The Emotional Shopper

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As human beings, our ability to put our emotions into words isn’t very good. After all, we’ve been experiencing emotions 100 times longer (500 million years) than we have been able to talk (65,000 years). Consider that humans have about 3,000 facial expressions that they use to convey their emotions but we have less than 200 words to describe them. So it should come as no surprise that when asked why we make certain purchase decisions we have trouble communicating the reasons for our behavior. The simple answer is, we’re just not very good at it. It’s not that we won’t reveal our true feelings, it’s just that we can’t.

The majority of shopping decisions are influenced by emotions so this calls into question the value of only asking respondents questions about the reason for their purchase decisions and then recording their answers. It makes sense that if respondents are not very good at communicating the reason for their behavior, how can we solely rely on these responses to draw conclusions about shopper behavior? The bottom line? Only asking people why they bought something might not provide the real reason  why they bought something or didn’t. They might not be able to articulate why they made a purchase.

Let’s review how the brain works in a typical shopping decision. The product is first seen and the short term working memory chunks the key information. Next an emotional response is immediately born (fight or flight, kill or be killed) in the limbic system. Finally, the higher brain (pre-frontal cortex) refines the raw emotion into a more ‘practical’ response. This is the response that the interviewer receives. This response may have little to do with what motivated the decision in the first place. People react with emotions and then justify their decision with logic or facts.

For these reasons, it’s crucial for retailers and brands to understand how and why their brands succeed or fail at connecting emotionally with shoppers at the shelf in store. The earlier an emotional connection is made, the better because once consumers have decided they like a particular option, it’s difficult for them to backpedal. Rational thinking will only justify their emotional choice. Without arousing shopper emotion, there is no strength or energy in the message. Emotions are the energy and very fuel of the persuasion process.

Explorer blends traditional research with neuro or biometric methods to capture these important emotional reactions. Contact is if you would like to learn more about our innovative research approaches.

Anne Stephenson
Partner, Explorer Research

anne stephenson

Consumer Decision Making