The Pleasure and Pain of Shopping

Jude Koh is the Regional Associate Strategy Manager for CARAT APAC.

Southeast Asia, in particular, is a hotbed for e-commerce. By focusing on creating pleasurable and painless moments throughout the consumer journey using media, we create more value for businesses

7 – 10 minute read

Online shopping: Intimacy replaced by expedience

Over the past two decades, we’ve witnessed an incredibly rapid evolution of commerce. In the short span of human history, we’ve gone from bartering with animal skins and spices, to exchanging coins for goods in a marketplace, to now, where we can buy almost anything online and have it delivered without ever leaving our house, even poop. Technology, in particular the increasing ubiquity of the Internet, has drastically lowered the previous barriers separating consumers from goods and services; we are no longer confined by a store’s hours or a product’s physical availability. Southeast Asia, in particular, is a hotbed for e-commerce (as evidenced here, here, and here).

Purely for the sake of research, I decided to join the online shopping scene to understand this shift in spending behavior. After a few rounds of senseless buying sprees, I’m satisfied with my haul of new clothes, but completely bored by the entire tap-tap-checkout-wait process. As this New York Times op-ed contributor put it, online shopping is “intimacy replaced by expedience.”


Acquire with pleasure, pay in pain

Shopping triggers a series of processes in our brain. Purchasing is less about the rational analysis of quality and price and more about the battle between pleasure and pain. In simplistic terms, buying is largely motivated by how our brain processes this: we acquire with pleasure, but pay in pain. On a larger scale, this neurobehavior guides our global economy, and on a smaller scale, explains why shopping is such a pleasurable activity.

When you’re out shopping
giphy (1).gif
When you get the bill

The difference in individual perception of pleasure and pain results in two groups of shoppers: tightwads and spendthrifts. Tightwads experience agonising pain at the thought of parting with their money; while spendthrifts gets intense pleasure at the thought of gaining new goods.

This duel between pleasure and pain in our brain’s limbic system ensures our survival. The limbic system rewards us with pleasure when we do something beneficial to our survival, encouraging us to seek resources, While on the other hand, it punishes us with pain when we engage in non-beneficial behaviors, reminding us to protect our resources. We buy that new jacket because our brain tells us it is beneficial to our survival and we receive pleasure from that purchase, but when we realise that we have been overcharged, the pain we feel is a reminder to be more careful in the future.

Culture defines our pleasure and pain

So if our shopping sprees are controlled by this balance of pleasure and pain, why do our spending habits vary so much among individuals and cultures? Comedian Russell Peters may provide us with an insight into Chinese and Indian consumers:


Despite its overly-stereotypical depictions, it highlights how culture plays a part in what should be a purely transactional act. Research has confirmed this with evidence that differences in culture lead to differences in how we bargain and negotiate. In our previous post, we know that culture conditions our mind and affects our inert behaviours. Similarly, culture influences how we feel pleasure and pain. The pleasure of gaining wealth, status, or well-being varies among cultures and sub-cultures and our brain seeks rewards based on how we value these pleasures. This explains why some might be willing to spend a month’s paycheck on a pair of Louboutins while others think paying a premium for a pair of red-soled heels is ridiculous.

The pleasure of gaining wealth, status, or well-being varies among cultures and sub-cultures.

A good shopping experience is all about pleasure

As marketers, how can we apply this knowledge? By creating an enjoyable shopping experience. We need to create gratifying moments that excite shoppers and enhance the pleasure of acquisition and overpower the pain felt in paying.

In-store shopping experiences are full of pleasurable moments such as the social aspects of window-shopping with your friends, the trust created when feeling the quality of the product, the risk reduction resulting from being able to it on, and the instant gratification of having it in hand immediately after payment. By immersing ourselves in these moments, our brains project a happy image which we relish in. The pleasure created drives us to make a purchase.

shopping fur coat thrift shop fur coat

How can we recreate these feelings of pleasure in online shopping, an experience that is largely limited by a screen? The answer lies in the touchpoints throughout the consumer’s online shopping journey.


