How to Measure Shopper Emotions in Brick and Mortar

Contributed by Ed King, VP Strategy of MaxMedia.

Since the hunter/gatherer days of our ancestors, our primitive brain continues to learn through sensory input. The modern shopper equivalent is the desire to touch, taste, try-on and try-out what we are interested in buying. This is the primary, sustainable differentiator vs. retail’s online-only counterparts — our customer’s craving to viscerally engage in the shopping experience.

There is something about the feeling one has finding the ideal-fitting pair of jeans, laying eyes on the perfect mid-century modern accent chair, or the bonding experience between a parent and a child when selecting and accessorizing an American Girl doll.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

As in life, consumer shopping experiences come in three “emotional” flavors: positive, negative, and neutral. As retailers, our goal is to amplify and scale positive emotional experiences, minimize or eliminate negative emotional experiences, and emotionalize neutral experiences.

Positive and negative emotional experiences pretty much speak for themselves. If shoppers feel good, keep doing what you’re doing. If shoppers feel stress, resolve that friction as soon as possible. Where retailers can find a hidden source of opportunity, however, is through normal, ho-hum moments.

An excellent example of emotionalizing a neutral experience can be borrowed from hospitality. One of the most innocuous tasks for travelers is checking into a hotel. One particular hotel has brought a bit of fun and personality to this normally mundane task. Immediately before the guest is asked to sign in, she is presented with a wooden case of different style pens. All of a sudden, the customer is delighted to choose the pen that fits her style and personality, and signing in now becomes a memorable, and possibly an Instagrammable event. The result is a brief moment of delight, and a simple action that communicates the hotel’s attention to detail and desire to bring out the best in their guests.

Shopper feelings and emotions dictate the majority of purchase decisions1, and it’s now been found that giving shoppers positive emotional experiences is the single most significant driver of customer loyalty2. This information has given rise to a new discipline: measuring emotions in retail spaces. The ability to measure and promote positive shopper emotions across multiple retail touchpoints – from the parking lot to the checkout line – is now a critical discipline in helping retailers survive and thrive in an increasingly digital-dominated world.

Transactional data (what shoppers buy) and behavioral data (how shoppers behave) have dominated store metrics for decades. It’s time to introduce a new lens of data – emotional data (how shoppers feel). And with it, an emotion-based metric: EpX (Emotions per Experience).

Thanks to technologies like anonymous video analytics (AVA), which measures facial micro-expressions; biometric wearables that can measure things like Galvanic skin response and heart rate; and cognitive linguistic analysis software that can “read between the lines” of what shoppers say (in surveys and social media) to better understand what they feel about the shopping experience, we can collect a wealth of emotional data at each touchpoint.

Our behavioral analyst then interprets this data through the lens of four positive emotions (happiness, excitement, crave, gratitude), four negative emotions (confusion, disappointment, frustration and anger), and a neutral state. The emotion and the potency of each experiential touchpoint in a shopping journey are measured on a scale of 0-5.

By applying measures in this way, we can determine which experience points in the store cause significant friction – what we call churn triggers – and which experiences impart positive emotional experiences. We call these loyalty triggers.

Disciplined retailers who take note of shopper emotions inside the store, and impart more positive emotional experiences per visit enjoy increased sales per square foot, and increased customer loyalty.

As technology and shopper expectations transform the retail space, possessing the knowledge and ability to pinpoint how shoppers feel about their in-store experiences gives retailers a quantifiable foundation for success in transforming the store for today’s new shopper.

Contributed by Ed King, VP of Strategy at MaxMedia – a retail digital experience design agency that offers strategic planning and creative innovation services for retailers, restaurants, hospitality, and museums. They offer emotionally-connected, measurably effective, digital solutions that brings joy back to the shopping experience. Ed can be reached at

Credits: (1) Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market (2) 2 2015 Temken Consumer Benchmark Study (293 Companies and 10,000 Consumers). 

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