The store an emotional space

THE STORE, AN EMOTIONAL SPACE_ Creating a moving story: the shopping process


Only recently neuroscience has provided evidence of the fact that the main route leading to decisions and preference creation is the unconcious emotional route. That is, the reasons behind the marketing mix, still adopted by many chains, have their shortcomings.


The true function of retail chains is actually not providing the customers with products or services, but to offer them a specific sense that fits their somewhat secret insights and that is transmitted by means of a specific emotion.


Once upon a time, there was a redheaded girl with unblemished skin and a round face,  and when her almond-shaped eyes blinked while she spread a smile that was like a slice of lime, there was absolutely nothing she couldn’t obtain.

One Thursday afternoon during the sales season she went out to buy a book. She entered a typical bookstore, well located, full of books (poetry, novel, self-help, … as the fluorescent daylight signs announced) and asked the shop assistant if they had ‘The Paradise of the Giant Poppies’.

The assistant simply said ‘no’ in an unconcerned tone and without lifting his eyes from the delivery notes he was painfully sorting. On the wall, there was a half covered, full-colour poster that stated ‘Reading makes you free’.

The girl had enough of being there and left. She didn’t buy anything. Which, she thought, was not bad either as she shouldn’t spend so much in times of crisis.

Stores that are merely stores

The problem with many stores is that they are only (correctly set up) stores: spaces where the products that are arranged on the shelves don’t get wet when it rains, and where prices are more or less visible, some places where they let you walk, plus a checkout and things like that.

What stops many chains from moving on is that they still believe in the Retail Mix – this sort of equation or magic potion for selling a lot and trouble-free. You only need to place some high quality products and add appealing prices, some pretty shop windows, some shop assistants who know their job, and some correct services (opening times, fast moving queues, etc.). Have all this in a shop that is located where plenty of people pass by, and done deal!

However, it turns out that this equation is no longer working, or at least not as well as expected. Then of course, in this time of crisis, we are told that the problem is actually the price. But when they notice the long queues of customers at the Nespresso stores, where the price per kg is just surprisingly high, the theory flies out the window.

Learn to unlearn

What happens is that over 80% of the choice of store and product is an implicit or unconscious decision. That is, the reasons behind the marketing mix have their shortcomings, as their influence on the decision is below 20%.

Only recently neuroscience has provided evidence of this fact. So the main route leading to decisions or preference creation is the emotional route.

In fact, the purpose of retail firms is not to provide customers with products (or molecules or services), but with a specific sense, that fits their somewhat secret insights, and that is transmitted through a specific emotion.

There is a very wide and varied range of emotions. Picking the right one that turns out to be the most suitable for the retail formula is quite an art. In fact, it is one of the pillars of customer-centric retail innovation.

The store must be an emotional space: “No emotions, no party”, because without emotions, there is no sustained preference beyond the punchy promotion. Without emotions, a store is just a store, nothing special.

The shop must be an emotional place where customers are not treated as robots with wallets, but as persons. Where collaborators are not considered as “staff costs”, but persons whose job has a sense for them. Where visual merchandising is not just a set of techniques, but the language, the atmospherics and the background of the story, which, in fact, encompasses the whole shopping process.

All the different technologies (communications, multimedia, selling methods, etc.) can be applied only after a moving plot has been set for the story. These technologies must be finely tuned to the script. In fact, technologies are enablers of innovation, but they usually shouldn’t be the starting point.

On this stage, the store manager is the leader of an emotional space 1. Indeed a job to die for.

1 I listened this idea from a managing persons guru : Francisco Loscos, profesor of ESADE.


Lluis Martinez-Ribes

Source: Distribución Actualidad, the spanish retail magazine

(nº 416, june 2010)