How we can make online shopping more pleasurable

But more often than not, online shopping takes the form of searching, followed by endless scrolling or next page clicks through an overwhelming mountain of similar items. After your cart is sufficiently filled to reach whatever shipping cost threshold you had in mind, you checkout, pay, and wait for your order to arrive. Undoubtedly this is a convenient and systematic way to shop; however, it often feels more like procurement than an enjoyable experience.  Online shopping has the pain of paying without the pleasure in the process.

Online shopping has the pain of paying without the pleasure in the process.

There is hope. Online shopping can be experiential and intimate when they focus on delivering an experience at the different touchpoints. E-commerce has the advantage of being able to seamlessly extend the experience with media. Globally, consumers are making media an integral part of their online shopping experience. They window shop by browsing on their mobile devices. They get #ootd inspiration from regularly scanning Pinterest or Instagram. They generate their shopping list through reviews and unboxing videos of shopping hauls.


Enhance the online shopping experience with media

Address pain points: Media and communications have the ability to enhance the online shopping experience by reducing the pain of paying, and therefore, make online shopping more pleasurable. To do this, we need to find out what the shopper’s pain points are throughout the consumer journey and either mitigate them or turn them into pleasurable moments. For example, we can eliminate the pain of turning off portrait orientation lock and having to rotate the phone to view horizontal videos by considering how consumers actually use their phone and creating previously unpopular, vertical video content instead. Similarly, shoppable video formats reduces the friction of having to search for products featured in videos by bringing users straight to product.

Harness programmatic’s potential: Consider how programmatic could play a role in the consumer journey. Instead of incessantly retargeting people with ads of a purchase they just made, encourage them to write a review, share their purchase on social media, or suggest accompanying items. Programmatic has the potential to act more like a personal shopper than a shopkeeper at a bazaar.

Gif courtesy of Kik.

Get social with your media: Much of the pleasure of shopping in-store comes from the social interactions with accompanying friends, like-minded fellow shoppers, and gregarious store assistants. Media can further contribute to the thrill of online shopping by encouraging and facilitating social interaction and approval during the online shopping process, either through social media or AI messaging assistants.

Test content messages: With regards to content, test and run various messages that appeal to either the spendthrifts or the tightwads. Compare the effectiveness of messages that amplify the pleasure of acquisition or reduce the pain of payment amongst different audiences, keeping in mind the cultural context.


Online shopping: Intimacy and expedience

The intrinsic system of pleasure and pain determines how we shop. Our culture influences how we perceive this pleasure or pain. Commerce has existed almost as long as humanity itself and as we progress with e-commerce, we need to ensure it does not sacrifice intimacy for the sake of expedience.

Commerce has existed almost as long as humanity itself and as we progress with e-commerce, we need to ensure it does not sacrifice intimacy for the sake of expedience.

By focusing on creating pleasurable and painless moments throughout the consumer journey, we create more value for businesses. Use media to your advantage to deliver a fully connected and seamless experience.  As e-commerce continues to grow in APAC, the brands that have value and are able to use media to its full potential will be the ones getting APAC shoppers happily tap away.

Snapchat, It’s Not You, It’s Me

Christine Liu is the Regional Assistant Insights Manager for CARAT APAC.

Reflections on past and present infatuations with image messaging apps, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day.

3– 5 minute read

A little less than a year ago, I fell in love…

…with an image messaging app.

Snapchat’s unique offering of temporary content spoke to me—it was refreshingly blithe. It understood my waning motivation to post frequently on other social platforms, bearing in mind the consequences that content with more permanence can bring. For digital natives like me who have been contributing to social media since its advent, we’ve become jaded with the parade of personal information, and maintaining a static profile these days can feel tiresome and also boastful. With Snapchat, I felt relieved—it allowed for real, as-is snippets of the everyday, right at the moment of capture, with the consolation that photos or videos sent would ultimately disappear immediately after viewing or within 24 hours.

The content from friends and brands that spawns from this zippy approach to sharing is much less pretentious in contrast to the over-filtered and processed sort on Facebook and Instagram. Whenever something is edited with Snapchat’s tools, it seems to always be in the name of fun: think marker scribbles, stickers, Lenses, and short captions, free of emo song lyrics and hashtag spam. I personally loved the honest-to-goodness attitude Snapchat embodied, and began dabbling with documenting my life in snaps and viewing those of the few friends and brands I followed.

