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The psychology of parking
A fun, brief insight into how we make decisions
I recently read a fascinating book titled Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt. It’s essentially the psychology/sociology of traffic, and offers the most in-depth look at interactions expressed through driving I believe anyone has put together in an easy to consume format. I highly recommend reading in full.
An interesting bit from the book explains something you’ve probably experienced. Andrew Velkey, a psychology professor at Virginia’s Christopher Newport University uncovered the following conclusion after he studied the behavior of parkers at a Wal-Mart in Mississippi (paraphrased):
Something curious happens in parking lots. It seems that the people who actively look for the “best” parking space inevitably spend more total time getting to the store than those people who simply grab the first spot they see.
Two distinct strategies were observed: “cycling” and “pick a row, closest space.” Although the individuals cycling were spending more time driving looking for a parking space, on average they were no closer to the door, time-wise or distance-wise, than people using “pick a row, closest space.”
I enjoy walking, so I’m not a part of the traffic dance you see in your local parking lot – however this is a great insight into the decision making processes of people in relatively unstructured settings.
My personal view of this situation is I don’t necessarily think it is the laziness factor causing this, rather it may be social conditioning of how “great” it is to get the perfect parking space. You often hear people talk about finding the perfect space right out front as if it is some sort of trophy. And yet, the reality is they are doing themselves a disservice because it takes more time to find the parking space than it would have to simply picked a row, closest space and then walk to the destination.
What if you incorporated the above insight into your marketing? A lot of potential fun ways exist to make consumers feel like they are getting the “closest space” as it were with your products (where it makes sense) and opportunity to stand out in a crowded category. It’s not very logical when you consider the research that simply picking a space is more efficient. But then, humans are not always logical.