Shopping is a Subconscious Experience


How many times have you entered a store to buy one thing, but left with several products you never intended to buy? Probably too many. Even people who plan their purchase can sometimes find themselves drawn to a product that’s not on their list. Since such impulse buying happens subconsciously, shoppers aren’t aware of it. In fact, most of our brain activity occurs without us being aware of it. What’s more, it’s the power of the subconscious mind that can help retail businesses gain better insight into consumers’ preferences and decisions.

Appealing to shoppers through subconscious messages

A common method used in physical retail stores to get shoppers to buy more is through subconscious messaging. Found in pictures, audio, video and many other forms, these messages are everywhere. Supermarkets, for example, often play slow and soothing music to allow customers to concentrate and carefully browse product isles. Trendy clothing stores, on the other hand, will feature fast and loud music to excite customers and trigger an adrenaline rush, encouraging them to buy more products. Moreover, the smell of fresh bread in a grocery store can evoke shoppers’ memories of a family breakfast and make them feel hungry, even if they’ve just had a meal. Though subconscious messages have become the standard for many retailers, there’s a more innovative way to discover consumers’ tastes and preferences. Through technology, brands can better understand shoppers’ buying decisions and personalize their offer to match their tastes.

The world’s first subconscious shopping experience

Back in 2017, eBay proved that uncovering shoppers’ subconscious desires is possible with mind-tracking technology, and released what’s considered to be “the world’s first subconscious shopping experience.” This innovation was created in partnership with an online art gallery, Saatchi Art. During a shopping event called The Art of Shopping, held at eBay’s pop-up store in London, all guests wore headsets equipped with electroencephalogram (EEG) technology provided by the tech company MyndPlay. The technology was designed to monitor users’ brain activity and detect whenever they felt inspired by something they saw.

At the event, which lasted for two days, visitors could explore different gallery spaces. For instance, in the first space, they played a game on an iPad. This activity was created to “warm up their brain”. In the following space, guests could browse the exhibited artwork. If they liked a piece, they were required to stand in front of it for 20 seconds, so that the mind-tracking technology can detect it. After the session was over, the guests were given a personalized report containing artwork that evoked the strongest brain activity. This way, they were provided with a highly personalized digital shopping cart that’s completely adjusted to their subconscious mind. Innovations such as this one could become a real game-changer for retail companies, allowing them to better predict customers’ interests and preferences and make the shopping experience more personal. By sneaking into consumers’ subconscious minds, businesses could improve their advertising and pricing.

The future of retail mind-reading

Making this solution practical, however, will require a lot of work. What might discourage many retailers from experimenting with it is the high cost of mind-tracking tech. But according to Uma Karmarkar, a neuroeconomist at the University of California San Diego, the benefits of mind-reading technology over traditional methods make the investment well worth the price. And Moran Cerf, a neuroscience and business professor at Northwestern University agrees, saying that “When accounting for all the time, effort, cost, and quality concerns of the traditional ways of getting at the individual’s views, neuroforecasting is actually a viable competitor.” Brands that care about the future of retail should think the same.

-Richard van Hooijdonk

Trendwatcher, futurist and international keynote speaker Richard van Hooijdonk takes you to an inspiring future that will dramatically change the way we live, work and do business. His inspiration sessions have been attended by over 420,000 people. Richard is a regular guest at radio and television programs. With his international research team, he investigates tech trends like robotics, drone technology, autonomous transport systems, Internet of Things, virtual reality, biotech, nanotech, neurotech, blockchain, 3D and 4D printing and of course augmented and virtual reality and their impact on various industries. Findings are published weekly in the form of articles, e-books and white papers.

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