Food and grocery businesses should think less rationally and more emotionally to win over shoppers, according to the boss of research and training charity IGD.

Speaking at IGD’s Big Debate conference in London yesterday (18 October), IGD chief executive Joanne Denney-Finch also said it would be essential for manufacturers to offer retailers fresh and innovative products in the future.

“In a business environment, we pride ourselves on thinking rationally,” she told the audience. “But let’s stop thinking so rationally all of the time and build our emotional intelligence.”

Her comments followed research on shoppers’ feelings using a gauge called 5Drivers that looked at five emotional states: control, desire, belonging, immersion and freedom.

The 5Drivers emotional gauge

Control is about feeling on top of things and confident you won’t be let down

Desire is about the sensory pleasures of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell

Belonging is about social connection, feeling welcomed, comfortable and part of a group

Immersion is about being lost in the moment 

Freedom is about feeling unconstrained and liberated

“We’ve tested grocery shopping for all these emotions and it came out okay – but it could do better,” said Denney-Finch.

“It got high scores for ‘control’; scored around halfway for ‘desire’ and ‘belonging’; but didn’t score well for ‘immersion’ and ‘freedom’. That tells us time tends to drag and we’re rarely surprised in a grocery store.”

Online shopping and the discounters were better at triggering positive emotions than the biggest retailers, which were viewed as ‘the establishment’, by many shoppers.

Discounters versus full-range stores, and physical versus online shopping, were “critical battlegrounds” where the future of food retail would be decided, according to Denney-Finch.

“Shoppers told us that shopping at a discounter is quick, easy and better for new products,” she said.

Online engagement

Researchers found that, rather than hinging on cost and convenience, online retailing services engages the emotions better than traditional grocery.

“It’s easy to get absorbed in the Aladdin’s Cave of possibilities online,” Denney-Finch told the audience. “And that emotional gap will keep on widening unless you get to work on it.”

She also stated that the success of ‘food to go’ products was due to the way they engaged shoppers’ emotions.

“It is fun, varied, immediate, a treat and generally low in stress,” she said. “Home cooking can be inspiring too, but the centre of an average supermarket is a pretty uninspiring place.”

Seeking inspiration

Greater automation of grocery retailing in the future will give shoppers more time to seek inspiration, added Denney-Finch.

“Food stores will focus more and more on fresh and new products and here emotions really will rule.

“For suppliers, it means if you’re not fresh and you’re not new – and you’re not bringing excitement or helping the retailer to differentiate – you’re going to get marginalised in tomorrow’s food stores."