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Measuring the Non-Conscious Mind of Shoppers

Appealing to all five senses helps retailers better engage consumers in-store

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The science of retailing is nothing new. For decades, researchers have helped retailers understand consumer behavior inside the store. Most of this research, however, came before the dawn of today’s new breed of customer – the “Always Connected, Experience-driven Shopper” (“ACES,” as we like to call them) – a disruptive group that is responsible for the majority of purchases today. 

These ACES are plugged in – addicted to peer reviews and never without their smart devices. Retailers that cater to their desires have seen up to a 40 percent higher conversion rate for this fickle group, according to a 2015 study by Deloitte, “The New Digital Divide: Retailers, shoppers, and the digital influence factor”. This new breed of shoppers expects a store to integrate with their mobile technology, but also wants an experience where they can taste, touch, try on or try out a product before they buy.

Ninety-five percent of purchase-making decisions are made in the subconscious mind, according to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman in his 2013 book, “The Subconscious Mind of the Consumer (And How To Reach It).” Our five senses are the biggest triggers: Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell each stimulate voluntary and involuntary reactions in the brain.

As one might expect, we’ll begin our discussion with the sense of touch. The ability to rub our fingers across fabric to determine its quality is one of the greatest advantages brick-and-mortar retailers have.  While color or shape might attract us, touch confirms our prejudgments on product quality. This tangibility is especially important for clothing retailers or other products that touch our skin.

The sense of sight is also significant. The in-store retail experience allows us to better understand scale, see colors and view our potential purchases at different angles. Additionally, seeing our peers in a video enjoying the product (we affectionately call this phenomenon, “emulating the consumption environment”) is particularly intriguing to the brain’s mirror neurons. This presents a tremendously effective buying trigger in the mind of the shopper.

Taste is another powerful tool in retail – it’s why high-end home outfitter Pirch employs two full-time chefs to create dishes to share in its kitchen section. Shoppers are able to taste the results of using its cooking wares before investing.

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While smell only commands one percent of the brain, this sense is like a mental time machine, taking us back to grandma’s basement, a first love’s perfume or mom’s dinner table from our childhood.. Finding the smell that best represents a brand and knowing how it stirs positive memories from our past is key.

Just as Pavlov’s dogs proved how senses can trigger a reaction, sense of hearing is also strongly associated with memories. It’s what makes us smile when we hear the familiar jingle of an ice cream truck. Be careful, however. Sound shouldn’t startle or overwhelm, lest we create a negative experience or trigger an involuntary fight-or-flight response.

To be successful at retail, it takes a blend of the analog and digital, the old and new and remaining cognizant of the conscious and non-conscious minds of reaching consumers. These tools can be used together to create a series of meaningful and positive sensory inputs to create a more engaging, more human and, ultimately, more successful retail experience.

There’s a reason why MaxMedia's clients tell such great stories. His name is Ed King. A student of human behavior and natural storyteller, King has engaged customers for companies like AT&T, Porsche, Reebok and Shell, by demonstrating how brands become meaningful and relevant in the minds of consumers. Using his knowledge and expertise in the fields of psychology, neuroscience and retail, Ed possesses the right blend of data and experience to help clients craft positive change in their retail approach. Ed can be reached at eking@maxmedia.com or on Twitter at @StayingInDroves.

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