventory such as the Edinburgh Handedness Inventory or this science for kid’s alternative. Personally my right hand is my dominant hand but there are some tasks I am ambidextrous in (e.g. brushing my hair) and some tasks I favour my left hand (e.g. opening jars) – it’s not always as straight forward as being solely left or right handed.

An advert AND an April Fool’s Joke – would else could you want from a newspaper advertisement!


One thought on “The Customer is Always Right (Handed)

  1. HI,
    I really enjoyed your topic especially because it reminds me an article I found a few weeks ago about the differences between left and right handers in drinking alcohol.
    In this paper: http://www.jsad.com/jsad/downloadarticle/Alcohol_Use_Among_Right_and_LeftHanded_Persons_in_a_Small_Community/3388.pdf
    the authors suggest an existing relation between the handedness and the drugs consumption. In particular they focus on alcohol problem in a small city in the States.
    At the end of their study, the results confirm their hypothesis and state that, among men over 40 years old, alcohol intake is higher in the left-handers respect in the right-handers. The remarkable point is that, there aren’t other social or educational variables which could affect this correlation. The significantly difference in the alcohol consumption seems linked only with the handedness.
    Even the weigh, families or negative life events doesn’t affect the results. I find it really really weird…
    What do you think????

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