Buyers’ hidden desires: what counts at the discounters and the supermarkets?

Stephan Grünewald said he and his colleagues at the Rheingold Institut spent many hours trying to identify the secret desires which underlay consumers’ stated choices of shopping destination and product purchase.

In one of their most recent studies, they had started to analyse how people used Amazon’s Alexa. Already they had seen how Alexa represented the answer to quite a range of secretly desired persons: someone to pet, a servant, a nanny for the children or a reliable mother figure.

Grünewald said that consumers often made their choices based on a desire for mood. Their research confirmed that shoppers usually employed a repertoire of stores from which they could choose the one where they were most likely to experience the mood they craved.

He introduced a framework for mood which identified four shopping zones: the basic warehouse, the hunting ground, the land of plenty and the heavenly oasis of wellbeing. Thus, Aldi performed as a basic warehouse, providing a high level of control for pragmatic stockpiling. Moments of freedom and happiness in one-time promotional offers represented a carefully rationed kind of pleasure.

A chain like Penny, even if apparently also a discounter, fulfilled a quite different set of emotional needs and was altogether more welcoming. They had found customers who would contrive to visit their local store 4-5 times in a day for very small baskets, just for the sensation of being encouraged in from the cold.

US retailers like Kroger offered hunting grounds for value for customer secretly greedy for conquest - its lasso-like logo was a kind of semiotic clue. In contrast, REWE was a land of plenty, full of youth and freshness. Some of their research subjects had claimed to have found life partners in REWE, as if it were a real-world alternative to Tinder.

Understanding what mood promise your store brand made was of critical importance in calibrating it to fulfil shoppers’ unspoken wishes. And that meant assembling a set of categories, services and experiences which themselves all radiated around a consistent position on this map of desire.

© 2015 rheingold