Temperatures this summer may not have stayed where we’d like them to be, but in the UK the few heat waves saw sales for ice cream rise. Competition is high and numbers dwindling nevertheless, in an industry worth 1 billion pounds a year, ice cream vans are still on the streets.
As children, hearing the repetitive chimes of an ice cream van would cause overwhelming excitement. As adults, although the uncontrollable eagerness may have melted away, we are certainly still keen to queue up for an occasional treat.
Classical conditioning, a phenomenon discovered by Ivan Pavlov in his well-known dog experiment. We all know the one, ‘Pavlov’s dog’, involving an automatic response between a ringing bell and a salivating dog. There’s not a better real-world example than the chimes of an ice cream van. Regardless of the reward, dog food or ice cream; or the subject, dogs or children, the chimes are still there.
To children, the sound at first means nothing. Only after they get an ice cream or two will they gradually associate the noise with a reward. Though the association may be simple at first, when discussing adults, there’s more at play. Hearing the chimes transports us back to childhood. Running down the road to chase the van. Reaching up to take the ice cream from the hands belonging to a hero in your eyes. Even licking the melting ice cream off your fingers.
Our senses are incredibly powerful at transporting us to memories far forgotten, whether they’re good or bad, the more emotionally connected we are, the more likely we are to remember them. Ice cream is one of the most nostalgic foods, our ears picking up the chimes from streets away, undoubtedly the happy memories that come along side are a significant influencer to buy or not to buy.
On a sunny day, the biggest limitation of ice cream vans is the price. With a reputation of being expensive, it’s hard for owners to compete with big supermarkets when they can’t buy and sell the produce as cheaply.
Although price isn’t as important as once thought, trust is. Increasing the price of a 99p flake to £1.50 can be seen as a violation of trust and customer loyalty may be lost. Though all isn’t lost, there are advantages the ice cream van has over the supermarkets today. Alongside the important emotional connection, there are a few additional influencing factors worth a mention.
Would you believe there are rules ice cream van owners must adhere to? For example, the chime is to last no longer than 12 seconds and can only be played every 2 minutes. It’s also not allowed to be sounded before noon, or after 7pm. These rules are comparable a concept known as the fear of missing out in behavioural economics. The rule suggests people are more concerned with loses than gains, by this reasoning as the chimes get closer as the van nears, only to fade or stop completely, subconscious panic sets in that you may be missing your chance causing you to rush out in search.
Another advantage is the shear convenience. You’re outside in a park on a hot sunny day, a shop 10 minutes away or a van 10 metres away, what do you do? Most people would pick the van, not necessarily because people are lazy, but because convenience is efficient. In today’s society, people have instant access to a wide variety of services and information. People like quick, it’s a form of instant gratification and the need for it increases each day. Simply put, we value instant gratification over long term gain. Walking those 10 metres to be rewarded quickly outweighs walking 10 minutes for something cheaper.
It doesn’t need to be said that there is a lot of competition for sales. What makes the difference is appealing to the customers real desires. Whether they’d admit it or not, price certainly isn’t everything to the shopper. Decisions often aren’t logical, emotions and social factors are hugely influential. The field is only expanding, with more and more being understood regarding human and social factors in decision making.