Does Shopping Really Make You Happy?


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Have you ever noticed how sometimes the experience of anticipating something can be better than the experience itself? Let me give you an example. I always wanted to drive a Ford Mustang. As a boy I was enthralled with the Mustang and its power. I saw the commercials and ads in magazines that described the horsepower and speed at my disposal in this unrivalled sports car. As an adult, I decided to rent one. My anticipation was palpable; I had a big smile on my face as I walked up to the car and turned the key the first time. The engine roared to life and I took off down the road.

I know this may be seen as heresy but despite the grand start to my drive, the sound and look of the car, after a while I have to admit I was a little bored. Honestly, more than bored, I was disappointed. The interior was bland and the visibility was restricted. My anticipation of being behind the wheel of this vehicle was overtaken by the reality of the experience of being in the car.

I was in love with the idea of the car, not the car itself.

The anticipation was a much more enjoyable experience than the experience itself.

This sort of thing happens all the time. Have you even gone to a party which you really looked forward to but when you got there it was nowhere near as good as you’d hoped? What about finally seeing the sequel to a movie you really enjoyed but the second film just didn’t live up to the first one?

Probably the place where this concept is best illustrated is in Lottery winners. Is there a single one of us who hasn’t won the lottery that believes that it wouldn’t make us happier to have won it? But studies show that after winners experience the joy of winning the lottery, they are usually less happy after they win. In all the cases, including the lottery, the anticipation was a lot stronger than the car/party/movie/lifetime of riches was in actuality. Wanting things at times is better than having them.

Consumers Like Retail Therapy

Sometimes when we are stressed out, we decide to go shopping. People call this ‘retail therapy’. Buying things we want can make us feel less stressed and generally happier, at least for the moment.

A great example of this behavior was in a recent story on CNN’s site, about a woman who had a stressful marketing job for a global tech company who enjoyed shoe shopping to relieve her stress. She talked about how deciding which shoes to buy was a way to escape ‘the drama going on at work’. As she shopped online for shoes, she described the anticipation and arrival of her shoes in the mail was like ‘Christmas morning’.

This behavior isn’t just for women and shoes. The retail survey conducted by Ebates, an online shopping cash back site, published its results recently that said that over half of Americans (51.8%) bought things to improve their mood. Women were more likely to buy clothing or accessories while men were more likely to buy food. But both groups agree that the purchase was intended to cheer them up.

When it comes to retail therapy, there were participants that shopped in brick and mortar stores as well as those who shopped online. Both venues provided an escape for the shoppers and both were relaxing for them but most people preferred online shopping for therapy. The online shoppers said they preferred to shop online for the following reasons, ranked in order by highest percentage of respondents:

  • 43.7% Don’t have to leave the house
  • 42.6% More convenient
  • 37.9% Don’t have to drive
  • 30.8% Wider range of stores to browse
  • 25.7% Don’t have to lug purchases home
  • 22.2% It’s immediate
  • 13.1% Don’t have to have anyone see what I bought

What many of these shoppers may not realize is that while the act of buying things is performed, the intended effects of the activity (stress relief) are achieved in the desire and search for the item more than the actual purchase.

Found it, bought it, now what?

Research shows that after purchasing an item, the positive emotions associated with the purchase don’t last. A study published in the journal Emotion last December, explains that the desire for an item, deciding on it as your next acquisition, and anticipating how it will improve your life is more soothing than the actual purchase itself. Researchers have studied the emotions of shoppers before and after their purchases. Before the purchase shoppers are peaceful, excited, and optimistic but after they experience what experts call a ‘hedonic decline’ or a change from these emotions to more negative emotions and in some cases, buyer’s remorse. In most cases, however, the item becomes a part of their lives, the feelings subside and the shopper starts prowling for the next purchase.

I know exactly what the researchers are talking about on this topic. Instead of food like my male counterparts, I like to buy fishing lures. For me the lure is a representation of the bigger fish that I will be able to catch once I have it. I usually search for them online. The Marketing people who sell lures will tell you ‘the first thing a lure has to do is catch the fisherman’s attention’. Once I find just the right one, I buy it. I look forward to its arrival. Then, when it arrives I unwrap it, smiling while I visualize my catch where my prey has no chance due to my superior equipment! I put it in the tackle box for my next trip. It is the buying it, waiting for it to arrive, looking at it and the anticipation of using it for the first time. After the first use, it goes in the box with the 500 other lures!

Does Your Customer Experience Leave Them Wanting?

So what does this have to do with your customer experience? A great deal, in fact. Because one thing we haven’t talked about is what happens when the item that is shopped for, dreamed about, visualized in their life as the answer to their problems is purchased and isn’t great. Or wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, like my experience with the Mustang.

Expectations are a huge part of the buying process. There are, though, rational and emotional expectations. Most organizations just focus on a Customer’s rational expectations, for example the time it takes to answer the phone or deliver a product. Ask them to show you research on a customer’s emotional expectations, how the customer wants to feel, and they will be found wanting. We have discussed this before in my blog called, ‘Motivation is Key‘. People have needs that they intend to be met with the products they buy, like the customers we discussed in that post who were buying milkshakes on their way to work to keep them full all morning and not mess up their car on the commute. Understanding their needs and showing them how your product meets those needs should be a critical part of your marketing plans.

You do need, though, to be conscious that in your advertising you don’t create an expectation you can’t fulfill. Promising something and not delivering is the surest way to create a negative customer experience. If, in your research, everyone says they wanted your product/service but when they got it they were disappointed, it could be that you may have created expectations that you couldn’t meet. This can have a major negative effect on your sales.

Resist the temptation to promise consumers the world. It won’t serve anyone better in the long run. Instead, it’s much better to ‘under-promise’ and ‘over-deliver’.
This will facilitate an opportunity to delight your customer by surpassing their expectations. This is the surest way to create a positive customer experience.

When you are designing your customer journey you need to consider the difference between what customers’ expect and what they get. In Moment Mapping we look at the psychological effect your consumer would feel after purchasing your product or service and put in place a program of events after the purchase to reinforce what a good decision it was to buy the product or service.

Customers are irrational, particularly when they are stressed out by their work and shopping for shoes! So be sure that you are accommodating that with your customer experience design. Use reinforcement of the brand. Play up the prestige that owning this product can have. By using these tools and creating realistic expectations, your customer experience will not leave them wanting but leave them wanting more.

What have you bought where the anticipation was better than the experience?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


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