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Posts Tagged ‘Emotions’

Consumer purchases from Internet retailing websites continue to expand, and their share out of total retail sales increases. Yet there is no real reason to declare the demise of physical, bricks-and-mortar stores and shops any time soon. Online purchases from e-stores (including through apps) indeed pose a stressing challenge to many physical stores, but the latter still hold a solid and dominant majority share of retail sales. Nonetheless, owners of physical stores will have to make changes to their mission and approach to retailing in order to answer effectively and successfully to the challenges from electronic retailing (‘e-tailing’).

The share of sales revenues from online retailing varies across categories (e.g., from groceries to electronics) yet the share overall out of total retailing revenues still floats around 12%-15% on average; there is also important variation between countries. Tensions are high particularly because of the threat from overarching e-tailers such as Amazon and Alibaba who grew their businesses in the virtual online environment. However, retailers do not have to choose to be either in the physical domain or the virtual domain: Many large and even medium bricks-and-mortar retailers are already double-operating through their physical stores and the Internet and mobile channels. Moreover, the master of Western e-tailing Amazon is lurking into the physical world with the establishment of its Amazon Go food stores, its venture into physical bookstores in selected US locations, and notably the acquisition of the food retail chain Whole Foods — what better testimony of the recognition that physical stores are still in need. All these observations should tell us that: (1) The lines between physical and virtual (electronic) retailing are blurred and the domains are not exclusive of each other; (2) It is a matter of linking between the domains where one can operate as an extension of the other (and it does not depend on which is the domain of origin); and (3) The domains are linked primarily by importing technology powered with data into the physical store’s space.

Technology alone, however, is not enough to resolve the challenges facing physical stores. Focusing on technology is like harnessing the carriage before the horses. The true and crucial question is: What will consumers of the coming future be looking for in stores? This is important, because consumers, especially the younger generations born after 1980, still have interest in shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores but they could be looking for something different from past decades, moreover given the digital options available to them now. The answers will have to come through rethinking and modifying the mission and strategy set for physical stores. The direction that seems most compelling for the mission is to shift emphasis from the merchandise offered in a store to the kind of experience offered in the store. The strategy may involve reconsideration and new planning of: (a) the product variety and volume of merchandise made available in the store; (b) interior design and visual merchandising; (c) scope and quality of service; and (d) the technologies applied in the store, all tailored to the convenience and pleasure of the shoppers.

This article will focus primarily on aspects of design of stores, including  interior design and decoration, layout, and visual merchandising (i.e., visual display of products); together with additional sensory elements (e.g., lighting, music, texture, scent) they shape the atmosphere in the store or shop. Yet it should be noted that the four strategy components suggested above are tied and influence each other in creating the kind of experience a retailer desires the customers-shoppers to have while in-store.

Shopping experiences in a store rely essentially on the emotions the store invokes in the consumers-shoppers. Notwithstanding the sensorial and cognitive reactions of shoppers to the interior scene of the store, the positive and pleasant emotions the shoppers feel will most likely be those that motivate them to stay longer and choose more products to purchase (further desired behaviours may include recommendation to friends and posting photos from the store on social media). Prior and close enough to consumption itself, the personal shopping and purchasing experience may invoke a range of positive emotions such as joy, optimism, love (non-romantic), peacefulness, and surprise; of course there also are potential negative emotions that retailers would wish to reduce (e.g., anger, worry, sadness)[*].

The need for shift in emphasis in physical stores is well stated by Lara Marrero, a strategy director with Gensler, a British design firm: “It used to be a place where people bought stuff. Now it is a state where a person experiences a brand and its offerings”. Marrero, who is leading the area of global retail practice at the firm, predicts a future change in mentality of shoppers from ‘grab and go’ to ‘play and stay’ (“Retail 2018: Trends and Predictions”, Retail Focus, 15 December 2017). This predicted shift is still inconsistent with a current retail interpretation of linking the digital and physical domains through schemes of ‘click-and-collect’ online orders at a physical store. Additionally, consumers nowadays conduct more research online on products they are interested in before coming to a store: The question is if a retailer should satisfy with letting the consumer just ask for his or her preferred product at the store or encourage the consumer-shopper to engage and interact more in-store, whether with assistance from human staff or digital utilities, before making a purchase — the push may have to come first from the consumers. Marrero further notes the social function of stores: retail environments become a physical meeting point for consumers to share brand experiences. Retailers will have to allow sufficient space for this in the store.

