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Mia Thomas

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The sensation of physical retail

Physical retail allows us to engage with a brand beyond just purchasing products, and the experience adds to our brand perception and loyalty. Yet different brands often go about creating such an experience in distinct ways. While some opt for a maximalist and immersive approach, others prioritise a more intimate and muted environment. 

Cast your mind back to the late 2000s when Abercrombie and Fitch had teenagers queueing around the block to experience its overly dark, intensely perfumed stores, and this feels like a world away from the minimalism opted for by millennial cult brands Ganni and Arket, both favourites of those same consumers more than a decade later. 

Granted, taste and trends evolve over time and change as we transition into adulthood. Yet we also know that teenagers possess different traits to young and older adults. For instance, sensation-seeking is heightened during adolescence, while risk-aversion tends to be low due to developing brain structures. 

So, could retailers potentially construct an optimum shopping experience that is catered to its core consumers’ personality traits?  

Shopping for pleasure

Research defines two distinct shopping types: utilitarian – the purchasing of necessities, and hedonic, or leisure, shopping. The latter relates to the social and immersive aspects of shopping for pleasure, and can be defined by dimensions including enjoyment and escapism. 

Research finds that our enjoyment of a store is impacted by a range of environmental cues, and this ultimately defines our overall experience. For example, how we perceive a shop can be influenced by its sensual, interpersonal, and physical elements, which researchers call ambient, social, and design cues. 

One study identified that positive evaluations of a store’s ambient music and scent resulted in a more pleasurable and engaging shopping experience, while a wide range of well-priced clothing also increases hedonism. Store layout is important for improving flow, which is the idea that the customer is completely absorbed in their experience, to the extent that they lose track of time. 

So, it is clear that the more positive our reactions to key in-store features, the more enjoyable our experience will be. And with increased hedonism possibly promoting purchasing or impulse buying, retailers may be interested to understand how they can maximise store performance by inciting hedonic shopping. 

The personal shopper

However, it is likely that we all evaluate store characteristics differently, and have varying preferences that contribute to a positive shopping experience. This means the perfect in-store environment may not be as simple as one size fits all. For instance, while one shopper might enjoy and purchase more from a store that is highly stimulating and busy, another may prefer order and organisation. 

One study demonstrates that those high in sensation-seeking gain a pleasurable and engaging experience in stores with complex layouts and multiple design features, compared to those who are more risk-averse. Sensation-seekers are those who enjoy novel and varied experiences, it is linked to aspects of extraversion.  Conversely, introverted shoppers may find more enjoyment in a well organised, minimal store environment, and feel more compelled to make a purchase when colours and stimuli are limited. 

We can suggest that conscientious people, who favour order, would prefer boutique-style shopping over dynamic high-street stores. Or perhaps that those high in openness might enjoy sensory stimulation while shopping due to their need for varied experiences. 

Personality’s future in fashion?

Retailers should try to understand the traits of their core consumer and shape their store environment to appeal to their preferences, in order to increase enjoyment and promote purchasing. 

We as shoppers can also consider how our personality traits might impact the kind of shopping environments we enjoy. Particularly as we try to limit first-hand shopping to strive for more sustainable habits, selecting stores that appeal to our individual differences may be a novel way of ensuring maximum pleasure and satisfaction from the few purchases we do make. 

So, next time you venture down Regent Street and find yourself happily browsing Cos but with a headache in Zara, remember your Big-Five scores might have a lot to answer for!

With over 50% of UK adults owning a pet, there is no doubt we are a nation of animal lovers. Why is it, then, that a certain number of us willingly wear clothing made from animal fur and exotic leather? Fur has a long history in fashion, from its function in the earliest hunter-gatherer communities to the status it has gathered over the last 100 years. 

However, the 20th Century conservation laws protecting animals triggered a change in peoples’ perceptions of fur garments. The ‘Dumb Animals’ campaign launched by Lynx, showcased blood-covered coats referencing the animals sacrificed for fashion and with that, the modern anti-fur movement was born. 

The fashion industry at odds

The real fur debate has split high fashion into two camps, with big names on both sides. Heritage brands like Hermès and Louis Vuitton present fur on the runway each season, while Gen-Z favourite Gucci went fur-free in 2017. Individual consumers also have varying views about the ethics of wearing fur, and because opposing groups exist in society, fur consumption is classed as a controversy. People who are pro-fur argue that wearing it is a personal choice, while those against fur feel the use of animal skins for luxury is unnecessary and immoral. So, how can psychology help to explain these differences in opinion?

Psychology’s role in the faux fur movement  

Studies show that ‘fashion leaders’ are more open to using exotic leather for clothing than ‘fashion followers’. Fashion leaders tend to prioritise individuality over political correctness, so admit to liking leather apparel despite how they might be perceived. On the other hand, teenagers who worry about how their peers see them have negative feelings about fur consumption, compared to those who are more independent. So, it seems those who subscribe to social conventions and uphold shared morals are more likely to oppose wearing fur and exotic leather. 

The messages we interact with can also impact our beliefs on this issue. Psychologists asked fashion consumers to either read positive information describing fur as fashionable, or negative information emphasising furs association with animal-rights issues. Those who read the pro-fur message displayed more positive beliefs about fur clothing, while those who read the anti-fur message reported more negative beliefs. These attitudes had a direct effect on how likely individuals were to want to buy real fur in the future.

It may seem obvious that our beliefs are shaped by what we read and watch: consuming animal welfare advertising may naturally make you inclined to oppose the use of real fur or leather. However, it is interesting that fashion itself can potentially improve how people perceive animal fur. We already know that those at the forefront of fashion generally hold positive beliefs about exotic skins. 

So, high fashion involvement consumers possibly reinforce their beliefs by regularly engaging with fashion media promoting fur, leading them to consume it. Yet as modern fashion consumers become progressively more conscious of ethics, it could be that we see a shift towards anti-fur beliefs and a decrease in demand from those with high buying power. 

But what are the implications of all this?

The Fashion industry

The main takeaway is the power brands have to influence their consumers with the messages they spread. Pro and anti-fur brands alike can harness this to align their customers’ beliefs with their own to increase the desire for real or faux fur

Animal-welfare organisations

Emphasising the social implications of consuming fur and exotic leather may make shoppers more conscious of how their purchases are perceived, and so more likely to go faux. 

Consumers

It is important to be aware of the information we read. Engaging with both sides of the debate means we can recognise our own feelings on this issue – without influence from the industry or our peers – and make purchases that reflect our true values.