Certain colors can affect a consumer's decision to buy

Can red make you more willing to buy than blue? Yes. And no.

Rajesh Bagchi, associate professor of marketing in the Pamplin College of Business, and co-researcher Amar Cheema from the University of Virginia study how red and blue background colors on websites or on store walls influence consumers’ willingness to buy. Their research looked at the impact of color on three settings: auctions, negotiations, and fixed-price settings, such as retail stores.

“Our results suggest that incidental exposure to color on Web page backgrounds or on walls in brick-and-mortar stores can affect willingness to pay and have important implications for website and store design,” said Bagchi, who received a Marketing Science Institute 2013 Young Scholar award.


Rajesh Bagchi Associate Professor Rajesh Bagchi's research interests focus on consumer issues, such as pricing, numerosity, goals, and loyalty reward programs.

“Colors are ubiquitous in consumer contexts,” he said. “Identical products are often sold in different colors or with different colors of packaging. Shopping mall walls, aisles, and displays use multiple colors, as do website backgrounds and product displays. Colors are also an integral part of ads and company logos.”

Yet, most shopping studies have focused on consumers’ evaluation of stores and products. Little was known about how color affects consumers’ willingness to pay, said Bagchi, who worked as a civil and environmental engineer before before becoming a scholar of consumer behavior. 

In their study, he and Cheema found that a consumer at an auction or similar competitive situation for a scarce or a limited product was more willing to pay after being exposed to a red background instead of blue.

In contrast, during negotiations — when a product is readily available, for example, and the consumer competes with the seller to get a lower price — a red background decreased a consumer’s willingness to pay as compared to blue.

Consumers in fixed-price, or retail, settings were more influenced by blue, Bagchi said. “Because these consumers were also only competing with the seller, purchase likelihoods were lower with red backgrounds compared to blue, indicating that their willingness to pay may have been lower.”

The findings were consistent across all three studies. Two of them used panel participants in lab experiments, while the third used data from an actual eBay auction. “We show that red induces aggression relative to blue, and aggression causes individuals to make higher bid jumps in auctions but lower offers in negotiations,” Bagchi said.


Rajesh Bagchi “I am fascinated by how different ways of presenting the same information can influence consumers differently,” Associate Professor Rajesh Bagchi says.

“In auction situations, aggressive buyers want to ensure acquisition of the item by outbidding other buyers, so they offer higher bid jumps. Aggression increases willingness to pay,” he said. “In negotiations, however, buyers negotiate one-on-one with sellers. Aggressive buyers want to get the best deal possible, so they make lower offers. Aggression reduces willingness to pay.”

Fortunately for retailers, it is fairly easy to change background colors, particularly on websites, Bagchi said. “Firms could even customize colors based on the selling mechanism and product characteristics.”

But he cautions that the study results may not apply across cultures and that consumers may differ in their individual susceptibility to influence by background color. “Our research is a first step to better understand consumer behavior in these purchase contexts,” he said

His study has been featured in the Harvard Business Review, AAAS Science Update, NBC News, and The Atlantic, among others.

“The Effect of Red Background Color on Willingness-to-pay: The Moderating Role of Selling Mechanism” has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

  • For more information on this topic, contact Sookhan Ho at 540-231-5071.

Video: The impact of red and blue

    Rajesh Bagchi

Rajesh Bagchi's research looks at the impact of red and blue on three settings: auctions, negotiations, and fixed-price settings.

Meet the researcher

Associate Professor Rajesh Bagchi was selected as a Marketing Science Institute 2013 Young Scholar. He attended the institute’s Young Scholars Event in January 2013 in Park City, Utah. The event aims to promote research collaborations among scholars thought to be likely leaders of the next generation of marketing academics.

He received the Pamplin College of Business Junior Faculty Research Excellence Award in 2012. His research focuses on two areas: the impact of information framing on consumer judgments and behaviors and how consumers form pricing judgments.

Bagchi’s work and expertise have been featured in many media stories, including "What are you doing on 10-11-12" that appeared in USA Today, ABC News, Fox News, New York Daily News, Seattle Times, Houston Chronicle, and other outlets.

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