In order to generate new forms of shopper experiences the setting of a store’s scene also has to change and adapt to the kind of experience one seeks to create. New styles and patterns of in-store design are revealed through photo images of retail design projects, and the stories the images accompany, on websites of design magazines (e.g., VMSD of the US, Retail Focus of the UK). They demonstrate changes in the designing approach to the interior environment of stores and shops.

A striking aspect in numerous design exemplars is the tendency to create more spacious store scenes. It does not necessarily mean that the area of stores is larger but that the store’s layout and furnishing are organised to make it feel more spacious,  for example by making it look lighter and allowing shoppers to move more easily around. Additionally, it implies ‘loading’ the store’s areas which are accessible to customers with less merchandise. First, merchandise would be displayed mostly on fixtures attached to walls around the perimeters of the store, but even then it should not look too crowded (i.e., in appreciation that oftentimes ‘less is more’ for consumers). Second, fewer desks and other display fixtures are positioned across the floor to leave enough room for shoppers to walk around conveniently (and possibly feel more ‘free’). In fashion stores, for instance, this would also apply to  ‘isles’ of demonstrated dressing displays. Third, desks should not be packed with merchandise, and furthermore, at least one desk should be left free from merchandise — leave enough surface for shoppers and sellers to present and look at merchandise and to converse about the options. In some cases, it may allow for the shoppers to socialise and consult among themselves around a desk at the store (e.g., inspired by Apple stores). Opportunities to socialise can be enhanced in larger stores  by allocating space for a coffee & wine bar, for instance, which may serve also sandwiches, patisseries and additional drinks. Stores would be designed to look and feel more pleasant and enjoyable for consumers-shoppers to hang around, contemplate their options and make purchase decisions.

  • Large stores that spread over multiple floors with facades turning outwards to the street may fix the facades with glass sheets, and in order not to block natural daylight from entering into the store they would place desks and mobile hangers or other low shelf fixtures along the windows.

Modissa Fashion Store set for Christmas

In the new-era store not all merchandise the store may offer to sell needs to be displayed in the ‘selling areas’ accessible to shoppers. Retailers may have to retreat from the decades long paradigm that everything on display is the inventory, and vice versa. It is worth considering: First, some merchandise can be displayed as video on screens, and thus also add to the ‘show’ in the store; Second, shoppers can use digital catalogues in the store to find items currently not on display — such items may still be available in stock on premises or they may be ordered within 24 hours. But furthermore, customers may be able to coordinate online or through an app with a store near them to see certain products at a set time; up-to-date analyses of page visits and sales on a retailer’s online store can tell what products are most popular, subsequently guaranteeing that the physical stores keep extra items of them in stock on premises.

Here are references to a few exemplars for illustration of actual store design projects published in design magazines’ websites:

Burberry, London — The flagship store of luxury fashion brand Burberry on Regent Street is highlighted for both the use of space in its design and the employment of digital technology in the store. A large open space atrium (of an older time theatre) occupies the centre of the store (four floors, 3000 sqm), impressive in how Burberry allowed to keep it. The digitally integrated store is commended for its fusion of a ‘digital world’ into its bricks-and-mortar environment: a large high-resolution screen plays video in the atrium, synchronised with a hundred digital screens around the store, some 160 iPads (e.g., for finding items on the catalogue that may not be on display), and RFID tags attached to garments (VMSD, 18 December 2012).

Hogan, Milano — The footwear ’boutique’ store (277 sqm in via Montenapoleone) is designed to reflect the brand, “luxury but accessible”. The store’s mission has been described as follows: “Hogan is a lifestyle brand, championing contemporary culture. The store therefore needed to be dynamic, working hard to adapt from retail space to live event or gallery space”. Characteristic of the store: tilted surfaces for display, lying on top of each other like fallen-down domino bricks; and an animated display of patterns by LED lighting behind frosted glass walls — they both reflect movement, the former just symbolically while the latter more dynamically, to “express the dynamism of the city”. The store of Hogan also fosters social activity around its host bar and customization bar (Retail Focus, 15 February 2018).

Black by Dixon’s, Birmingham (UK) — The technology retail concept aspires to make “the geeky more stylish and exciting”. Digital technology is “dressed” in fashionable design, aiming at the more sophisticated Apple-generation (distinctive in the images are the mannequins “sitting” on desks as props, and colour contrasts on a dark background). (VMSD, 24 May 2011.)

