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Social animals like smiles

Albert Vinyals, professor of Consumer Psychology, Retail and Distribution Management, ESCODI-UAB

  • Key4Communications
31/01/2012

The other day we went on a store tour in Barcelona with graduate students in the Department of Trade and Distribution ESCODI / UAB, and I found a curious situation. We visited a shop that sold chocolate. It was very well set, with an exquisite product, an excellent selection of colours, good lighting and primarily aimed at young audiences. The product was very accessible and, despite the small size of the store, everybody was eager to enter. It was a store that seemed created for a target audience similar to my students, but when I asked them their opinion... Surprise! It was negative. They did not like it.

Puzzled, I asked a student why and he solved it with a single sentence: "The clerk has an unkind face." Indeed, the face of the retailer evoked a mixture of boredom, disgust and anger with the world. An expression, unfortunately, very common in many stores.

We turn away from everything unpleasant

The girl's expression could also be produced by our presence, or because she didn't felt fulfilled or well paid. The fact is that her face sure did not help to sell. Indeed, the probability that we didn't even enter the store was very high. The antipathy of the staff is the main reason to stop visiting a shop.

Generally the strongest memories we have of a trade are related to people, and we also tend to remember better all negative experiences: someone who has served us reluctantly, with bad answers, deceit or bad looks... This is not only true of shopping, but in fact has an innate basis in our social behaviour.

As "social animals" we have learned that negative situations should be stored in our memory so they can be avoided or overcome in the future. This has allowed us to survive as a species. Despite advances in marketing to make the customer to live more positive experiences at the point of sale, in fact, what attracts us most is people and of these, the emotions that they transmit.

Joy, a positive magnet
In this article we mainly want to claim a very simple practice, but forgotten in times of crisis: smiling. As "social animals", we are born with a limited repertoire of basic emotions (six, according to most authors) and joy is one of them. We can use joy to reproduce nice situations. We like when people tells us nice things and is well known that non-verbal communication is the most effective and honest way to do so.

We should laugh as many times a day as we can, as we only have one life. It's a very easy way to boost happiness. Smiling causes the body to secrete endorphins, which enhance the fluidity of neuronal connections. This will encourage better communication, more attention, and even creativity.

These endorphins, which are endogenous substances secreted by our body, do not just mitigate the pain, but also provide pleasure and cause us to feel a state of well being.

According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, the brain has a preference for happy faces and recognizes them more easily and quickly. By simply showing a smile we can easily create a positive first impression. The psychology of memory explains that we record more easily the first and last stimuli to which we are exposed in each context. Therefore, if we enter and exit a store with a smile, we have won part of this positive memory.

Some companies already apply this idea, such as certain multinational shoe shops in Barcelona, where they have hired someone to greet and smile at anyone who enters. Such “artificial” and undignified action is not required. Simply, all staff should be aware of this and the company should also make sure that the worker is at home in his work, so the customer sees happy people.

Our social mind will make us enter into the stores where we see happy people. If we buy, this happy people will smile more, and we will retain this positive feeling in our minds, a feeling that will bring us back to the same place another day.

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