Insights on Marketing & Technology

Emotional agents in stores

It is well known that emotional agents are essential for encouraging customers to spend more in stores. It is also clear that this is accomplished by stimulating the senses: background music, a familiar scent, or a particular composition of shapes and colours are all examples. We also know that it is important that the store has a clear concept that is communicated to customers in a coherent and precise manner. From here, the recipe starts to become unclear because the potential list of ingredients is ever growing– it is a jumble of different options. It is therefore necessary to remain focused on the final goal: “to sell even more”.

  • By: Sanne Dollerup
  • Published: 08-05-2014


The key question is, “What motivates customers to buy more?”. The short answer is that the amount customers spend depends largely on their mood. Happy customers buy more. An example of this would be a clothing store that decides 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 in the long term 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.   


Play is one aspect of store design that can be used to create a retail concept that connects customers with the store’s products. Play is a tool that ensures there is a clear correlation between the experience and the store concept. This idea is illustrated in the following diagram: 

From the article, “Playing store universe”, in the book, Experiencing Places (to be released) 
Entertainment is essentially about influencing one’s emotions for the better. The experience provides the backdrop for the game that plays out between the customer and the store. As show in the diagram, play has two levels: the framework that surrounds the customer and the store (level 1), and the more concrete aspect of playing with the product (level 2). 

Level 1 is the game that occurs between the customer and the store is about ideas, imagination and play. In game design, the term is “cognitive interactivity”, referring to the physical, emotional and intellectual interaction between a person and a system. In relation to shopping, it’s about the dreams and learning potential that a specific universe offers. 

It could, for instance, involve a shop 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 gives the person ideas about the role they are playing. This helps the customer envision 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 on outside of the store. 
It is therefore important to try and create an ideal “parallel universe” within the store – a world that is more simple, exciting, stress-free, unique, basic, childlike or fun. In this way, the product becomes a tool for achieving these things in the world outside the store.   


Tarina Tarantino is a store in Los Angeles that sells over-the-top, colouful and glittery jewellery to women. The store resembles a girl’s room with pink walls and floors, a pink ceiling and pink shelves. The 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 encouraged to imagine what it was like to be a child and the game of becoming a princess. This activates a large number of emotions that customers will associate with the products, which are an essential part of the game. 

Level 2 is the play that involves products is called “explicit interactivity”, ie. the user/customer is presented with several options. In any sales situation there is a aspect 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 considerations to take into account: “How does it fit with the room’s layout?”, “Is it modern enough?”, “Will it go out of style?”, “Is it appropriately priced?”, “Does it suit me?”, etc.  However, very few stores use explicit interaction deliberately. If it is incorporated, it is something that can have a big impact because customers will begin to play with the product. It can be executed on many levels: everything from giving the customer free reign (design-it-yourself wallstickers), to a more structured process (Build-a-Bear). To be successful, it is necessary that “Level 1” is fulfilled, otherwise the link with the concept is lost.


Frau Tonix is a store in Berlin that sells perfume. The store offers customers the possibility of creating 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 for you. 


It is not only relevant to talk about play’s usefulness as a tool – it’s also effective because shopping is itself 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 needed for their homes. Shopping qualifies as play because, among other things, it is a voluntary activity where the products purchased are essentially non-essential. Therefore, when a consumer goes shopping he/she is in a mindset where they are open to games and “to play”. 
If the consumer is already in a playful mood when they begin shopping, then game elements will have an even larger impact. Ideally, the game will result in what is called a “flow-state”, which can lead to feelings of happiness. If the product plays a large role in the game, then these feelings of happiness will be connected with the product and the store. This helps create high customer loyalty and brand attachment, which will be evident on one’s bottom line. 

The 5 most important ingredients 
- That products that serve as props 
- An integrated and coherent concept 
- Fictional rules and truths 
- Spatial boundaries 
- A story that the customer can play along with

Sanne Dollerup 
Owner of the design agency, Proemotion, and a current Ph.d. student in strategic experience design with a primary focus on retail. Theoretical areas include concept development, segmentation, design, brand attachment and power measurement. She is also author of the articles, “Playing store universe”, 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

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Nadja Kirkegaard, Carsten and another likes this.

KEA, Student, Jasmina Viso writes:

Interessant artikel. Jeg er ved at lave et studie om netop dette emne, og er interesseret i at vide, hvor jeg kan få fat på bogen "Experience Places! ?

Exhibium Group, Director, Fernando Williams writes:

Excellent article, well written.

Proemotion, Ph.d.-studerende , Sanne Dollerup writes:

Hej Jasmina. Bogen "Experience Places" er oversat fra dansk, fordi det var en engelsk artikel. Den hedder "Oplevelsesstedet" på dansk og den er redigeret af Christian Jantzen.


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