Injecting a little humour into everyday humdrum by turning people into pepperoni.
I prefer doodled Mario costumes over Valencia filters, anyday.

And that’s the thing: there were only a few friends and brands I followed. The adoption of Snapchat in Asia where I reside (Singapore, specifically) was sluggish. My guess to why it never took off on a massive scale, is that there were already a number of widely-entrenched social platforms that people were content with. Looking at Carat’s latest Consumer Connections Study (CCS)*, being on the most used social platforms in Singapore—Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram—already connects one to over 82% of the population daily. Additionally, just 11% use platforms additional to the aforementioned ones each day—keeping tabs across three channels is more than enough effort to stay relevant. Snapchat existed solely as a cool idea with a mere 1 in 10 daily users in 2016—there was no urgency to adopt a whole new app for communicating. With few friends on the receiving end of my snaps, it soon became pointless to upkeep my documenting habit on the isolated platform. Alas, my infatuation didn’t last long.

Perhaps it’s fate, but at the same time I was losing interest in Snapchat, Instagram rolled out their very own Stories feature. The differences in functionality between Snapchat and Instagram Stories are minute: in essence, Instagram Stories clones the concept of Snapchat. But simply because Instagram Stories is housed conveniently within the Instagram app, where the reach in Asia is already established, existing Instagram users here took to Stories like bees to honey. In addition, the minority who dabbled with Snapchat previously like I did, began migrating their activity to Instagram instead. I quickly got back into the groove of documenting on Instagram, but this time the experience was intensified—the number of contacts that viewed my Stories increased tenfold from Snapchat, and the amount of content I could view from others was probably tenfold of tenfold. I could now post unedited content on-the-fly alongside the curated ones I wanted to keep with more permanence and flair on my profile. If I loved Snapchat before, I now wanted to marry Instagram Stories.

Businesses too, especially those with a loyal following on Instagram, jumped onto the image messaging bandwagon quickly, ending the previous struggle of building organic Snapchat reach from scratch in Asia previously.

With at least 3 in 5 South East Asian consumers who expect advertisements to entertain them, especially in Indonesia (74%), Philippines (76%) and Thailand (85%)*, more brands are working towards emotionally engaging consumers through storytelling, and are recognising that the amicable and genuine tone of Instagram Stories works well for such an approach. With options to link brands’ Stories to external sites, this new Instagram feature can also be an efficient way of delivering direct-response messages.

Sephora’s update on new makeup(!). Which I promptly forwarded to my girlfriends’ Instagram handles.
Instagram Stories updates appear with a friendly colourful ring at the top of your feed, unobtrusively available to explore as and when you like.

This Story from Sephora showcasing their products with emojis sent a much less dictative message compared to an Instagram carousel ad of new products. Plus, I opted to watch Sephora’s Story versus it being served to me as an ad, and I believe this autonomy of choice makes a big difference in a consumer’s receptiveness to a brand’s message. It works particularly well if a brand has already established a constant stream of communication on Instagram and when consumers look forward to viewing content from the brand.

There’s more in store to look forward to: Measuring engagement for Stories will be available soon, with the option of creating Stories that target specific audiences for more relevant messaging. And if you’re thinking about the delightful branded Lenses that currently only Snapchat has, it probably won’t be long until Instagram Stories rolls out a similar offering, with MSQRD’s technology up Facebook’s sleeves.

Consumers in Asia are lapping up the freshness of Instagram Stories, and it’s a great time for brands to join the party while it’s still early. Start thinking about whether the nature of Stories will strike a chord with your audiences, and get cracking on the boundless possibilities that its creativity caters for.

*Carat Consumer Connections System (CCS)
CCS is a global representative, research-based consumer panel and platform across 120+ value statements, 70+ channel touchpoints and purchase influence across key categories. For more information, reach out to

– Mario Snapchat picture from Jamie K (@snapchatter on Dizkover)

A Tet-less Vietnam

Tam Le is the Regional Associate Strategy Director for Carat APAC.

Over the past few years economists have made the case for doing away with the Lunar New Year and celebrating the Western (Solar) New Year instead. What are the implications of that on culture?

