Saturday, September 25, 2010

In vivo study of the ethology of market visitors

Sorry for that title. Does it make you want to stop reading right away? Science does tend to have that effect. My sister is an atomic physicist and she experienced that saying so at parties was The Best conversation killer (especially with guys, it scares them!). I'm a biologist myself, not as scary as physics, but if I accidentally let slip a term that sounds too science-y, you can see people tuning out in a split second.  They go from feigned interest to 'where are the drinks', 'do I see anyone I know?', 'how do I end this quickest'.

Anyway, ethology is the study of animal behavior. In vivo is 'in living organisms'. The background to this is that I was standing with my jewelry at a fair today and since my prices are a bit higher than at most other places, I have plenty of time to study the behavior of my potential customers. Here is my table today:
To get an idea of my exhibitor colleagues, take a look at the far end of my table;
you can see that the person in question has wooden dogs in different colors. Ahem.
Standing at a fair like that selling relatively high end jewelry is like panning for gold. Mostly you stand around waiting for these occasional gold nuggets. In the mean time I observe different types of people:
  • The Runner: person comes walking at safe distance from table. Glances quickly at items displayed, then quickens pace and hurries to the next table, where they relax, because they sell cheap brightly colored wooden dogs.
  • The Muggle: suddenly I feel like my fair is the stadium of the Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter, which cannot be found by muggles (non-magic folk) because of the repelling charms that have been put on it. People will approach my table carefully, and almost bounce back when they are still so far away that they can't make out any details.
  • The Sheep: it happens that someone is interested and looks carefully at every item or even makes conversation, or even buys something. Whenever that happens, people suddenly flock around my table like sheep. Three rows thick they stand, craning their necks to see what wonderful items are sold here.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger: 'I'll be back'. At least Arnie kept his word.
  • The Talker: when they are done I know most of this person's life. At least I know how many children they have and which metals they do and don't tolerate and all their ailments. But they never buy anything.
  • The Prey: some people seem to think I am a vicious lioness and they are poor antelopes. They want to reach the water hole, but since the lion is there, they have to keep their distance. They stand about two meters away and look at my table out of the corner of their eyes. Take a step closer and two steps back. 
I can think of more fun types but I think you get the picture. My favorite customer is someone who is not afraid to approach my table, says hi and really looks around. If I get a few of those they make up for an entire day with sheep, talkers, arnolds and the lot. :)