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Riding in-store’s emotional rollercoaster

21 Mar 2011, Posted by TorchMedia in Blog, Grocery

It seems that, for the majority, shopping is felt to be a pleasurable experience. A paper delivered at ESOMAR’s Insights 2011 conference in Brussels last month, describes an attempt to chart and analyse the emotional journey of shoppers in-store, and it makes interesting reading.

The shopping visits of the study’s participants were largely characterised by an increasing level of happiness, rather than by negative emotions, but it also found a wide range of emotions that shopper marketers need to consider when planning their pitches to shoppers.

Here are just some of the triggers the report identified for the myriad emotions shoppers feel in-store:

Happiness: In-store, searching the shelves to find a good bargain, well-stocked shelves, and the quick dash in and out of the store to get a few urgent items, were identified as little moments of delight. The physical environment of the store – such as contrasting lighting effects – also seems to contribute to happiness. The brighter cosmetics aisle was a cue for happy indulgence. The products too evoked happiness, whether from reading the packs, the appearance of the food, imagining the product experience or the intended recipient.

Surprise: New and unusual products, and deals and offers trigger surprise.

Fear: Fear emerges when shoppers feel under pressure to shop for an important occasion like a party when there was a daunting quantity of groceries to buy. There is fear in relation to products that were potentially harmful – on account of allergies or pregnancy – and fear was also triggered by tempting products that were considered fattening. Perhaps a pregnancy guide could be provided by retailers and displayed at certain parts of the store to help allay fears of pregnant shoppers? Fear was also felt in relation to having to control spending.

Neutrality: Comments for neutrality suggest opportunities exist to make the shopping experience more engaging. Neutrality suggested either being on auto-pilot or at the other extreme, complete concentration on the job at hand. Could introducing an emotional “hot state” that grabs the attention cause shoppers to take an active interest in what they were doing and buy items they might not usually have reached for?

Certain products and product displays also resulted in neutrality during the shop – meat, ready meals, cereals, tins and ambient aisles were just some of the product areas that triggered no emotion, suggesting that these categories and the way they are displayed in the store could connect better emotionally with the shopper.

Contempt: Contempt is felt in response to poor levels of cleanliness in the store, the poor quality or selection of products, lack of stock, the moving of products to different parts of the store for no obvious reason and other customers getting in the way and delaying the shopper.

Sadness: Often triggered during the shop by prices, sadness is also often experienced in relation to the freezer aisle, which is cold and uninviting, and certain products, such as the fresh meat and fish counters – “It feels like they [animals/fish] are looking at you.” The emotional void sadness leaves could perhaps be filled by the supermarket with an emotional gift. In one UK supermarket, the shopper is given a token at the till to put into a transparent charity box for a local charity of their choosing on their way out of the store. This helps the shopper feel good about their shop and how has benefited their local community.

Disgust: It’s the emotion of last resort – when the brand is seen to be failing at a fundamental level. At a fixture level, the cleaning product display disgusted people – associations with the task of cleaning left people feeling disgusted. Expense also triggered disgust.

The first thing this emotional store guide reveals is the way that shoppers interact with categories, and the relationship between emotion and propensity to linger. For example, the lighting of the toiletries and beauty section demarcated it as being a different “treat for me zone”, and encouraged shoppers to pause a moment and inspect the products. At the other extreme, there were environments that were not conducive to lengthy browsing or straying off-list. The cold freezer cabinet section of the store left people feeling sad and wanting to leave quickly.

The feel of the cleaning product aisle of the store left people feeling disgusted. Could shiny and bright fixtures, with mirrors and clean bathroom tiles and porcelain, accentuate the positive end result rather than the means by which to get there? Perhaps there is an opportunity for a category leader to make the case to the retailers? Perhaps category packaging rules need to be revisited?

For another shopper, hot cross buns made her think of her son and how much he would enjoy them, leading us to wonder whether communications around family could help to drive purchase decisions.
Instead of solely focusing on rational price and product, retailers could aim to connect with shoppers’ feelings, drawing on the emotions connected with the occasion for which customers are shopping, rather than the act of shopping itself.

Instead of an in-store ad reading “Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Snack Size 8-pack: $3.99!” the message could begin: “Perfect for that fraught family outing we all love!” This is an approach that could be applied to a whole series of occasions and categories, including birthdays, romantic dinners-in and nights in front of the TV – in short, a “real people” approach that connects shoppers with their lives beyond the store.

Read the entire paper for a whole lot more!

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