Stella McCartney, Old Bond Street, London — The re-established flagship store resides in an 18th century historic-listed building (four floors, 700 sqm). Products such as dresses and handbags are displayed (sampled) across the store in different halls. The design and lighting give a very loose feeling. Refreshingly, the ground floor features an exhibit of black limestones and “carefully selected rocks” from the family’s estate, a piece of nature in-store (Retail Focus, 14 June 2018).

Admittedly, some of the more distinctive and impressive design exemplars belong to up-scale and luxury stores, but they do give direction and ideas for creating different experiences in retail spaces, even if less lavishly. Furthermore, technology can enrich the store and add a dimension of activity in it. Yet it is part of the whole design plan, not necessarily its central pillar, if at all.

Installing digital technology in a store does not mean importing the Internet and e-store into the physical store. Features of digital technology can be employed in-store in a number of ways, and the use of an online catalogue is just one of them. There is no wisdom for the physical store in trying to mimic Internet websites or compete with them. It should find ways, instead, to implement digital technologies that best suit the store’s space and transform the experience of its visiting shoppers.

Moreover, the store owner should identify those aspects that are lacking in the virtual online store and leverage them in the bricks-and-mortar store (e.g., immediacy, non inter-mediated interaction with products, sensorial stimulations other than visual and audio, feeling fun or relaxed). Thereof, the store should borrow certain technological amenities that can help to link between the domains and make the experience in-store more familiar, convenient, interesting, entertaining or exciting. According to an opinion article in Retail Focus on “The Future of High Street” (Lyndsey Dennis, 25 April 2018): “To draw customers back to brick-and-mortar, [retailers] need to rethink how they use their physical space and store formats. The key is to give customers something they can’t get online, whether that’s information, entertainment, or service“. Advanced technologies such as Virtual reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are part of the repertoire that are increasingly introduced in high street stores [e.g., AR applied in the fitting rooms of Burberry’s store, triggered by the RFID tags].

Matt Alderton, writing in ArchDaily magazine of architecture and design (25 November 2015), details key technologies and how they are implemented in stores to create new possibilities and leverage shopper experiences. One group of technologies can provide vital data to retailers which in turn can be applied to interact with shoppers and return useful information to them (e.g., beacons, RFID tags, visual lighting communications). The second group includes display technologies that may be enriching with information and entertaining to shoppers: for example, VR and AR, touch screens, and media projected on a surface such as table-top which thus becomes a touch screen. Alderton clearly sees consumer need for physical stores, the question is how consumers would want them: “What the data says is that shoppers want to move forward by going back: Like their forebears who visited Harrods, they crave emporiums that are experiential, not transactional, in nature“. (See also images in this article as they portray new-fashioned designs in space and layout; notably these stores feel less crowded by merchandise, and some show in-store digital displays.)

These are challenging times for bricks-and-mortar stores. New possibilities are emerging for physical stores to grow and thrive, yet they will have to adapt to changed shopping and purchasing patterns of consumers and develop new kinds of experiences that appeal to them. It should be a combined effort, with contribution from interior design of stores and visual merchandising, utilities and amenities based on digital technologies implemented in the store, and the support and assistance by human personnel. The in-store design is especially important in setting the scene — in appearance, comfort and appeal — that will shape shoppers’ experiences. Retailing could evolve as far as into new forms of ‘experiential shopping’.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

Reference: [*] Measuring Emotions in the Consumption Experience; Marsha L. Richins, 1997; Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 24 (September), pp. 127-149.

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It is usually not a pleasant feeling to be alone in a scary place or event — think of being stuck in a dark elevator or being involved in a car accident. People commonly seek to be with someone for comfort and company. But the companion does not always have to be another person. A research by Dunn and Hoegg (2014) provides corroboration that the need to share fear matters to humans while the identity of the companion, whether a person or an object, is less critical.  More specifically, sharing fear with a product from an unfamiliar brand may facilitate a quick emotional attachment with that brand without requiring to build a relationship over a lengthy period of time (1).

