The Neuroscience of Retail

Neuroscience of Retail-web

July 2018—

Research shows there’s a method to our shopping. Insights 2018 will show you how.

WHAT: Insights 2018
WHERE: Minneapolis
WHEN: Sept. 14-15

8 Learning Labs – 11 Topics – 5 Networking Opportunities – 17 Events

Think about the last time you went shopping. It doesn’t matter if you were in the market for furniture or groceries. Just think of the last time you were in the market for something and then went out to buy it.

Got it? Good. Now Michelle Adams wants to ask you a question: What do you remember from that shopping experience? Anything?

“Chances are you don’t remember much except maybe what it was you bought,” says Adams, the founder and president of Marketing Brainology. “And sometimes we can’t even remember that. We’re like zombies just trying to get through it.”

Adams insists there’s a better way, one in which the shopper actually enjoys her experience—from researching the product to the actual purchase and, in in the case of retail furniture, the delivery. “The best way to build a positive shopping experience is to make it memorable,” says Adams. “We want a store to take us out of the trance, we want someone to make the buying process less of a task and more of an adventure. We want to remember the experience.”

The home furnishings industry is rapidly changing, but the market’s evolution presents numerous opportunities for all furniture retailers—from e-commerce to brick-and-mortar stores or a combination of the two. But how can retailers anticipate the next set of changes coming their way? Some, using insights from Adams, are identifying new purchasing patterns with consumer neuroscience.

Indeed, Adams will discuss how to find those buying patterns at the Home Furnishings Association’s Insights 2018 conference Sept. 14-15 in Minneapolis.

Adams says neuroscience, which enables a deeper understanding of human behavior by measuring, analyzing, and visualizing underlying thinking processes, can provide furniture retailers a connection between what consumers do and why they do it. Since first using the electroencephalogram (EEG) in the early 20th century, scientists have made tremendous advances in understanding how the human brain works from a medical perspective.

It’s only been in the past 20 years or so that neuroscientists have been investigating business-relevant questions by forming links with other disciplines such as economics and behavioral science.

Adams spent nearly a decade working with Frito Lay and PepsiCo gleaning shopper insights for the companies using neuroscience to enhance the delivery and effectiveness of marketing messages as well as design store layouts that are conducive to increasing sales.

Adams and other marketers believe unconscious brain signals and other neuroscientific measures are far less susceptible to manipulation or bias than traditional methods, helping marketers ascertain authentic customer behavior without disrupting the customer journey.

Neuroscience marketers can monitor consumers’ emotional responses and decision-making processes using a variety of methods. These can include:

EEG, which measures electrical brain activity in response to external stimuli such as images, videos, or texts.

Eye tracking, which follows eye movements in real time to determine the order and intensity of visual focus points.

Facial coding, which measures changes in facial expressions that are typically imperceptible to the naked eye to identify emotional reactions; this technology leverages image recognition, machine learning, and deep learning algorithms.

Galvanic skin response, which measures skin conductance—how much a person sweats—to monitor physiological arousal in response to external events.

Implicit association test, which measures a participant’s reaction time when associating words and helps to determine if customers associate a brand with, for example, being eco-friendly, high in quality or innovative.

If all this sounds a little too futuristic for the average retailer, think again. Stores like Target, Ikea, Nordstrom and dozens of others already invest millions of dollars every year in neuroscience and how it applies to retail. Most recently Adams has been working with Nebraska Furniture Mart to study the chain’s in-store signage. Specifically, NFM officials want to know if the messages and location of the signs resonate with shoppers.

“They’re looking to find out what their shoppers are looking at and then see what they remember,” says Adams. By using eye-tracking technology, Adams said her company “can predict with pretty high accuracy what signage customers are noticing and what messages they remember.”

From there Adams and her group will meet with Nebraska Furniture Mart officials to pare any unnecessary signage that interferes with the message they want to deliver to consumers. “The brain is pretty simple in operating, but it has a lot of things it has to process every day,” says Adams. “Just think about everything you see on the ride to work. You might be thinking about a very important problem at work and how to solve it and the next thing you know you’re thinking about that car on the side of the road you just saw or picking up groceries because you saw a billboard or passed a store. One part of neuroscience is about clarifying the message you want shoppers to hear about your store.”

Adams knows most mid-sized and smaller furniture retailers don’t have the luxury of an investment in eye-tracking, facial coding and EEG technology. At Insights 2018 she’ll have the next best thing. In the months leading up to Insights, Adams and her staff will be visiting small and mid-sized furniture retailers across the country filming the store’s interiors. She’ll use that footage to show Insights members what shoppers are focused on when they visit those stores.

“I think every retailer will see a little bit of their stores in what we present,” says Adams. “I think a lot of retailers are going to be surprised at what they learn—not just about their stores, but industry practices that they always thought were true might not be so true anymore.”

Adams’ is one of several speakers who promise to make Insights 2018 one of the year’s must-attend events for furniture retailers. Unlike other industry events, Insights 2018 understands how hard it is for retailers like you to break away from their stores. Instead of being out of the office for three or four days, Insights attendees will spend 48 hours with fellow retailers in a dynamic learning environment. Some of the brightest and most innovative in the furniture retail industry will help create a hands-on, experiential learning environment that will get you thinking outside the box. You’ll also break up into small groups throughout each day to discuss needs that are specific to your store, and, with the help of other HFA members, collaborate on possible solutions.

Insights is also where the Home Furnishings Association will honor the best and brightest furniture retailers in the county at its annual Retailer of the Year awards ceremony. For more information on Insights go to

RetailerNOW is changing.

Insights Magazine will be replacing RetailerNOW as the official publication of the Home Furnishings Association. With this change, you will be able to find the same great content on the HFA website. All current members/subscribers will automatically receive the new print editions. You can continue to view content on this website until January 2020.