The Power of Emotion in Retail

In a recent lively panel debate about the Future of Retail I dared to utter the words the power of emotion in retail. 

It was as if amongst all the talk of sustainability, purpose, personalisation and tech convergence, we had forgotten there was an actual human shopper, with actual emotions involved!

I’ve had so many positive comments about it that I thought I’d explore the subject some more. 

Breaks and mortar - where something magical happens

The debate touched on bricks and mortar stores and the inevitable dead or alive discussion. 

I’m a firm believer in the ‘alive’ camp. So much so that I think stores could be absolutely thriving, just not as we know it now! One of my core reasons for believing this is that the retail environment gives us a myriad of opportunities which are all deeply personal and deeply emotional. 

Take a simple interaction with a store assistant in a fashion store. I know instantly from the look on their face whether I look like mutton dressed as lamb or ‘actually not bad for my age’. And if it’s the latter, it puts a great big smile on my face. That’s emotion.

Bricks & mortar emotion in retail

Or take a group of teenagers piling out of the door of Primark laden down with those brown bags, giggling, laughing, being part of a Primark tribe. That’s emotion. 

The evocative smell of Selfridges perfume hall. Memories of holidays long forgotten. These are emotions.

And you can’t get them online. 

Why is emotion so important?

We build brands to be believably and compellingly associated with what our customers want: ease of recall, trust and motivationHow quickly the brand comes to mind in a relevant circumstance, how positively the brand is thought of when it comes to mind, and how inclined to action the brand makes us. 

Our emotions are the brain’s instantaneous triggers of recall, trust and motivation. 

Think about some of the world’s most successful retail brands and they’ll all provoke an emotional response: Disney – Joy, Ikea – Happiness and Apple – Excitement. 

Emotions are primal. They are subconsciously trained responses to sensory input – such as fear, calm, joy, disgust. They come from the trial and error of our past selves (and of our evolutionary ancestors).

They prime our instincts, our hormones, our muscles and our senses to enable extremely fast, automatic, unconscious physical reactions – fight or flight – and decisions -trust or distrust. 

Emotions are very much our thinking-fast brains at work. We can fight the instinct, resist the motion, but we can’t stop the trigger itself firing, because it’s not a conscious thought process. 

The most effective retail brands harness emotion to make them more memorable, more easily recallable and more motivating. They are built on layers of experience, stories and sensory input about the business they represent. 

All that experience has both sensory and emotional content. Especially when it relates to our physical environment, our social interactions, our health, and our sense of identity or belonging.

Great examples of brands using emotional connections

Sharps Retail

Buying a bedroom is a hugely emotional experience filled with highs and lows. We designed the Sharps flagship store to maximise all the highs. 

It’s a calm environment where shoppers are encouraged to play, compare, explore, touch, feel and fall in love with their perfect bedroom. Find out more.

Nike & DW Sports

Personally I associate gyms with misery but thankfully thousands of Nike customers think differently. So in our work for these collaborating brands we focused on achieving personal goals – and the joy and pleasure that brings. 

Add a bit of sweat and you’ve also got hot state decision making, a physical trigger to elicit a response. Find out more

Final thought

So to sum up, bricks and mortar retailers should start with the human being and the emotional response we want from them. Steer clear of the tech we want to deploy. 

We’ll get richer, more commercially rewarding retail spaces and a buoyant and thriving high street.

So to sum up, bricks and mortar retailers should start with the human being and the emotional response we want from them. Steer clear of the tech we want to deploy. 

We’ll get richer, more commercially rewarding retail spaces and a buoyant and thriving high street.

Finally, it would be rude for me not to say – if you want to find out about how we could help you build, maintain and innovate your retail brand then just drop me an email.

Get ahead of the competition

To help you and your team navigate the tricky process of optimising bricks and mortar retail experiences, book a workshop today.

These collaborative sessions are designed to help you find the opportunities to make your audience prefer you and your store over the competition, and uncover the moments in the customer journey where you could win or lose the battle for preference.

Book now

We’re The Behaviours Agency.

At every stage of the customer journey we find creative ways to give our clients the advantage. We do it by creating preference.

Preference is being ahead of the competition in the customer’s mind. That means being more motivating, more top-of-mind and easier to choose.

If you want help being the preferred choice for your customers, get in touch today.

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Sue Benson

By Sue Benson

Managing Director