Fear is evoked by the presence or anticipation of a danger or threat. Feeling fear may be triggered by an unfamiliar event to which one is unsure how to respond (uncertainty) or an unexpected event at a specific moment (surprise); experiencing fear is furthermore likely when the event encountered is both unfamiliar and unexpected. It is important to note, nonetheless, that not every encounter with an unfamiliar or unexpected event necessarily leads to  fear. The Amygdala in the temporal lobe of the brain is the “centre” where fear arises. However, the amygdala like other brain structures is responsible for multiple functions. The amygdala is activated in response to unfamiliarity, unpredictability or ambiguity, but not every instance necessarily means the evocation of fear. For example, tension from facing an unfamiliar problem that one is at loss how to solve may not result in fear. Additionally, fear as well as other states of emotion are the outcome of appraisal of physical feelings (e.g., faster heartbeats, startle, warmth), considering the conditions in which they were triggered; it is a cognitive interpretation of their meaning (“why do I feel that way?”). Activation of other brain structures together with the amygdala may influence whether similar feelings triggered by an unexpected event are interpreted, for instance, as fear, anger, or surprise. The context in which an event occurs can matter a lot for the appraisal of emotions (2).

Dunn and Hoegg emphasise the emotional charge of consumer attachment with a brand versus cognitive underpinnings. Brand attachment has often been conceptualised as the product of a relationship between consumers and the target brand built over time. It should take a longer time to achieve a more solid brand attachment because of cognitive processes for establishing brand connections in memory and stronger favourable brand attitudes. However, this explanation is subject to criticism of missing the important role of emotions in bonding between consumers and a brand which does not necessarily require a long time. By focusing their studies on unfamiliar brands, Dunn and Hoegg intended to show that emotional attachment can emerge much more quickly when the consumers are distressed and are looking for a partner to share their fear with, and that partner or companion can be a brand of a given product.

On the same grounds, the researchers chose a scale of emotional attachment (Thomson, MacInnis and Park, 2005 [3]) as more appropriate over a scale that combines emotional and cognitive aspects of attachment and gives greater weight to cognitive constructs (Park, MacInnis et al., 2010 [4]). The emotional scale comprises three dimensions: (a) Affection (affectionate, friendly, loved, peaceful); (b) Passion (passionate, delighted, captivated); (c) Connection (connected, bonded, attached). Nevertheless, in the later research Park and MacInnis with colleagues offer a broader perspective that accounts for two bases of brand attachment: (i) a connection between self-concept and a brand; and (ii) brand prominence in memory.

While ‘brand prominence’ can be regarded as more cognitive-oriented (accessibility of thoughts and feelings in memory), a ‘brand-self connection’ entails the expansion of one’s concept of self to incorporate others, such as brands, within it — and that involves an emotional element. Park and MacInnis et al. emphasise the brand-self connection as the emotional core of their definition of brand attachment, while brand prominence is a facilitator in actualizing the attachment (analyses substantiate that brand attachment is a better predictor than attitudes of intentions to perform more difficult types of behavior reflecting commitment, and the brand-self connection is more essential for driving this behaviour). The three-dimension scale of emotional brand attachment seems very relevant for the research goals of Dunn and Hoegg, even though it is more restricted from a stand-point of the theoretical roots of brand attachment.

The desire to affiliate with others in scaring and upsetting situations is recognised as a mechanism for coping with negative emotions in those situations. Episodes of armed conflict, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters make people get closer to each other, unite and show solidarity. However, the researchers note that the act of affiliation is essential for coping rather than the affiliation target. That is, the literature on affiliation or attachment relates to interpersonal connections as well as attachment to objects (although objects are viewed as substitutes in absence of other persons [pet animals should also be considered]). We can find support for possible attachment to products and their brands in the human tendency to animate or anthropomorphise objects by assigning them traits of living beings, whether animals or humans. Brands may be animated in order to help consumers relate with them more comfortably, making them appear more vivid to them. It is one of the processes that facilitates the development of consumers’ relationships with their brands in use; consumers connect with brands also through the role brands fulfilled in their personal history, heritage and family traditions, and how brands integrate in their preferred lifestyles (5).

Dunn and Hoegg investigate how consumers connect with a brand on occasions of incidental fear. They make a clear distinction between events that may trigger fear (or other emotions) and fear appeals strategically planned in advertising (e.g., in order to induce a particular desired behaviour). Events that incidentally cause fear would be independent and uncontrolled. Additionally, the intensity and range of emotions felt is expected to differ when consumers actively participate in an event and hence experience it directly in contrast to watching TV ads — in direct consumer experiences, emotional feelings are likely to be more intensive and specific.  In a model for measuring consumption emotions developed and tested by Richins, fear is characterised as a negative and more active (as opposed to receptive) emotion, next to other emotions such as anger, worry, discontent, sadness and shame (6).

