When it comes to the way we shop, it seems fair to say that none of us are fundamentally rational in our decision-making. Emotive messaging, flash sales and timed promotions have long been staples of the retail arsenal, with impulse-driven purchasing proving to be one of the most effective tactics for retail-marketing success.

But how does this irrational shopping coexist with the growing role of rational, data-driven marketing? According to research from Clicktale, as many as 76 percent of big data professionals — whose job is to promote the role of data-driven insights — admit that consumers are fundamentally not rational when they shop.

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Given this fact, how can marketers trust that the data they’ve collected is representative, or that the behaviors shoppers display will be repeated? How can marketers claim to be able to rationally profile and quantify consumers when, in reality, those consumers are not using rationality as the guiding force for their purchase decisions?

Gone are the days when consumers could be treated as data in a spreadsheet, categorized and sorted under various headings. Consumers have fluid personalities and, to be treated accordingly, brands must recognize the nuances they can use to advance their customer relations and become more successful.

At the root of all this is something that has been there all along: emotion.

Consumer buying behaviors are heavily influenced by a person’s impulses, behaviors and moods. Unlike repeatable rational decisions, brands will inevitably have difficulty tracking and predicting future purchases if those purchases are based on impulses and emotions. The behavior of a consumer can vary drastically from day to day, with a good or bad mood directly impacting how they perceive their interactions with a brand. What was considered a positive customer experience one day might be perceived as negative the next — all because of the customer’s changing mood.

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In countless interviews and studies, consumers have revealed that they lack understanding of the forces that shape their purchasing behaviors. When purchasing, they believe that they always behave rationally, but this is often nothing more than a cognitive deception. There is an illusion of being in charge, stemming from the awareness of frequent aggressive marketing — consumers believe they are thinking independently, but in reality, urges and emotions play a much more significant role in our purchasing decisions.

To overcome this, brands must drastically improve the ways that they act upon customer experience. As one example, when buying online, impulse purchases tend to occur more in the evening, after a hard day wears down our powers of control. By examining the contrast between evening impulse purchasing and more controlled daytime purchasing, brands can reach beyond the traditional metrics or sales conversion rates and start to look at the psychology behind their consumer decisions. 

While this provides a valuable resource for brands, such a psychological understanding must not be intrusive and must never be used as an aggressive sales technique. Instead, it needs to be used as a way to improve customer experiences and to treat shoppers as individuals rather than as numbers on a spreadsheet. Through new “experience analytics” technologies — designed to understand emotions and the customer’s digital body language — brands have more of an opportunity to do this than ever before.

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Such experience analytics can be gained from scrolls, hovers, mouse clicks and even “rage clicks” — when a customer becomes frustrated with something on the page. Over time, these tools can be used to treat shoppers as dynamic personalities rather than numbers in a spreadsheet, improving traditional personalization and encouraging an increase in long-term customer loyalty.

This has become more apparent in online environments where consumers are bombarded with reams of information. In their first few seconds, an online shopper will decide whether the page they are looking at is worth their time, particularly if they are busy, tired and would like their needs met as soon as possible. Experience analytics provide marketers with the ability to meet these needs, thinking beyond big data and towards intelligent emotions.

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