Understanding the shopper’s emotional journey

Wendy Lanchin, planning and strategy director at The Marketing Store explains how retailers and brands need to understanding the shopper’s emotional journey.

Wendy Lanchin
Wendy Lanchin

The idea that consumers are propelled by emotion, that we are driven by habit, conditioning or impulse rather than rational decision-making, is not a new one. Despite knowing more than ever about how the brain works, understanding how brands can use this information often seems to be difficult to put into practice and retailers especially seem recently to have moved away from using emotion in their communications. This is particularly evident in-store, where the aisles are full of wall to wall messages focussing only on price.

Of course in these recessionary times, price and offers are hugely important to shoppers, but even these can be injected with more emotional clout. And perhaps more effect. Just look at what M&S did last year to celebrate their 125th anniversary. The Penny Bazarre event proved a huge success, with shoppers queuing for hours, not only to get a percieved bargain but to be part of something special – a bygone era. It’s also interesting to see the new Waitrose local stores using emotional point of sale (POS) messaging encouraging customers to try new products. Slowly but surely, brands are starting to realise that the emotional marketing route can enhance sales.

Much research has been carried out into shopping habits, looking at the many reasons why we might choose one brand over another. Retailers change the price to help products stand out, change their position on the shelf or in the supermarket to achieve higher sales uplift. But all these tactics are looking at the consumer’s rational decision making rather than their emotional one.

Some research has started to emerge in the real-time online space that measures immediate customer feedback which some brands are using to demonstrate their engagement with this customers (see ’Online market research real-time emotions a true source of insight’, Marketing Week 25th March). Asos.com for example is aggregating all mentions of its brand online and in real time, then using the data to denote whether it is negative or positive.

But rather than just looking specifically at brands and at how people react online, we should also be looking at what different emotions shoppers feel at certain points of the customer journey and why. Surely that would help us in reaching the consumer with more specific messages? And it would be useful to look at the strength and intensity of their emotional responses.

It would also be interesting to look at the various emotions felt between types of shopping experience. Before a woman goes on a clothes shopping spree you would expect her to be excited. I know am I probably not the only woman to have felt terribly guilty after splurging on some new clothes. Could brands not do more to capitalise on these two conflicting emotions between the start of the shopping journey and the end. However, the shopping experience in a grocery store will evoke totally different emotions. I can’t imagine many people feel guilty when leaving Tesco or Sainsburys – I’d imagine they feel more relief, or even happiness. A stark contrast to how they might feel before the daunting prospect of the monthly shop for a family of four.

Retail agencies need to better understand the role of emotions in the shopper’s decision making process and how this might be made actionable for retailers and brands when thinking about shopper marketing. We need to be asking the right questions – if we knew the right emotional cues before, during and after a shopping trip, we could be engaging shoppers more wholeheartedly.


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