  • In their experiments, the researchers try to emulate incidental fear by displaying to participants clips from cinema films or TV series’ episodes, and present evidence that manipulations successfully elicited the intended emotions as dominant in response to each video clip. Yet, it remains somewhat ambiguous how real and direct the experience of watching scenes in a film or a TV programme is perceived and felt with regard to the emotions evoked.

The following are more concrete findings from the studies and their insights:

Emotional brand attachment is generated through perception that the brand shares the fear with the consumer — Study 1 confirms that emotional attachment with an unfamiliar brand is generated when a product (juice) by that brand is present and can be consumed during the fear-inducing experience (more than for emotions of sadness, excitement and happiness). But moreover, it is shown that the emotional attachment is mediated (conditioned) by perception of the consumer that the brand shared the fear with him or her.

Humans precede product brands —  Sharing fear with a brand contributes to stronger emotional brand attachment, but only if they still have a desire generated by fear to affiliate with others. If conversely that desire is satiated by a perception of the consumers that they are already socially affiliated with other people, the effect on brand attachment is muted.

  • Note: Participants in Study 2 were asked to perform a search with words related to feelings of affiliation and social connectedness (e.g., included, accepted, involved) to prime affiliation. Given the statements used to measure (non-)affiliation (e.g., “I feel disconnected from the world around me”), it is a little questionable how effective such a priming condition could be (though the authors show it was sufficient). It might have been more tangible to ask participants to think of people dear to them, family and close friends, and write about them.

Balancing negative and positive emotional effects on attitudes — Based on analyses in Study 2 the researchers also suggest that increased positive effect of emotional brand attachment may counterbalance and override a negative influence of ‘affect transfer’ on attitudes due to fear.

Presence of the brand and attention to it are required yet sufficient — Study 3 demonstrates that neither consumption of the product (juice) nor even touching it (the bottle), both forms of physical interaction, are really needed for feeling affiliated and forming emotional attachment — forced consumption in particular does not contribute to stronger perceived sharing or emotional attachment than merely seeing the product when feeling fear, that is making an eye contact and visually attending to the product in search for a companion. (Unexpectedly, in the case of action and excitement, consuming the drink increases emotional attachment.) Study 4 stresses, nevertheless, that the brand must be present during the emotional event for generating increased emotional attachment — having the brand nearby while experiencing the fear is essential for consumers to feel connected with the brand as their sharing partner (tested with a different product, potato chips).

The research paper suffers from a deficit in practice. That is, marketing managers and professionals might be disappointed to discover that it could be most difficult to have any control of those situations of incidental fear and to act on them to their advantage. In order to have any influence on the consumer a company would be required to anticipate an individual event in advance and to find a way to intervene (i.e., make their product present) without being perceived too intrusive or self-interested — two non-negligible challenges. An additional restriction is posed by the relation of the ‘fear effect’ to brands not previously familiar to the consumers.

Let us consider some potential scenarios where brands might benefit and the difficulties that are likely to arise in implementing it:

Undertaking medical treatments or tests — Some treatments can be alarming and frightening on occasion to different patients. A sense of fear is likely to enter already, and perhaps especially, while waiting. It is a opportunity for introducing the brand-companion in the waiting hall; even more so given that patients are usually not allowed to or prevented from using artifacts during the treatment (mostly no food and drinks). First, a company may have a difficulty to obtain access to places where patients wait for treatment. Second, consumers-patients are likely to bring products with them from home to entertain them (of brands they know). Third, patients often arrive with a family or friend companion, thus satisfying their need for affiliation with another person which dominates affiliation with an object. Still, there is room for ingenuity how to locate the brand close enough to the treatment episode (e.g., shops offering books or toys, especially for children, in the premises of a clinic or hospital).

Trekking or hiking in nature — Some routes, particularly in mountainous areas, can be quite adventurous, not to say dangerous. If a brand could find a way to introduce its product just before the consumer starts the hiking trip, it may benefit from being with him or her if fear arises. One problem is that hikers are advised and even required not to embark alone on more dangerous routes. Another problem is that those trekking or hiking sites often offer local brands, that while not being familiar to the consumers they also are not likely to be available to them at home, and thus the opportunity to develop a relationship based on the early emotional attachment is lost.