2 minute read


Growing up in a Vietnamese family and community in America, Têt (Lunar New Year) was one of my few connections back to the motherland. I was American 364 days a year, but on Têt, I was proudly Vietnamese.

In the week leading up to the holiday, my house would be filled with yellow forsythia blossoms (American hoa mai substitute) and the smell of incense. It would cumulate in a large family reunion, one where I believe every loosely-connected Vietnamese person within the Houston area was invited. Then the children (and to be honest, me last year) would then line up to wish their elders a prosperous new year in exchange for red packets of lucky money (li xi). Afterwards we would either hold an impromptu lion dance (mua lan) in the house or gamble our money away through a game of bau-cua.

It was through those traditions that I felt connected to my fellow Vietnamese of both past as present as I imagined my parents as children or a version of me, across the world, engaging in the same age-old activities.

When you see this board, you know it’s going down. 

So you can imagine how I felt when I found out that over the past few years economists have made the case for doing away with the Lunar New Year and celebrating the Western (Solar) New Year instead.

“The long holiday and low productivity for weeks around Têt is causing problems for Vietnam’s development,” says prominent economist Pham Chi Lan. In Vietnam, Têt is officially a five-day public holiday with two ‘substitution days’ where employees must work one Saturday in lieu.

She has a point. As anyone who has travelled to Vietnam during Lunar New Year will tell you, the cities are ghost towns and the country nearly shuts down as everyone returns to their hometowns to spend time with their family. State employees sometimes get multiple weeks off; schools are shut for at least two weeks, and even hospitals close.

Emptied streets of Dien Khanh. Taken by me on the second day of Tet this year.

Vietnam’s government is already making strides to reduce Têt festivities. The Secretariat of the Party Central Committee has banned all provinces and cities in the country from setting off fireworks, saying the money should instead be used to help the underprivileged. The directive also says leaders of Party and State organizations should practice thrift by not traveling during Têt to avoid wastefulness, and that provincial leaders must not visit leaders of the centrally-governed agencies to offer Têt gifts.

Having one short public holiday at a time that aligns with the New Year in the majority of the world (January 1st) could improve growth and attract more foreign investment. “Vietnam is trying to integrate into the global economy and the annual breakdown over Têt adds inefficiencies to the economy and government decision-making,” said Vietnam expert Carl Thayer.

How far is a government willing to go to improve the economy of its nation?


Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling
My sister and I in our ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress.

But for all the critiques about Têt, and for all the arguments from an economic point of view, it must be stressed that this is the holiday in Vietnam. It is Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year and your birthday all rolled into one. It is the most important celebration of Vietnamese culture and has been a tradition for at least a couple of millennia.

As context for those who are growing jealous of Vietnam’s five-day Têt holiday, Vietnam has only 10 days of public holiday a year. Compare this to Cambodia with 27 days, Thailand with 14 days, and China with 11 plus five ‘substitution’ days. Têt makes up half of their public holidays; there are no days off for Christmas in Vietnam.

And when looking at numerous broader economic studies, it has been demonstrated empirically that the level of trust that people have in their countries’ institutions has a strong influence on the economic activity. Changing centuries of tradition is probably not going to drastically improve the economy of Vietnam—trust in the government is. And when the government is threatening to trade culture for economic gains, what reason do they give to deserve such trust?

Maybe I’m idealistic and naïve, but no amount of economic growth is worth such a forfeiture of a country’s culture. The cost of losing the traditions that have bound generations of a nation’s people is well worth the cost of an annual economic slowdown.

Women at Work: Rise of the Female ‘Millennipreneurs’

Bonnâe Ogunlade is the Regional Associate Insight Director for Carat APAC. This article originally appeared in Campaign Asia.

Especially in Southeast Asia, young women are reinventing the way businesses are created and operated.

5 minute read


Image courtesy of the Lean In Collection, a library of images devoted to the powerful depiction of females and the people who support them.

In Asia Pacific’s emerging markets, the development of technology and the proliferation of mobile phones is opening up new career paths to women. Consequently, we are seeing a bourgeoning trend of female ‘millennipreneurs’—entrepreneurs under the age of 35—especially in Southeast Asia.

Access to global networks via social platforms, mobile apps and digital payment methods is allowing young women to break the cycle of working menial jobs for a meagre allowance.

