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Study: Shoppers like simpler, safer colors

Most consumers prefer bland and boring colors, according to a study by Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business.

The study, conducted from autumn 2009 to autumn 2010, showed that people tend to like simpler and safer color patterns rather than complex ones. The study also said consumers don’t like contrasting color patterns when picking outfits and making clothing selections.

Xiaoyan Deng, an assistant professor of marketing in the Fisher College of Business, is the main author of the study. She pursued the study alongside Sam Hui of New York University Stern School of Business, and J. Wesley Hutchinson of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The study is one of the first in the nation to put subjects in a realistic shopping situation rather than simply ask them which colors they thought belong together.

It included 142 participants and had each subject use the NIKEiD website to design a Nike “Shox” shoe that he or she would buy. The site asked them to design seven elements of the shoe: the base, secondary color, swoosh, accent, lace, lining and Shox. For each of these elements, participants could pick from six to 12 colors.

Although consumers had many different color options, the average person only chose to put four colors on their shoe, Deng said.

“I can totally agree,” said Kayla Martini, a first-year in family and consumer sciences education. “I wear a lot of grays and blacks. I tend to go for neutral colors as well.”

Researchers found a minority of people chose to highlight a small signature part of the shoe with a color that was contrasting with the rest of shoe’s color.

This part tended to be the shox element, Deng said. The reason for this, she said, might have been because consumers want the small signature parts to stand out from the rest of the shoe, while still sticking to their original color scheme.

“This research tells us that we as consumers might be pretty good at simplifying the color combination tasks we perform in our daily life,” Deng said.

The study also included a second part because researchers were concerned that the results would not show consumers’ true feelings about color in general.

For the second part, researchers had participants log on to the Nike website and rate how much they liked four different Nike shoes. The results aligned with those of the first part of the study.

“I don’t consciously think about colors when I’m buying clothes,” said Kevin Gundlach a fourth-year in risk management and insurance. “But I think that all of the colors of my clothes are pretty similar.”

Her findings may suggest Nike has been offering more color combinations than consumers actually need, Deng said. She hopes that her research opens doors to other studies in the marketing field.

“This gives designers some ideas about consumers preferences for color combination,” Deng said. “When they design a multicolor fashion product, this research provides some guidelines regarding the number of colors, the right set of colors, and when to use a ‘pop’.”


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