Offering legal, financial, insurance, and technical services in events of crisis — In various occasions of accidents, malfunctions, and disasters, people need help to cope with the crisis and the negative emotions it may evoke, particularly fear. A service provider would be expected to counsel the customer in his or her distress, and of course propose a solution (e.g. how to fix one’s home after a fire or an earthquake). Unfortunately,  one cannot make an eye contact with an intangible service. The company has to find creative and practical ways to make itself readily visible and accessible to the consumer when needed by offering instruments and cues for making contact (e.g., an alarm and communication device for the elderly and people with more risky medical conditions).

  • Dunn and Hoegg are aware of the limitation of the findings to unfamiliar brands. They reasonably propose that “because fear leads to a general motivation to affiliate, emotional brand attachment would be enhanced regardless of the familiarity with the brand” (p. 165). It should take further research, however, to substantiate this proposition.

Despite the possible difficulties companies will likely need to deal with, the doors are not completely shut to them to benefit from this phenomenon. But they must come up with creative and non-intursive solutions to make their brands and products present in the right place at the right time. At the very least, marketers should be aware of the potential effect of sharing fear with the consumer and understand how it can work in the brand’s benefit. It is worth remembering, after all, the saying “a friend in need is a friend indeed” whereby in some incidents the friend can be a brand.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

Notes:

(1) “The Effect of Fear on Emotional Brand Attachment”; Lea Dunn and JoAndrea Hoegg, 2014; Journal of Consumer Research, 41 (June), pp. 152-168.

(2) “What Is Emotion?: History, Measures and Meanings”; Jerome Kagan, 2007; New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Also see: “The Experience of Emotion”; Lisa Feldman Barrett, Bejta Mesquita, Kevin N. Ochsner, & James J. Gross, 2007; Annual Review of Psychology, 58, pp. 373-403.

(3) “The Ties That Bind: Measuring the Strength of Consumers’ Emotional Attachments to Brands”; Mathew Thomson, Deborah J. MacInnis, & C. Whan Park, 2005; Journal of Consumer Psychology, 15 (1), pp. 77-91.

(4) “Brand Attachment and Brand Attitude Strength: Conceptual and Empirical Differentiation of Two Critical Brand Equity Drivers”; C. Whan Park, Deborah J. MacInnis, Joseph Priester, Andreas B. Eisengerich, & Dawn Iacobucci, 2010; Journal of Marketing, 74 (November), 1-17.

(5) “Consumers and Their Brands: Developing Relationship Theory in Consumer Research”; Susan Fournier, 1998; Journal of Consumer Research, 24 (March), pp. 343-373.

(6) “Measuring Emotions in the Consumption Experience”; Marsha L. Richins, 1997; Journal of Consumer Research, 24 (September), pp. 127-146.

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Our sweet delight for the day is the macaron. In basic terms, a macaron is made of two rounded meringue-based biscuits that hold between them, like a sandwich, a creamy filling. Macarons may come in various flavours (e.g., lemon, coffee, strawberry, caramel-fleur-de-sel) and appear each in a colour associated with its flavour. But from here on, the whole difference lies between a good-quality Macarons by Ladureemacaron and a mediocre one: How brittle are the top and bottom biscuits, finished with sugar glazing on surface and crispy edges? How soft and tasty is the filling in match with the biscuits? And how well does the whole composition melt in your mouth? A fine colourful arrangement of macarons on display in-store can be a visual celebration to our eyes; and the choice of flavours for making them is an excellent ground for creativity and ingenuity.

Macarons were developed in the form we know them today in the 1950s and 1960s. However, they have become so popular and ubiquitous in just the past five to ten years. The macarons are French in origin; according to some differing narratives they have gone through a few forms since the 18th century and until reaching the one most familiar now. The traditional fillings were ganache, buttercream or fruit jam, but the range of flavours currently available is much broader.

Much of the credit for the rise in demand for macarons in recent years, so it appears, belongs to the French patisserie and confectionary maker Ladurée whilst being under the ownership and leadership of the Holder family since 1993. Louis-Ernest Ladurée originally founded his tea room and patisserie in Paris of the late 19th century; the founding Ladurée family developed its successful recipe of macarons sometime before or around the mid-2oth century. Their single venue was located on rue RoyaleLaduree flagship shop and cafe, Champs Elysees, Paris near Place de la Concorde. The acquiring Holder family relocated its flagship venue in 1997 to the Champs Elysées and established under one roof a shop, a café next to it, and a restaurant (on its second floor). Moreover, the new owner has been investing with dedication in elevating the Ladurée brand. Their international expansion started in 2005 with London and have since spread to cities in Europe (e.g., Milano, Dublin, Zürich), the United States (New-York), Middle East (e.g., Beirut, Doha), Asia (e.g., Seoul, Hong-Kong, Shanghai) and Australia (e.g., Sydney), covering nearly 30 countries aside from France. They have, furthermore, a strong presence on the Internet in a fine brand-designed group of websites with vending functionalities.

