Selling Illusory Joy: Emotions, Big Data and the Coming Retail Renaissance

By Christopher Surdak and Ed King

Today the world is awash in massive amounts of context-rich data. Whether it’s GPS position information, social media posts, emails, digital audio or video, – even bio-sensor gathered data – customers are creating an endless stream of contextual information just waiting to be mined.In this article, Christopher Surdak and his guest author Ed King explore how big data can help retailers remain relevant and connected with customers on an emotional level.

Among his extensive works, 17th Century French philosopher René Descartes often wrote of the distinction between our thoughts and our emotions. Descartes believed that there was a distinct “separation of mind and body, rationality and emotion”. This distinction allows us to make decisions that make sense, and in this manner we are all rational human beings who make optimal decisions where ever and whenever possible. If this is true, contemporary retailers are significantly challenged to stem the overwhelming move to online commerce.

However, in his 1994 book, Descarte’s Error, psychologist Anthony Damasio suggests that emotion, rather than logic, guides behaviour and decision making in the brain. Damasio studied people who suffered a significant brain injury. Specifically, he focused on those who had fully-functioning “logical” brains, but lacked the “emotional” centre. The subjects were able to apply logic to a variety of situations but struggled to make a decision.

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About the Author

Christopher Surdak is an Engineer, Juris Doctor, Strategist, Tech Evangelist, 2015 Benjamin Franklin Innovator of the Year, and Honored Consultant to the FutureTrek Community, Beijing, China. He is also the author of Data Crush: How the Information Tidal Wave is Driving New Business Opportunities, which is GetAbstract’s International Book of the Year for 2014.

Ed King is VP of Strategy for MaxMedia, an interactive agency creating the next evolution in digital retail experiences. Believing people want to fall in love with shopping again, Ed helps retailers appeal to shoppers’ hearts, not just their heads. He can be reached at [email protected] or @StayingInDroves.


1. René Descartes, “Illusory joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow.”, Quote

2. Tom Gara, “One Useful Feature for Online Retailers” “Lots of Physical Stores”, The Wall Street Journal, July 24, 2014
3. Christopher Donnelly and Scaff Renato, “Who are the Millennial Shoppers? And what do they really want?” Accenture, 2013
4. Christopher Surdak, “I Can’t Help You: The Dangers of Employees Disablement in the Social/Media Era” The European Business Review, January-February 2015,
5. Showrooming left in the dust as shoppers go online

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The Political Anthropologist.


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