The Secret Psychology of Retail

The Secret Psychology of Retail

Emotion Sells, Reason Justifies: How to reconnect with shoppers and improve sales, brand perceptions and customer satisfaction, instantly.

First some bad news: Retail is going through a phase of unprecedented uncertainty, complete with dramatic range rationalisations and eye-watering staff culls. We are currently in an surreal situation caused by short termism, worsened by accountants and capped by trading relationships. Now the good news:

Now the good news: it doesn't have to be this way: Psychology holds more answers than spreadsheets and the shopper is more important than the supplier funding. All that we need to do is refocus on understanding the psychological make up and motivations of today's shoppers.

One of the most fundamental building blocks of shopper oriented retail, past, present AND future is human emotion. Here are 3 statistics retail needs to take on board:

  1. Emotion stimulates the mind 3,000x faster than rational thought
  2. The emotional parts of the brain process sensory stimuli 5x faster that the more cognitive parts of the brain
  3. Emotion is 24x more persuasive than reason

I'm sure you can recognise the potential from applying such leverage in-store: Simply put, make stores more emotional and they’ll sell more stuff! Whether it be B&Q or Boots, TK Maxx or Tesco, engaging with shoppers at an emotional level is the key lever with which to effectively engage with more potential customers. An added benefit is that providing a positive emotional experience for shoppers also dramatically improves their perceptions of the store they are shopping: The retailer brand.

As a basic explanation of human emotions, they are what motivate us, they keep us from harm and ensure the future of humans as a species on planet Earth. Each emotion has a unique make up.

Here’s how it works: When you read an absorbing novel, or watch a good film, you are taken on an emotional journey: Some parts make you smile, while others make you sad. Certain scenes may make you angry while others have you feeling frightened. This is what emotional engagement is all about: Changing how we feel from moment to moment.

And it should be just the same in the aisles of a store. The key to grabbing our meaningful attention is to change our emotional state (see the 3 statistics at the top of this post). But most stores simply fail to capitalise on this opportunity. Buying a lawnmower feels just the same as buying an electric razor. Browsing Kitchenware is emotionally no different to shopping for kid gloves. A major advantage bricks and mortar stores have over the Internet is that they have the ability to powerfully alter shopper emotions by way of the presence of the actual products. For example, in a store you can push the mower up and down the aisle (if you feel the need) or rub the razor against your face. It’s possible to give that pestle and mortar a go and to try on those kid gloves. But all you get on the internet is an often woefully small thumbnail image.

And when it comes to ROBO shopping (Research Offline, Buy Online), the true emotional connection with a brand or product is often made during the offline stage; browsing an actual product in a bricks and mortar retail outlet. Think omni-channel, think omni-emotional too!

Retailers, its time to get more emotional and let the brands that supply you help. After all, simplistically put, a brand is often no more than a commodity tagged with emotion. Want evidence of the power of using emotion in-store?

  • Emotional display of carpets increased brand sales by 350%
  • Changing the way shoppers perceived a particular brand of consumable increased its share by 150%
  • Other brand share increases: BWS 38%, Garden tools 23%, Confectionery 15%, Pet food 15%, Cosmetics 15%, Camcorders 12%, Hair care 6%. I could go on

Oh, and by the way,  often ‘fly or die’ because of the way shoppers emotionally react to them, not because of any rational added value calculation they make. Something that's been proven by psychologists many times (and disputed by accountants).

With regard to my credentials on this subject, I have spent many years studying human emotion and currently deliver strategy and insight to leading brands and retailers. I've also developed a series of shopper emotions workshops and a measurement tool that allows clients to quickly and accurately measure the emotional connection with just about any store, product, brand, person or thing.

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About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

If you think there is value in this article then please, please share it, thank you.

Phillip Adcock

Phillip Adcock CMRS
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

Phillips Signature

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