Insights on Marketing & Technology

Emotional mechanims in stores

Other than these three salient guidelines, the recipe is very unclear because the potential list of ingredients is countless. It is a jumble of different options. To successfully navigate all the possibilities, it is necessary to stay focused on the final goal: to sell more.

Selling even more
The key question is, “What motivates customers to buy more?”. The short answer is that  the sale depends on the customer’s mood. Happy customers buy more. An example of this could be a clothing store that chooses to have a ballerina dance around the store. This would likely attract curious visitors who will end up buying more because they are amused and happy to see the ballerina. However, this ploy will only increase sales over the long run if the customers continue to associate the positive feelings they experienced, with the store.
    If the store, for example, sells women’s clothes and their concept is based on elegance and grace, then the ballerina resonates with a much deeper meaning and will continue to elicit positive feelings when the customer thinks about the store in the future. At the same time, the store will appeal to the customer’s sense of identity by associating itself with the idea, “I am a graceful, feminine person with a balanced life”. Combining emotional response and sense of identity is essential if we are to succeed in selling more over the long run.

Creating the store concept
Play is one of the ways that one can design a store concept that connects customers with the store’s products. Play is a tool that draws a clear correlation between the experience and the store concept. This idea is illustrated in figure 1
    Entertainment is essentially about influencing emotions for the better. The experience is the overarching framework surrounding the game that plays out between the customer and the store. As the diagram indicates, play has two levels: the framework that surrounds the customer and the store (level 1), and the more concrete aspect of play with the product (level 2).

Level 1
The game that occurs between the customer and the store involves ideas, imagination and play. In game design, the term is “cognitive interactivity and it refers to the physical, emotional and intellectual interaction between a person and a system. In the context of shopping, it’s about the dreams and learning potential that a specific universe offers.
    It could, for instance, involve a shop that is based on a story that the customer can imagine himself within, or use play to become a part of. With a little help from the imagination, the game help the person create ideas surrounding the role they are playing. This helps customers imagine what it would be like to own the product.  The products act as props in the game, and they will also be needed for the game to continue outside of the store.
    It is therefore important to try and create a perfect parallel world in-store, which is more simple, exciting, stress-free, unique, basic, childlike or fun than reality. In this way, the product becomes a tool to be used in trying to realise these desirable qualities in the world outside the store.

CASE: Tarina Tarantino, Los Angeles
Tarina Tarantino is a store in Los Angeles that sells over-the-top, colourful and glittery jewelry to women. The store’s interior looks like a girl’s room, with pink walls, a pink ceiling and pink floors and shelves. There is also a make-up table, a large mirror and chandeliers. It is a convincing universe where customers are invited to become “childhood princesses”. Customers are motivated to imagine what it was like to be a child, and the game is to become a princess. This activates a large number of emotions that the products will be associated with as the game is going on.

Level 2
Play that involves products is called “explicit interactivity”, which is to say that the user/customer is presented with several options. In each sales situation there is a seed of “explicit interactivity”,  simply because a customer must make a succession of decisions regarding size, colour, pattern, size, composition, accessories etc. It is a big puzzle that one has to sort through. For example, if you want to buy a lamp, there are certain criterion you will need to consider: “How does it fit with the room’s layout?”, “Is it modern enough?”, “Will it go out of style?”, “Is it fairly priced?”, etc.  However, very few stores use explicit interaction deliberately. If it is incorporated, it is something that can have a marked effect because customers will begin to play with the product. It can exist on many levels and include everything from giving the customer unrestricted options (design-it-yourself wallstickers 2) to a more structured process (Build-a-Bear 3). To be successful, it is necessary that “Level 1” is fulfilled, otherwise the link to the concept is lost.

CASE Frau Tonix
Frau Tonix is a store in Berlin that sells perfume. They offer customers the possibility to create their own unique fragrance by combining different scents. You simply select the scents that most appeal to you, and then a member of their staff mixes them to create your own distinct perfume.

Shopping is play
It is not only appropriate to talk about play’s usefulness as a tool – it’s also effective because shopping in itself is a playful activity, and if stores don’t understand how to feed into this, then customers will lose their motivation to buy anything. Grocery shopping is an activity where consumers acquire things that are needed in their home. Shopping qualifies as play because, among other things, it is a voluntary activity where the products purchased are exclusively non-essential. When a consumer is shopping he/she is therefore in a mindset where he is open to games and “to play”.
    If the consumer is in a playful mood when they start shopping, then game elements will have a particularly significant effect. Ideally, the game will result in what is called a “flow-state”, which can lead to feelings of happiness. If at the same time the product plays a large role in the game, then these feelings of happiness will likely be connected with the product and the store. The end result of all this is high customer loyalty and brand attachment, which will be evident on one’s bottom line.   

Sanne Dollerup

Owner of the design agency, Proemotion, and a current Ph.D. student in strategic experience design with a primary focus on retail. Her theoretical areas are concept development, segmentation, design, brand attachment and power measurement. She is also author of the articles, “Playing store universe”, and, “Shopping + play = LOVE”, published in the book, Experience Places (ed. Professor Christian Jantzen, Aalborg University).

Read more about Sanne Dollerup at

The Institute for Communication at Aalborg University is affiliated with the Innovation Network for Marketing, Communication and Consumption. See more at