Understanding The Mind of The Shopper

Shopping is a complex experience that begins with goals and expectations in the mind of the shopper and ends with a decision to buy or not to buy. In between, it’s a physical experience that involves navigating through physical space, activating all our senses, and weighing lots of alternatives.

Shopping can be, and often is, a pleasurable experience. It harkens back to our early days of hunting and gathering. In many ways, our evolutionary background has optimized our minds for shopping. We’re experts at finding our way through landscapes to acquire things we want and need. We’re driven to meet our bodies’ basic needs, like food and warmth. Not only are we good at shopping, but we draw intense satisfaction from achieving our goals.

Shopper research is a natural fit for neuromarketing methods, because shopping involves many of the mental processes that are central to the neuromarketing perspective:

  • Our ability to notice novelty and familiarity
  • Our motivation to approach things that are rewarding and avoid things that are not
  • Our tenacity to pursue goals in the face of obstacles and interruptions
  • Our ability to choose rapidly among alternatives


Shopping is a multisensory experience that engages the mind of the shopper more effectively when all five senses are activated in a consistent manner. Retailers are beginning to appreciate the power of sensory cues and are using neuromarketing studies to tune their environments across all five senses: sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound. Researchers are finding that adjustments in the sensory “landscape” of a retail environment can have a significant impact on both shopper satisfaction and purchase behavior, even when the shopper is unaware of the changes that have been made.

Neuromarketing also highlights the importance of goal pursuit in the mind of the shopper, with studies showing how different goals can lead to vastly different shopping experiences. For example, shoppers often make a distinction between doing the shopping, when they see shopping as a chore, and going shopping, when they see shopping as a pleasurable recreational experience. The goals being pursued in these contexts are quite different, and retailers need to provide quite different experiences to satisfy the shopper’s expectations and needs in each case.

A final element in understanding the mind of the shopper is the impact of consumer personality, temperament, and behavioral style on shopping behavior. Psychologists have known for some time that people have different predispositions in how they behave — some of us are more impulsive, more cautious, more outgoing, and so on. Recently some of these categorizations have been applied to consumers, and interesting variations in shopping styles have been identified. Knowledge of consumer styles is another tool retailers can use to fine-tune their environments to meet the needs of their customers.


This post is excerpted, with minor edits, from Neuromarketing for Dummies, Chapter 3, “Putting Neuromarketing to Work.”