It would do unjust, however, to suggest that good macarons in Paris come only from Ladurée. Fine and tasty macarons may be easily found in numerous venues across the city, particularly at chocolatiers and patisseries (e.g., Pierre Hermé, Fauchon, Maison du Chocolat). Some are better known confectionary and pastry makers, others may be less specialised vendors, so one has to try a few macarons to find out which he or she likes best. The increase in popularity, nevertheless, has motivated bakeries and confectionary makers in other countries to produce locally their own macarons, and there indeed consumers should take greater care to find truly good-quality macarons. There is also a bundle of recipe suggestions for macarons on the Internet.

  • Macarons have become particularly trendy in the United States. It is said that Americans welcome them as a replacement for cupcakes that went out of favour. But then the question is: Are macarons adopted in the US just as a hip that will fade away after a couple of years or are they there to stay. Macarons are most likely to stay popular in their home country, France, and probably also in some of the European countries, depending on how deeply such treats are rooted in those countries’ culinary cultures.

What probably makes Ladurée different, except for the high-quality of its macarons, pastries and other treats, is the carefully built strength or equity of its brand. It is created and maintained around the prestigious decorated flagship venue, the selection of its physical locations, and its websites. People stand in line outside its main shop to buy their macarons. Alternately, connoisseurs may sit in its café on Champs Elysées, enjoy some of their delicious pastries, and order a take-away pack of macarons, chosen from a special menu card, to be carefully packaged and brought to the table. They have a boutique shop-in-shop at Printemps upscale department store. Ladurée also collaborated in the past few years with well-known fashion designers to enhance its prestige image, especially during fashion week fairs (e.g., in New-York and Milano).

There is yet a variant form of macarons, famous of its own merit, known as Luxemburgerli by the Swiss chocolate specialist and patisserie Sprüngli. Their recipe was brought-in in the late 1950s from a confectionary maker originated, as the name suggests, in Luxemburg, who collaborated with Confiserie Sprüngli. The Luxemburgli is somewhat taller than the classic macaron with more filling — it feels like a richer combination of biscuit and cream. Like many of Sprüngli’s chocolate and bakery treats, their Luxemburgerli is an artisan delight. It would be interesting to find out how Ladurée succeeds against Swiss veteran makers of chocolate confections or pastries like Sprüngli, Teuscher or Läderach.

Consumers often do not feel comfortable to indulge themselves with products or services that are discretionary, and furthermore a luxury, whether it is specialty chocolate pralinés, a dinner at a top-class or luxury restaurant, or a holiday on a cruise ship. People want to feel they deserve it beforehand. In some cases, when heavier spending is required on a luxury, consumers appear to have a greater difficulty permitting themselves to enjoy an expensive luxury than resisting such temptation; they may need to precommit themselves to make the indulgence (e.g., going on a cruise for vacation versus replacing an old dishwasher)(1). The contemplation over smaller indulgences, like a sweet treat, is less demanding, yet people want to feel somehow entitled, so as not to suffer guilt and regret after the act.

Consumers may consider spoiling themselves in different circumstances. The occasion may simply arise when people are on vacation, indulging on premium chocolate or macarons as a way of enhancing their enjoyment, making the best of the holiday. But for many consumers such an occasion may not account for a reason concrete or good enough to indulge. (Celebrating a public holiday or a birthday make a notable exception.) Consumers are likely to expect indulgences to be more appropriate as a reward for an achievement or good performance (e.g., completing a tough assignment, a high-grade in an exam). Conversely, it may be justified as a consolation for bad or disappointing performance (e.g., failing an entry exam, losing a client). There is also an expectation of consumers that an indulgent experience will be more enjoyable when it comes as a reward than as a consolation. However, all this effort of justification may be an outcome of misconception and insufficient learning by the consumers. Xu and Schwarz show that consumers indeed have such expectations, that may drive their decisions, but they are inconsistent with what they reportedly feel during the experience episode or shortly after it. Differences in emotions expressed in their predictions (expectations) were not reflected in their episodic memories. (2)

