Retail Focus – May 2016

14 August 2016


Kate Nightingale has been asked to write a short piece for the May issue of Retail Focus Magazine.

Retail Focus May 2016


Here is the reprint of the article:

The Mysteries of Consumers’ Subconscious Minds

Psychologist and other behavioural scientists around the world had been working tirelessly for decades to find out how human subconscious mind works. It took the business world a bit of time to accept that actually we aren’t as rational in our thinking and decisions as we thought. It would be brilliant if we could calculate all of our decisions but it is not possible, not yet or maybe never. There is however a vast amount of information which, if applied to all business and creative decisions, can powerfully influence their effectiveness. Let’s look at some of that knowledge which can enhance customer experience within retail.

As a big picture person I’d like to start with some overarching evolutionary needs and behaviour trends. As species we are very dependent on each other. We actually do get physically sick, if we feel alone. Hence the commonly used term ‘social animal’. This has however become increasingly important within retail environments to incorporate. Not only to allow customers to be social while shopping, whether it’s physically or digitally, but also to be social with the brand. Customers are increasingly interested in two-sided conversations with brands.

That trend has been further juxtaposed by a growing individualism trend. People are more self-aware and more self-accepting. They are increasingly happy with who they are rather than trying to fit into some socially prescribed roles. That means that customers are now in charge as they dictate what they like to buy rather than brands designing their lives.

On top of that the increasing use of digital technologies leaves our lives a bit meaningless on an interpersonal and sensory level. Our relationships are shallower, shorter and less meaningful. Our brains are being stimulated predominantly via 2, maximum 3, kinds of sensory input. Our attention spans and memory are being stretched but not deepened. This is all not enough and our evolutionary needs of closeness and equal sensory stimulation are waking up.

This leads us nicely into some of the retail design trends as originating from these big changes to how we live.

Firstly, we see that it leads to a need to connect with brands on a deeper emotional level. Our brains have always registered brands as human beings (we actually store in our brains mental cialis online models of brands which look exactly the same as those of other people) and formed human-like relationships with brands. Historically however, brands didn’t use to engage in two-sided conversation so it all felt like unrequited love. Not anymore. However, consumers’ loyalty is not as easy to win now since they understand they are in charge.

They control what they buy, or at least they like to think so. The trick for the retailer is to give them great options, great experience and reply to any possible questions which creates an illusion of self-made decision. Part of it is customer journey personalisation. Allowing customers to choose their own route in a store rather than prescribing one which their subconscious mind can easily follow. You still would like to guide them to the right merchandise but do it in a way which doesn’t feel forced, i.e. IKEA’s route.

Allowing them to form and enhance relationships with other customers and your brand will further enhance their loyalty. This is where the blend between retail and hospitality spaces started to happen. They are becoming more of an experience, a day out, a place to hang out or not just walk it for few minutes to buy something. Part of that experience is a well-designed and executed multisensory brand strategy.

Scientists have proved a while back that our subconscious mind can process as much as 11mln bits of information per second, whereas our conscious mind can barely manage 40 bits of information. This is the reason why pretty much 95% of our decisions are subconscious.

All of these information comes from our senses. This is why it is crucial to carefully design every sensory detail of your brand as it not only affects your brand’s perception but more importantly the consumer behaviour and therefore your bottom line.

For example, a well-chosen ambient scent matched with the gender of the products sold has been proven to increase dwell time by even 50% and spending by 140%. Dim lighting can make customers more impulsive. Being hungry can make them spend about 64% more on fashion and electronics.

These are just some of the mysteries of consumers’ subconscious minds and what they have to do with retail design. We are sharing more of them in our Sensory Retail Design Report. Once we apply the understanding of these mysteries to business and creative decisions, we can see incredible results. It all starts with subconscious mind.