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The emotional scale


emotions, love, behaviourWhen consumers shop they are being driven by an emotional need. Even if the shopper mission appears to be fairly rational, reason does not drive behavior, emotion does.

In psychology circles, there are seven to eight basic emotional states depending on the source: joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, and anticipation.

In retail, the emotional states combine to create categories that retailers can respond to.

Here I will attempt to construct broad categories of emotional needs states (not emotions, but the needs driving the emotional response) and more importantly, define the priority challenge a retailer must solve to fulfil each need.


There are many emotions wrapped into the category of urgency depending on relative presence of immediacy and importance of the need.

Ranging from fear at the emergency and critical end of the spectrum (eg. medical and health products), through to annoyance for inconvenient but necessary requirements (eg. food), to determination for required but non-threatening (eg. gifting).

In all cases the consumer wants the need fulfilled quickly and simply. The priority retail response must be convenience.

Convenience is primarily defined by time and place – often referred to as location –  or putting it another way, proximity to my daily life.

The location near my home, work, or transit route are crucially relevant. Other key considerations and retail drivers are access, navigation, and transaction efficiency to make the journey as easy as possible.


For those of us on a shoestring, budget is the significant driving force.

In day to day family life, managing a budget and finding the lowest price for life’s necessities will drive planning and research behaviours before and during the retail visit. Retailers who provide budgeting and planning tools such as recipes under $10, as well as discount alerts, whether digital or instore, will win this customer.

If the consumer is at the extreme end of low budget, say in crisis mode, low price becomes secondary to the emotional needs that must be managed. Someone in survival mode is possibly panicked, and therefore, empathetic and clearly reasoned service provision is a must. Categories could include crisis lines for finance and utilities.


While information provision is important for many categories, it is usually a secondary need in retail settings, however, there are some situations in which consumers are driven by a primary need for information.

There are two types of information needs – understand complexity or fulfil special needs.

In complex categories such as financial services, the need to understand the product or service is paramount to making a purchase decision. If I don’t understand it, I won’t buy it – or if I do buy, I make very poorly informed decisions.

Wealth management is a typical example where vast proportions of the population feel overwhelmed and ignore the category, or outsource the problem to an intermediary.

The other kind of information need is if I have special needs, such as catering to allergies or technology compatibility constraints.

In both cases, information design is critical, and potentially a key driver of the store experience. This means simplicity of message, visual tools, and getting as specific as possible regarding the information hierarchy or categories.


Finally, shopping would not be a sport if it weren’t for desire. Desire comes in many shapes and sizes and plays a critical role in differentiating retailers in commoditised categories and when the price premium requires added value.

For a product or service to elicit desire in new customers, it must inspire attraction and then inspire purchase. Food must inspire my mouth to water, fashion the aspiration for my self image, and homewares the pride of what I deem comforting or the perfect stage for entertainment.

Retailers in this category have a great challenge, because the need is not black and white. It comes down to nuances of consumer communication, taste ,and style – all of which are moving targets and totally subjective.

These categories simply provide a starting point for helping retail brands approach challenges with empathy for the consumer. The next step is to dive deeper into research to ensure the personae are as insightful as possible about the relevant needs states.

Clair van Veen is GM and strategist at Designworks.



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