  • More elaborately, the evidence indicated that consumers feel similarly positive (e.g., enjoyable) about an indulgent experience, and incur similarly negative feelings (e.g., guilt), whether they have had a “legitimate” reason or not, and whether it occurred as a reward or as a consolation. Furthermore, as consumers get more distant in time from affective episodes they report on, such reports are more in accordance with their predictions than with their episodic memories. The prior expectations and the late reconstructed reports of consumers similarly draw or rely on global beliefs and general knowledge, unlike reports of episodic memories when consumers have “lively” access to specific memories of attributes of the product or event they indulged on and their evoked feelings. Nonetheless, people are not very good at reconciling their beliefs, predictions and experiences and hence their learning is impaired.

Consequently, for indulgences that are not really luxurious, rather discretionary, consumers seemingly worry too much about being “justified” or “deserving”to indulge, and what would be their feelings thereafter, as these concerns do not coincide with how they really feel while indulging; hence they may be encouraged just to enjoy the indulgence (e.g., macarons) as it happens.

Consumers may rightfully wish to relish their hedonic experiences later in time, beyond the momentary pleasure, but it may turn out to be more effortful. When they are engaged with the product of indulgence, their attention is focused on its attributes and how they enjoy them (e.g., texture, taste and appearance of the macarons). But as time passes after the hedonic experience, its details fade in memory and so the benefits may also be lost. (Hedonic experiences may have to be more profound, with stronger emotions, than having chocolate truffles or macarons, to have a more lasting effect on happiness.)

The smaller types of indulgence usually do not have significant financial consequences as a barrier, but they could have other negative consequences like damaging health implications — in the case of chocolate or macarons, it could be related to high sugar levels. A consumer considering this kind of indulgence may be stopped by concern for his or her health and seek a reason to justify this “irresponsible” behaviour.

Feeling sadness due to a previous event can especially attenuate such a concern before committing the indulgence, and thereof avoid it. However, not in all cases of sadness it should impede indulgence. If one’s goal is explicitly to indulge for the sake of it (e.g., having a festivity on a generous steak or a pack of chocolate truffles), sadness is more likely to highlight to the consumer the potential damages; in desire to prevent further losses to one’s well-being, the consumer is more likely to cancel the intended indulgence. If on the other hand the consumer had no such hedonic eating goal at the time he or she became sad, the indulgence is likely to be applied as a tool for moderating emotions. Specifically, it allows indulgence (e.g., eating macarons) as a consolation, helping to make one feeling better, less sad (3).

Facilitating or even encouraging consumers to indulge, as in buying and eating macarons, could mean making them feel more comfortable, reduce pressure from them that could make them feel in conflict — by using messages like “enjoy the moment”, “do it just for fun”, “carpe diem”, and “it is OK to indulge even without a reason”. Yet there are additional factors that can give an advantage to a particular brand. A strong brand of fame, as demonstrated by Ladurée, has the power to cause consumers to perceive that its macarons taste even better than they may objectively be judged (notwithstanding that Ladurée’s macarons are of high-quality, nice looking and tasty). There are social effects to account for, as when people stand in-line in front of a shop, visible to others who may join them. Furthermore, an artistically impressive display of colourful macarons, in-store or better in the front window, can create the visual inducement necessary to persuade consumers to accept the temptation.

Actually, having chosen the right macarons, you will not regret it.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

Notes:

1. Self-Control for the Righteous: Toward a Theory of Precommitment to Indulgence; Ran Kivetz and Itamar Simonson, 2002; Journal of Consumer Research, 29 (Sept.), pp. 199-217.

2. Do we Really Need a Reason to Indulge?; Jing Xu and Norbert Schwarz, 2009; Journal of Marketing Research, 46 (Feb.), pp. 25-36.

3. Hedonic Eating Goals and Emotion: When Sadness Decreases the Desire to Indulge; Anthony Salerno, Juliano Laran, & Chris Janiszewski, 2014; Journal of Consumer Research, 41 (June), pp. 135-151

Further reading on pleasure and hedonic consumption:

Pleasure Principles: A Review of Research on Hedonic Consumption; Joseph W. Alba and Elanor F. Williams, 2012; Journal of Consumer Psychology, 23 (1), pp. 2-18 (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jcps.2012.07.003).

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