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Business of Fashion: “Can Neuroscience Unlock the Luxury Mind?”

May 01 2015

In an article recently published on Business of Fashion, journalist Kate Abnett pointed out how shopping for fashion involves a great emotional content that often can affect the customers’ rational behavior. If in the past century mainstream economists tended to believe that the decision-making process was rooted in a careful calculation of costs and reward, newer theories have questioned this belief. French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu argued that social agents do not make decisions according to rational criteria. In this context, business consultant and author Jim Nightingale claimed, "we simply decide without thinking much about the decision process". Indeed, Abnett reported that according to modern neuroscience — the study of the nervous system — even in rational decision-making, emotions have been proven to play a major role.

As fashion brands notably aim to touch the customers’ emotions and tap their secret needs and desires, Abnett investigated on the possibility of using neuroscience to drive sales, and eventually concluded that neurosciences commercial application has grown over the last fifteen years, with the promise of helping brands to stand out in a cluttered marketplace, by designing products and marketing that appeal to our unconscious responses.

In fact, Abnett pinpointed that although fashion has been a little slower than other industries to explore the potential of neuroscience, few companies are already on board such as Cosmopolitan magazine. In one study, the neuroeconomic research firm Neurensics used fMRI scans to test the effects of three Cosmopolitan covers — each with a different colored background and positioning of text — on parts of the brain. “One of the covers scored a lot better than the other two, and we predicted that that cover would sell more than the other two,” said Dr Walter Limpens, Research Manager at Neurensics. “We didn’t know why it scored better. We only saw that it activated the brain more.”

At the moment, concerns remain about the accuracy of neuroeconomics insights and about the expensive and time-intensive experimental practices to obtain the data. Furthermore, Abnett explained that some companies are hesitant to reveal their neuroscience research due to concerns about how consumers would react to the idea of companies subliminally influencing their shopping choices. The advent of more sophisticated in-store technologies and wearable tech could also see neuroscience move outside of the lab and onto our bodies — but then the tracking of the data might run into ethical questions. Abnett concluded her article with the question: “If there was a force on the planet that influences what you wear and what you buy, wouldn’t you want to understand that?”, which leaves room for further speculations on this extremely intriguing topic.

Read the full article on Business of Fashion.

Picture courtesy of Business of Fashion.