The businesses indulging our fascination with the past

Katie Beck analyses how shops and cafes cultivate and capitalise on consumers’ nostalgia for bygone eras.

Be wary of the sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past you experience when a wave of nostalgia washes over you - it may make you more likely to part with your cash.

Research published in the Journal of Consumer Researchreveals that when people are primed with feelings of nostalgia their spending behaviour changes.

The JCR research used six experiments to test, among other things, whether nostalgic feelings made people less preoccupied with money. The social psychology researchers found that when people think fondly of their past, social connectedness and relationships took on more importance in their minds than money.

The resulting effect is a shopper who worries less about holding on to their money and feels more willing to spend it. Shops and businesses are using different techniques to leverage this.

A whole range of products have a retro or nostalgic feel to them at the moment from drinks and cereal, to toys and clothing. A trend echoed in architectural and interior design projects.

Walking into a restaurant or shop that evokes a different era can immediately transport us to a kinder, warmer place making us feel ensconced in familiarity and warmth - and making us spend more freely.

Founders of Gundry + Ducker Architecture, Tyeth Gundry and partner Christian Ducker, specialise in restaurant design. Gundry explains that he feels referencing the past is what makes his design relatable. “Using a sequence of references which are by definition nostalgic, you are creating a sequence of triggers or reminders,” Gundry says, “you are making your work relevant to people. If it didn’t trigger anything, or there was no reference, I don’t think people would feel comfortable there.”

Similarly, Andrew O’Hagan, a novelist and co-owner of Sam’s Café in London’s Primrose Hill, felt representing the past was hugely important in designing his restaurant. “Nostalgia can be a very positive force, transmogrifying the past,” he says, “somehow paying homage to it in a joyful way and keeping it alive.”

For O’Hagan and his team, the design wasn’t a cunning marketing ploy, but it may be an added benefit to their sales.

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