In Asia Pacific alone, there has been a twofold increase in the number of active internet users since March 2015. This translates to 1.8 billion internet users and 4 billion mobile connections. Speaking in broader terms, the number of mobile connections in APAC alone equates to more than half of the world’s population.


Young and restless: New face of business in emerging markets

Image courtesy of the Lean In Collection.

Dentsu Aegis Network’s recently released whitepaper, “Amplifying the Voice of Female Entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia,” found that female millennials are more likely to start a business than their older counterparts. In Vietnam and Thailand respectively, 86% and 73% of current entrepreneurs are aged between 18 and 34. Further still, millennipreneurs are likely to have launched twice as many companies as baby boomers.

In Vietnam and Thailand respectively, 86% and 73% of current entrepreneurs are aged between 18 and 34.

So what’s so special about the young and restless? Behavioural trends suggest that most millennials are synonymous with ambition, authenticity and early adoption of technology. They use tech as a seamless enhancement to their lives and value convenience over cool. Additional traits embodied by millennipreneurs are leadership, boldness and a social conscience.

This translates to millennials having clearer expectations of brands and choosing to interact with those that offer transparency and are aligned with their values. It also places them in prime position to create companies that resonate accordingly.

Image result for Hooi Ling Tan
Photo courtesy of Financial Times.

One notable example is Hooi Ling Tan, the female co-founder of Grab, a ride-hailing mobile platform (reportedly worth US$3 billion). At the tender age of 32, the Harvard Business school graduate, who hails from Malaysia, ranked 17th on Fortune’s 40 under 40 list. What’s also revealing is the increasing number of women included in this list year on year.


Positive effect

However, despite the increasing number of women-founded businesses, Dentsu Aegis Network reported that nearly half of female-led business ventures are self-funded. This may be due to the disparities they face in terms of funding and legal systems.

Shannon Kalayanamitr, the female founder and chief marketing officer of ecommerce platform Orami, a self-confessed advocate for women, states in an interview that there remains a double-standard in terms of how men and women are perceived and treated in business. (Kalayanamitr is a member of Campaign Asia-Pacific’s 2016 40 under 40.)

Image courtesy of the Lean In Collection.

What the industry needs to realise is the significantly positive effect of female entrepreneurs on both emerging countries and businesses. According to the 2016 BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneur Report, companies helmed by women make on average 13 percent higher revenues than those run by men. This rings truer for businesses led by ambitious young women with revenues rising by 9 percent to 22 percent amongst millennipreneurs. In fact, if there were greater parity between male and female business owners in terms of access to capital, women would potentially be able to lift the GDP of emerging markets.

According to the 2016 BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneur Report, companies helmed by women make on average 13 percent higher revenues than those run by men.

Furthermore, our research shows that almost all female business owners are willing to mentor others and have the impetus to inspire a single child to a whole community. Young female business owners are tremendous role models as they tend to be more concerned with their social impact and are very conscious of giving back.

To foster both a financially and socially progressive environment, we must encourage women and girls into business, provide them with early access to the right knowledge, support and funding and direct them towards positive role models.

Image courtesy of the Lean In Collection.

Brands need to keep pace

Research has proven the capabilities of successful female millennipreneurs in disrupting and shaping the digital economy, especially in emerging markets. Women are using mass technology to tap into local consumer insights to create powerful offerings that resonate by providing transparency, immediacy and convenience. They are reinventing the way businesses are created and operated and, they are commanding the way platforms, providers and devices evolve.

Rather than try to market, persuade and preach to millennials that they should heed what they are doing, brands need to start considering how they too can assimilate themselves into the lives of consumers in the meaningful and impactful way.

In recognition of the growing force of the millennipreneur, leading companies like Facebook and Google have even dedicated significant resources to emerging market developments for small businesses. However, some global brands are stagnating in the face of smaller more agile and relevant competition. These brands need to ‘stop’, ‘look’ and ‘listen’ to these women and their consumers or face extinction. Rather than try to market, persuade and preach to millennials that they should heed what they are doing, brands need to start considering how they too can assimilate themselves into the lives of consumers in the meaningful and impactful way that millennipreneurs are so adept at doing.