Shopper Emotions

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Shopper Emotions

Introduction to Emotions

Shoppers rationalise and reason their emotional decision making process – often incorrectly.

The human brain has been generating, experiencing, and responding to emotional stimuli for approximately 500 million years (ever since we crawled out of the swamp). Homo sapiens, the modern human with a cognitive part to the brain have been around for a fraction of that time, as has developed language. What this means is that the human brain is hard-wired to respond to emotions much more to anything rational or reasoned: Fight or flight, kill or be killed, breed!

  • Emotion stimulates the mind 3,000 times faster than rational thought – George Miller (Psychologist).
  • The ratio of emotion to reason is 24:1 – Erasmus
  • The emotional parts of the brain process sensory input 5 times faster than the conscious cognitive part of the brain – Marcus

But guess what, emotions are bloody difficult to measure – that’s why most researchers don’t bother! There are massive rewards waiting for the retailers and brands that can tap into the emotional circuitry of shoppers, which is why we have spent 2 years developing and pioneering a unique shopper emotional measuring device. This allows forward thinking product marketers to compare (and subsequently better align) stores, categories, brands and even individual SKUs.

To give a simplified emotional alignment example: In-store where there is a sub-category labelled ‘indulgent’ or ‘indulgence’, what are the target shoppers really expected to buy and how is it communicated on shelf?

For example…

Pet snacks and treats were moved into the centre of the pet care aisle, shoppers were then more exposed to them as add-on rewards for their pets as they were buying the staple wet and dry food, and sales increased in both of the store chains where this change was made. Watch below as the shopper spends time buying a caring menu selection for his pet cat.


Do you speak ‘Emotionese’?

Shoppers struggle to tell you how they really feel – so why ask them?

There is a major disconnect between shoppers’ emotional experiences and associations with specific brands and products, and their ability to tell you (or anybody) how they feel. The problems stem from the fact that we have been experiencing emotions for 100 times longer (500 million years) than we’ve been able to talk (65,000 years). For this reason, it is absolutely imperative for retailers and brands to understand how and why their products do and don’t emotionally connect with shoppers in-store, at fixture, at the moment of truth. Why? Because shoppers make their decisions emotionally and not rationally. So what is the actual worth of rationalised post shopping interview response data if the subject matter is the in-store decision hierarchy for a particular product?

  • Humans have around 3,000 facial expressions directly linked to their emotions.
  • However, people have less than 200 words to describe their emotions.
  • It’s not that shoppers won’t tell you their true feelings, it’s that they simply can’t.

To summarise a typical decision, firstly the product is seen and the short-term working memory ‘chunks’ the key information, this then goes straight to the limbic system which in turn makes a fight or flight, kill or be killed, make love to it type emotional decision. The higher brain (pre-frontal cortex etc.) reviews the situation and refines the raw emotion into the more tempered ‘sensible’ response that the shopper later gives in an interview.

For example…

A particular confusion for inexperienced shoppers is the General Daily Allowance (GDA) panel found on many foods. Different formats offered by retailers, and some serious colour incongruences on occasions, cause difficulties for the shopper. Watch below as the shopper in the clip ‘Grabs & Goes’ Weetabix, but finds that trying to buy Special K ‘Bliss’ is a much more complicated (GDA) problem.

Three steps to (emotional) heaven

What are the most powerful emotional buttons to press in-store?

Shopper emotions range from hostility to affiliation and dominance to submission. Overall, there are more than 100 specific emotions that are possible to identify and measure. But putting these to the side, there are 3 that are disproportionately important in the study of shoppers and shopping:

  • Pride – Buying or using that will benefit me in the eyes of me and others.
  • Shame – Buying or using that will help me avoid shame in the eyes of others.
  • Guilt – Buying or using that will reduce my feeling of guilt towards myself or others.

What is unique about these emotions is that none of them are what are known as ‘primary’ – emotions that drive our very existence including anger, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise and disgust. They are actually secondary emotions, each of which is directly caused by other people.

It is fair to say that if a brand can instil any of the above emotions in the mind of the shopper at a time when they are actively considering the product, then they will likely benefit. Conversely, there is the risk of buyers remorse when they purchase something in-store as a result of being promised pride, and then consumption leads to them feeling shame or guilt (the box of biscuits with 30% less fat, that then gets consumed completely in 1 sitting).

For example…

Seasonal and gifting aisles offer significant potential in terms of promoting occasions related branding. As a result, when this has been done there have been above average sales increases in categories as varied as confectionery, plant food and even consumer electronics. Watch below as our shopper struggles to decide which ‘selection box’ to purchase.

For more information about shopper emotions, why not find out about our training and workshops by visiting our website or calling 08707 66 99 74.