The Role of Feelings in Buying – A Look at Emotional Buying

The role of feelings in buying - emotional buying

Although everyone needs to shop, everyone has different reasons for how they choose to shop depending on their level of acknowledgement for their time and budgets. One key factor that influences these decisions is our emotions. Emotional buying, the phenomenon of making purchasing decisions based on our feelings, plays a significant role in consumer behaviour. In other words, we could say that emotional buying is the role of feelings in buying decisions. Despite the struggles, the current cost of living crisis is creating a heightened awareness of the value of money and mindful spending. In this article, we delve into the psychology of emotional buying and explore why people buy with their emotions.

Invesp reports that 60% of customers say “no” four times before saying yes to purchase. In response, businesses use various sales strategies to enhance the quality and quantity of their target audience. Here are a few examples of these techniques:

Selling TechniquesDefinition
AnchoringUsing multiple-unit pricing can be more effective than using single-unit pricing, even if both options have the same sale value. This is because the brain tends to perceive items with fewer digits as cheaper, which is a cognitive bias that helps simplify decision-making for complex problems.
The Asymmetrical Dominance EffectThis refers to the tendency of people to change their preference between two options when a third option is presented that is asymmetrically dominated.
AuthorityPeople tend to follow authority figures, even if they don’t like them, based on job titles, awards, uniforms, and belongings. Celebrity endorsements also increase trust in products.
The Baader-Meinhof phenomenonOnce people become aware of a product or service, they tend to see it frequently without actively seeking it out. Initially, customers may not realize their desire or need for the product or service. Targeting and retargeting strategies are implemented based on when consumers are most likely to make a purchase.
ClusteringThe process of clustering is used to improve memory retention. The items that hold the most emotional significance to the individual are grouped together into categories, subcategories, and features. These groupings can be based on attributes such as colour, size, price, and weight.
Commitment – Consistency – ComplianceCompanies make commitments in the form of memberships, and our human nature causes us to feel guilty when those promises are not kept.
FramingHow a problem is presented can affect how people respond. Offering a percentage discount works better for lower-priced items, while showing the exact amount saved is more effective for higher-priced items. Companies want customers to feel like they’re getting a good deal.
Loss aversionOnce someone has obtained or been something, they would rather not lose it. No matter how good your product is, your customers’ fear of wasting their money on your product is going to outweigh their desire to obtain your product.
Mere exposureAdvertisements are repeated to help customers subconsciously remember them whether they’re paying attention to them or not, and the more familiar things become, the more people develop a preference for them.
PrimingPre-activation memory is a type of unconscious memory that helps identify words and objects. It involves remembering associations just before performing a task. To influence consumer behaviour, it’s important to associate what you want them to buy with things already in their memory.
ReciprocityReciprocity is a way of expressing gratitude, and showing appreciation to customers can lead to more purchases.
ScarcityThe rarer something is, the more valuable it is. Approach this concept as if there are limited products due to popular demand, rather than how companies try to sell off unpopular stock by discounting.
SimilarityTo earn the trust of customers, companies can highlight their similarities with them and offer products or services that are similar to popular ones sold elsewhere. Companies also use mascots to help humanize their brand.
Social proofWhen people like or trust a group, they tend to adopt their beliefs or actions. If a company has a large number of buyers or followers, audiences are more likely to trust that company.
The Verbatim effectWith the increasing availability to find and consume products and services quicker, people are always on the go and in a rush. Skimming and headline scanning has become the new norm. Psychologically, people are more likely to recall a fuzzy and general idea of your content than your entire content.

How sellers create marketplace value

Sellers can create marketplace value in two ways: through innovation or diversion. Innovation involves creating a unique product or service, while diversion means selling an existing product or service through outlets outside the creator. Innovation helps customers address their pain, while diversion helps them avoid them. Successful businesses provide innovation and/or diversion with products and services that are good, cheap, and/or fast.

In today’s business landscape, it is uncommon for companies to have one-of-a-kind products or services. Instead, most businesses strive to offer existing products or services uniquely. As a result, companies must focus less on their functional elements to gain a competitive advantage and instead adjust their pricing or accessibility. One approach to adding uniqueness is through digital presence – including websites, social media, and email marketing – while personalising the customer experience. A satisfied customer is more likely to commit, ultimately increasing the value of the seller’s market.

Amazon is an excellent example of creating marketplace value. The company offers innovation through Amazon Prime and various products and services at varying prices and distances. They also provide excellent customer service for buying, returning, or claiming a refund.

