Why you should care about emotions when building a web shop

Heads Up!

This article is several years old now, and much has happened since then, so please keep that in mind while reading it.

Last summer my friend Markus Kämmerer, a former web developer, did a session about emotional commerce at umbOktoberfest. I bet dollars to donuts that most attendees didn't know why this topic would relate to them at first. Isn't designing and building a web shop just something that should follow best-practice examples? Sure, you may hire a creative designer for a nice template and some css work, isn't that enough emotions?

It turned out that his session was controversial for some but well received by all at the end. For a good reason he found a bunch of new clients that Friday in August.

Markus Kämmerer explains emotional commerce to Umbracians in Frankfurt
Markus Kämmerer explains emotional commerce to Umbracians in Frankfurt

Markus and I are adherers of some principles that have been around in Germany for quite a while, but still have the nimbus of some kind of secret lore. I'm pretty sure that there are similar principles present in other countries, maybe in your country they're more common. But when it comes to Germans and the marvelous power of stirring emotions it has to be a secret lore, right?

At first let's assume that because of the vast amount of information our brain has to deal with only 5% of this information make it to our conscious mind. We only think, decide and act consciously on sensory input that goes into these 5%.

What is the answer of most information submitters (e.g. ads, shops or even content management systems)? They try to drive your attention to their bit of information. Because almost everybody tries the same, we're experiencing more and more aggressive advertisement strategies. You're not selling enough? Get a better pitchman, stupid.


Over time there have been always businesses that were smart enough to be sustainably successful using another strategy. These businesses don't focus on the small 5%, but on the remaining 95%!

How is that possible, you may ask? The answer is quite simple to understand, but hard to master (it always has to be like this, I guess). Most of your decisions were made by your limbic system unconsciously. Only this way your brain could handle all the stuff, because compared to the limbic system your conscious mind is something like an old 8086 CPU, in other words: really slow, but able to do logical work.

The limbic system is so quick that it can make decisions even before you know all the facts. It uses patterns of similar situations and emotions to decide, that you really wanna buy this yummy food that smells sooo good. As long as the price or the process of buying this food produces not more pain than your wish to gulp down this food produces happiness, you'll buy it. Afterwards you may find even a good reason why this was a good 'decision', maybe your fridge is empty, the kitchen was just cleaned up or something else. Do you know situations like these? I hope so, because this is how a lot of these food stall franchises work and you're in healthy mental shape when you fall for it.

Use the force: The guys from uCommerce, Tea Commerce and uWebshop offer highly flexible web shop packages for Umbraco
Use the force: The guys from uCommerce, Tea Commerce and uWebshop offer highly flexible web shop packages for Umbraco

This leads us to the question how we could draw attention to our web shop or specific product. As we couldn't directly manipulate memories (at least when someone is a prospect), we have to focus on emotions to influence the limbic system.

Most shop owners see the dilemma of pain (spending money) versus happiness (buying something), but they don't raise the happiness, they lower the pain - read: lower the prices. This really works quite well actually, but it leads to cut-throat competition. So it's wise to think of ways to add positive value and emotions to your web shop, and there are plenty of them. Keep in mind that this also helps when something went wrong, maybe a bug in your razor macro interrupts the buying process. Negative emotions are 9 times stronger than positive ones! So you never could do enough in terms of adding emotional value to your web shop.

Markus summed up the most important things to think of in his excellent list of the...

Seven Commandments of Emotional Commerce

1. Build a strong foundation of trust!

Without the trust of your clients you don't need to put any more efforts in your web shop project. Trust can be gained from certifications, guarantees, a long company history, an iconic reputation or a large customer base.

2. Surpass expectations!

Don't just use starter kits, templates and such. Of course, whenever you do something differently to a best-practice approach do it for good reason and think twice, but you should offer more than customers would expect from your kind of web shop. This could include better contract terms, cooler features, quicker delivery, free add-ons and level 5 friendliness.

3. Tell stories!

Human brains are built to deal with stories, and a healthy brain always loves a good story even when its bearer pushes his mouse cursor over a web page. Good story tellers explain why exactly their web shop is the most authentic in universe, they tell the story behind the whole project and they make the automated business human again. If done the right way there will be an emotional relationship between seller and buyers. But beware of telling lies!

We love Umbraco, because it's the perfect CMS to build great web shops
We love Umbraco, because it's the perfect CMS to build great web shops

4. Love and craft every detail!

People will recognize if you've just put together your website in a clumsy way. Apart from that, their sub consciousness will give them a satisfying gut feeling when it detects all the small bells and whistles, when every single part of your website - including design and functionality - demonstrates your dedication. And this demonstration shouldn't end with the order confirmation.

5. Address all senses!

This is especially important to web shops as there's nothing to touch, smell, taste or hear. You could use a really attractive packaging, offer free samples or - when the business is big enough - even set up a real showroom. Make use of videos, whenever appropriate.

6. Let your customers speak!

Don't fear the comment box, even when a customer will use it to complain about something. They will blame you anyway, we're living in the age of social networks and product rating portals! Maybe a harsh review is true and you could learn something from it? Only delete posts by obvious trolls, never posts by your real customers. Never fight back.
Another very successful approach is to utilize your most loyal customers, turn them into fans and they will love to promote your products to prospects for free. Never think of paying them, because this will turn fans into external sales persons. This might damage the trust foundation and authenticity you've spend so much work on.

7. Love your desired target audience!

Know your customers, understand their needs and wishes. Don't filter your target audience only by age, gender or income. Filter by shared needs, limbic profile, preferences, way of life and so on. Select images, design, wording and features carefully to match your target audience exactly. It's an intrinsic factor that this won't just generate ecstatic customers, but also haters. Without haters no fans, so haters are in fact better than indifferent people. If you try to please everyone, you'll just end up with another mediocre web shop.
If you plan to address multiple target audiences, use your Umbraco and your favorite web shop package to set up a single shop front end and domain for each target audience. This helps to separate the different customer segments in a very clean way and you can build the perfect user experience for all of them.

If you want to learn more about how emotions and the limbic system are wired up you might want to check out the explanatory model called 'Limbic Map' by Dr. Hans-Georg Häusel. Or get in touch with Markus Kämmerer at mk@storemotion.de.

Have a wonderful Christmas time everyone!

Christian Wendler

Christian is on Twitter as