Leon Alexander, president of Eurisko
Leon Alexander, president of Eurisko

Companies like CVS and Duane Reade have recognized the potential impact beauty products have on their bottom line and are adjusting their strategic plans accordingly by designing their new locations to gain an even greater market share of the haircare and skincare markets. In essence, they are coming after your salon business--the beauty industry business.


Never has there been a better time to design our salons around the emotional buying patterns of the consumer. But to compete, we have to go beyond mere design. We must incorporate the tenets of environmental psychology. We have to emulate the best-proven practices of successful retailers, service providers and marketers outside the beauty industry. 


The salon of today and of the future, must combine elements of dependable science, blended with wishful thinking to create an alluring cocktail of reality and desirable fantasy. 


The fundamental tenet of market research is that you can ask people questions and what they tell you will be the truth. In fact, it turns out that the opposite is far closer to the truth. The conscious mind finds it impossible to resist putting a spin on events. From the moment we do anything, the mind introduces distortions. When the mind considers the future, it does so with an idealism that is both optimistic and simultaneously devoid of any objective assessment of the past.


There is a way to obtain a deeper understanding of consumers and make better-informed decisions. Humans have virtually lost the ability to appreciate the present, so wrapped up are we in dwelling on the past and wondering about the future. We want our lives to have meaning. In the quest for significance, we miss the moment of now. It is in this moment of consumer behavior that we have the best opportunity to connect.


Understanding the Conscious Mind

The unconscious mind is the real driver of consumer behavior. Understanding consumers is largely a matter of understanding how the consumer's mind operates. The first obstacle is to recognize how we frequently react without conscious awareness. As long as we protect the illusions that we are primarily conscious agents, we pander to the belief that we ask people what they think and trust what we hear in response. Easy usually wins!


Repeated conscious actions create unconsciously driven behavior. Thinking uses glucose, so the more thought any activity requires, the more tired we will become.  The extent to which our unconscious mind likes the path of least resistance is both intriguing and disconcerting!


Studies have found that stocks with easily pronounced names are preferred and selected over those with less familiar strings of letters, and handwriting clarity and font choice also effect how people respond to something. But of course, we don't know we are doing this and that is shaping our judgments.


The saying 'first impression' applies to more than just the visual when a consumer enters a salon. It is also important in verbal communication with a consumer. For example, when people were asked who they think they would like more: 


John is intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn and jealous.

Mark is jealous, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious and intelligent.


It shouldn't make a difference, since the descriptions contain exactly the same words, yet more people attach more weight to the words they hear first and say they prefer John. 


Environmental Influences

Humans like animals, interact and respond to their environment far more than we are aware of at a conscious level. If we want to change people's behavior, the first thing we can do is change the environment. Changing the environment is uniquely powerful in changing behavior. There is no greater single influence. 


If we want to know why someone does or doesn't buy, we have to understand how the environment shapes behavior. To maximize sales or impact of communication, the environment has to be right. It is not a revelation to learn that music and lighting can affect our mood and as a result, our behavior, the extent to which both can cause people to spend more is surprising. 


For example, people spend more than three times as much on a bottle of wine when classical music was playing, compared to when pop music was selected. They assumed that they were buying wine they wanted to buy and would be able to provide apparently rational justifications for doing so.


The taste of wine is also influenced by what music is playing because of the impact of unconscious mental associations and potential misattribution. Music can also dramatically alter the amount of time people stay in a store and how quickly they move.


It is well documented that light levels have an effect on brain chemistry. Light regulates the body clock and is associated with the release of serotonin, which plays an important role in the regulation of mood, mental clarity and energy levels. Consumers who engage with displays that are illuminated, touch more of the items, and spend significantly longer shopping. As a result, they also buy more products.


People in rooms with higher ceilings perform better and spend more than people in rooms with lower ceilings. The environmental influences take place at an unconscious level. Our conscious minds are oblivious to what's really driving our thoughts, feelings and behavior.


I Have Emotions, Therefore I am Rational

Since Descartes, 300 years ago said, 'I think, therefore I am,' we have seen emotions as something that interferes with rationality. We now know the reverse is true. "People have emotions, therefore, they are rational.' We should view emotions as a fundamental component of rationality. People buy on emotion, not logic. 


Great retailers want to understand why consumers are acting in a particular way. It is important to read the environment as a consumer's unconscious mind does. 


The most useful objective measurement is conversion: What proportion of people who engage with product go on to purchase it? What proportion of the people who go into a store make a purchase? How many leave without purchasing? The amount of time someone spends shopping in a store is the most important factor in determining how much he or she will buy. the interception rate is also crucial.


It is possible to gain an insight into the mindset of the consumer by closely observing their total package of expressions. By paying attention to the words people choose to use, thier tone of voice, their gestures, postures and facial expressions, one can read with surprising accuracy the ego state (or frame of mind) they are occupying at any particular time. The key is to observe the total package rather than erroneously attach significance to just one aspect and deduce, for example that because someone has their arms folded they are defensive. Observing how someone's emotional state alters as they move through a retail experience and identifying where a number of people respond similarly is the key to identifying where an aspect of retail experience is having an emotional impact.


Many key elements contained in a retail store design become unnoticed by consumers. Customers scan the perimeter of the store to navigate it, enabling them to retain one focal length as they scan the environment, and ignored relatively large features in the middle of the store. Humans like animals scan their boundaries for exits! It is not that they don't know that it is there. People often ignore apparently significant visual events if their attention is focused elsewhere.


Your competition is not the salons in your region; it is retailers like Sephora, Duane Reade and CVS. The formula for success is to design our salons around the consumer's experience. Where the beauty industry has a great advantage over national retailers is the ability to offer our consumer a personal experience.


Environmental Design + Personal Consumer Experience = Sustainable Competitive Advantage

We must up our game to a level that aspires to maximize the potential of our retail and service business. A more self-esteem conscious consumer exiting the recession compounds this opportunity. The future for those salons that pioneer and implement this vision is bright.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.