The importance of customer experience

71% of customers recommend a brand based on their emotional connection to it (Moista), and businesses develop emotional connections with their customers through their customer experience. To measure customer experience, both functionality and accessibility matter. Businesses now prioritise creating positive emotions and avoiding overwhelming customers with too much information. Successful brands prioritise making customers feel emotions like joy, trust, and belonging and understand the role of feelings in buying decisions. Apple emphasises happiness, Google prioritises trust, and Facebook focuses on belonging.

Apple creates joy by convincing customers that the quality and uniqueness of their products and services are well worth their high cost.

Google creates trust by consistently demonstrating its commitment to providing reliable information within short time limits at an affordable cost.

Facebook creates a sense of belonging by fostering free speech and fast connectivity with people and subjects of interest, free of charge.

Types of buys people choose and why

Buyers must know an item’s value to avoid overpaying or falling for low-quality goods scams. Staying vigilant is essential to avoid being taken advantage of in such situations.

Bargains are created for joint value creation.

Finding a good deal can ease guilt about making a selfish purchase. The feeling is more potent if the bargain is hard to come by or undervalued; however, if some prices seem too good to be true, they probably are.

Luxuries are created to emphasise quality craftsmanship.

Luxury brands prioritise quality craftsmanship and exclusivity to stay ahead of the competition and offer unique products that make customers feel special. According to CapGemini, younger consumers have a stronger emotional attachment (58%) to brands than older consumers. They prefer well-established brands that are highly regarded.

Bids are created to facilitate mutual agreement on favourable terms and prices between buyers and sellers.

Bidding can be exciting because winning quickly and saving money can make you feel accomplished. But planning, budgeting, and bidding are essential, as timing is key for the best results.

The history of emotional buying

In the past, people relied more on their emotions than logic to survive due to the physical risks they faced. Those with higher status were more likely to thrive, and they were given priority over others.

Back then, essential items were scarce, so companies used factual advertisements to persuade people to purchase their products. However, as more people gained access to these critical goods, companies had to create products and services that customers would want to buy, even if they did not necessarily need them. Marketers exaggerated the benefits of their products to convince customers that they were receiving a better deal than they actually were. By identifying customers’ moral gaps and offering a solution, companies made them feel inadequate without their product and persuaded them to buy.

Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, believed in appealing to people’s identities rather than their thoughts and values. In his 1928 book “Propaganda,” Bernays proposed influencing people’s behaviour without their knowledge. He tested this theory by launching one of his most famous public relations campaigns: convincing women to smoke during a time when smoking was considered inappropriate for women. The “Torches of Freedom” campaign in 1929 appealed to women’s desire for a better life during the early 20th century’s first-wave feminism in the United States. Bernays hired photographers to capture footage of average-looking women arranged to smoke while marching down Fifth Avenue during New York’s Easter Parade. The footage portrayed the women’s walk as a protest for equality, significantly increasing women smoking. In 1923 women only purchased 5% of cigarettes sold; in 1929 (thanks to Bernays’ campaign), that percentage increased to 12%.

Recommendations based on emotional connection
Younger customers feel more brand love
Percentage of millennials suffering financial PTSD

Why does emotional buying take hold of logical buying?

Emotional buying is when a purchase is ruled too much by uncontrollable feelings, and logical buying is when a purchase is made by careful, practical thought. When we don’t know facts that we desire to know or don’t want to confront truths that we already know, we create our narrative of entitlement to buy based on how we feel rather than buy for logical reasons. The “halo effect” is relevant as individuals may either want to showcase or hide their purchases. Some people buy items to display their status, while others purchase excessively due to the fear of running out. Purchases made for external reasons are usually impulsive and short-term, while those made for internal reasons are more deliberate and aimed at long-term benefits.

Most emotional purchases are made from B2C companies, and most logical purchases are from B2B companies. However, 71% of buyers who see a personal value in B2B purchases will buy (CEB). B2B companies focus on meeting the professional needs of buyers, whereas B2C companies target their personal lives.

The very act of purchasing something triggers the release of dopamine, something that occurs through numerous activities your brain expects to receive a reward from, creating a sense of pleasure for a short time. A dopamine rush is more likely to occur during purchases made for entertainment purposes, as opposed to purchases made by logic, and the less control someone has over their emotional regulation, the more likely they are to succumb to impulse buys. Some purchases are made regarding people favouring the cost of the item more than the item itself, along with people valuing brand heritage, responsible sourcing and sustainability over the items.

