Experience Matters: Ways To Create Emotional Value For Your Customers It's not the shopping platform, it's the shopping mindset that really matters.

By Ahmed Galal Ismail

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Majid Al Futtaim Ventures

Have a think about the last time you made a purchase– maybe you ordered food for delivery online, or picked up a new pair of shoes from the mall, or you may even have sourced a handmade gift made by a local designer on Instagram. Was it a smooth and seamless experience? Maybe not. Could it have been better? Almost definitely. No matter how you shop, it is safe to say shopping consumes a large amount of our time, so surely it should be painless, rewarding, and satisfying, rather than a source of frustration.

Omni-channel has been a buzzword recently, and it's a regular fixture at conferences and trade shows, and frequently tops the agenda in corporate boardrooms. Its premise is simple– deliver offerings across multiple offline and online channels to help fulfil the needs and expectations of customers, while opening up new revenue streams. But while the theory is sound, the message is misleading. To be successful, you can't think channel first– build it and they will come. You need to think experience first– build it but only if it strengthens your overall experience and offers your customers more "emotional value." This is because, as branding expert Martin Lindstrom once put it, "Emotions are the way in which our brains encode things of value." Customers think in experiences, not channels. Armed with this "experience" and "emotion" mindset, you may decide that expanding into new channels is not even necessary. Take Primark, for example. While other major high street retailers with significant omni-channel presences have been floundering, Primark has consistently posted strong revenue and profit growth, and it doesn't sell a single product online. It remains, at the face of it, a classic brick and mortar retailer. It just delivers an extremely compelling experience, rooted in the principle that purchasing fashionable items at price points accessible to everyone creates guilt-free pleasure when going shopping. Another good example is Waterstones, the British bookstore. It was struggling for some time and, after failed attempts to embrace the digital world, changed its direction. Under the vision of helping people fall back in love with books, the company reshaped its stores to make them more welcoming, tranquil and immersive. It also trained its staff on great stories and authors, so they could more passionately provide both compelling and accurate product recommendations. Of course, the answer is by no means always to focus on the physical. There are a number of omni-channel success stories, too. Walmart, for example, recognized that one of the biggest causes of stress and frustration among its customers were long queues. Rather than opening more checkouts, it created the innovative Walmart Scan & Go app, which allows customers to scan items' UPC codes on their phone, check out via a simple ecommerce-style cart, and then walk straight out of the store after showing a security guard their digital receipt.

The immersive experience of Waterstones is vastly different from the efficiency of Walmart's Scan & Go app, but which should retailers offer? If you look at how consumers shop, there are two distinct types of shopper mindsets– either "I need to shop," or "I want to go shopping." The first is a very functional and planned process. An extreme example would be the grocery shopping list where you have things that you need to tick off as quickly as possible.

On the other end of the spectrum is more of an experiential journey where customers want to "go shopping." They are looking for a more interactive, immersive experience that goes beyond simply purchasing a product. While some people always want "to shop" and others are almost addicted to the thrill of "going shopping," most alternate between the two mindsets. A working mother could be in a "to-shop" mentality when buying groceries for the house during the week, but in an exploratory mood of "going shopping" with her girlfriends on the weekend. The key here is for brands to understand which mindset customers are in at any given moment, and shape the core customer experience accordingly– if a customer is coming "to shop," make that functional experience even quicker, more seamless and hassle-free. If your customers are in the frame of mind to "go shopping," you know they are looking for an inherently entertaining and social experience. Retailers need to be prepared to cater to customers' varying mindsets through an omniexperience offering. It is tempting to simplify the situation by asserting that customers tend "to shop" online, but "go shopping" offline. However, there are pioneering examples of brands that deliver exceptionally experiential online shopping journeys. Take Amazon, for example. Amazon, who mastered convenience with one-click shopping online, only opened their physical grocery store Amazon Go once they could offer that convenience if not better with zero click shopping; just pick up the vvgroceries and walk out.

"Brands can influence buying moods and density of purchase by delivering a superfocused omni-experience."
Source: Majid Al-Futtaim Ventures

Whilst it may not be possible to change a person's mindset, I believe there are ways in which brands and companies can look to alter their behavior, depending on the product type, shopper persona, time, and geography. By delivering a superfocused omni-experience, brands can even influence buying moods and density of purchase, which is hugely exciting for the retail industry.

So, if we know that people display different mindsets when it comes to shopping, how do brands go about identifying these, in order to shape the core customer experience accordingly? I believe it all comes down to the smart use of relevant data. At Majid Al Futtaim, we are in the unique position of being able to collect customer data at multiple touchpoints, whether someone is grabbing a coffee, purchasing new jeans, catching the latest film or just window shopping. We do this by combining data from a range of sources, including Wi-Fi connectivity, point of sale, card transaction data and mobile payment apps. However, we recognize that data by itself doesn't automatically lead to delivering a successful omni-experienceto truly understand our customers' mindsets, we need to look at the journeys they take and use this data to target them with a hyperpersonalized and memorable experience that keeps them coming back. Let's look at the example of our personal finance business Najm, that partners with Carrefour to offer shoppers special promotions available only to Najm credit card holders, but through data analysis it was noticed that there was a gap to be filled. By tracking the customer journey, it became apparent that many shoppers who didn't have Najm cards wanted access to these promotions, but by the time they applied for the card and received the standard approvals, the promotions were no longer available. Najm then leveraged its technology and solutions provided by the Etihad Credit Bureau to offer Instant Card Issuance, which allows customers to apply, get approval, and receive their credit cards for immediate purchase in store within just 15 minutes.

Understanding customers' needs and responding to them effectively and efficiently has set companies apart from the competition since the dawn of time. In our fast-moving, multichannel world, it is easy to get distracted and stray from this proven path. The secret is to keep striving to truly understand what your customers want, constantly seek new ways to enhance your experiences, and deliver more value for your company by creating more emotional value to your customers.

Related: AI Can't Solve All Of Our Customer Service Problems (Yet)

Ahmed Galal Ismail

CEO of Majid Al-Futtaim Ventures

Ahmed Galal Ismail is the Chief Executive Officer of Majid Al-Futtaim Ventures, a subsidiary of Majid Al Futtaim Holding, and the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Enova, and both Majid Al Futtaim Finance and Cinemas. He manages the company’s strategic relationships with the Presidents and CEOs of various international partners, and oversees Majid Al Futtaim’s Cinemas, Leisure and Entertainment, Fashion, Healthcare, Finance business, as well as its involvement in both its F&B and energy management joint ventures.

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