The emotional cost of financial trauma

Financial trauma and stress are emotional responses to the result of financial distress. Common causes of financial trauma include financial debt and insecurity, which can stem from job losses, medical expenses, economic price rises or poor finances during childhood. Financial trauma can result in either impulsive or compulsive buying. Impulsive buying is purchasing without considering the consequences, and compulsive buying is the urge to acquire due to fearing the consequences of not doing so.

According to Choosing Therapy, 23% of adults and 36% of millennials experience financial stress at levels that qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD. Financial trauma can make sufferers refuse to create a practical budget, open their bills or discuss their finances, which can contribute to them making irrationally frugal or extravagant expenses. The more sufferers numb their pain with frivolous shopping, the worse that pain becomes as they’re not addressing it, and their unaddressed pain then grows to such proportions that shopping becomes a compulsion: making the very thing they’re using to delay or numb their pain another source of pain itself.

Financial trauma makes people incur irreparable damage to their finances and other areas of their life, such as their house, car, and loved ones. How shoppers spend their time is more important than how they spend their money, as we can always make more money – but we can’t make more time, and recovering from financial trauma requires addressing both the financial aspect and the trauma that caused it.

Symptoms of financial trauma include –

Hypervigilance, rumination, obsessive-compulsive behaviours and sleep-disturbance

Signs of financial trauma include –

Financial dependency, compulsive spending, underspending, workaholism, financial avoidance, lack of economic boundaries, scarcity mindset, and excessive risk aversion.

Why less is more

Many people believe that happiness cannot be bought with money. This is because those with more money tend to be less grateful for what they have, and the more possessions they have, the more they lose. True happiness cannot be achieved through material things or a specific amount of money. Instead, it is found through meaningful work and experiences. Regardless of how much money we have or what possessions we own, we can find happiness by embracing the journey and finding fulfilment in our everyday lives. However, we always seek more as humans, and our happiness level constantly shifts based on our circumstances and experiences.

Having many choices does not necessarily mean freedom. It can lead to worry and anxiety about making the wrong decision. The more we worry about making the wrong choice, the more likely we will make bad purchasing decisions. True freedom involves consciously adapting to the world for self-development. Fake freedom is the belief that the world should conform to our desires. According to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, building character through self-denial is more critical than self-indulgence. We can always choose what we are willing to lose, but we cannot always choose what we are open to gain.

The quality of our values determines the nature of our problems. We are more likely to encounter better situations and issues when we value better things. Some examples of better deals include honesty and loyalty. Our self-worth does not come from how much money or possessions we have but rather from how we treat ourselves when we are at our worst. It is important to love ourselves the most when we think we deserve it the least.

How to get past emotional buying

Happiness is found through meaningful work in life’s journey, not tied to a specific situation. Satisfaction levels fluctuate, and joy is balanced by past sadness. One cannot comprehend one emotion without experiencing the other.

Types of help include:

Support from family, friends and caregivers –

The most unconditional levels of support come from your family, friends and caregivers, who should have your best interests at heart the most.

Hobbies and goals

Pursuing or initiating new goals and hobbies can add excitement to your life and also inspire you to cultivate patience and engage with like-minded individuals who share similar interests that will cost less. Inexpensive types of hobbies and goals include gardening, reading, writing, baking, watching tv or playing video games.

Financial advice from a professional

Even if you are financially literate, the advice of an expert can clarify any doubts. Types of finance professionals include financial advisors, financial planners and debt consolidation counsellors.

Psychological therapy

Therapy can help with financial trauma and other areas of life. Types of therapy include CBT, counselling, DBT, EMDR, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Identifying your triggers

Set healthy boundaries with stressors like people or places that lead to overspending. Not setting limits will have worse consequences than implementing them.

Embracing your worth

Practice self-compassion to allow detachment from external sources. Basing self-worth on internal factors is a better way to measure fulfilment than with the quantity or quality of what you purchase. Your financial struggles are also not a summarisation of your worth – they are an aspect of your behaviour that you can change, and whilst we will always be a work in progress, who we are is also consistently enough.

Evelyn Irwin AICM

Evelyn Irwin

Evelyn is a freelance content creator who is knowledgeable and passionate about marketing, music and mindset. She is an associate member of The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) and has created content on behalf of Fiveballs HR and Kent Catering Service Limited.


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