Shopping and science might seem like chalk and cheese. In reality, there are hundreds of different science careers in retail that shape how we shop.
Neuroscientists are making marketing decisions by determining how the brain responds to colour choices in packaging, for example, while cosmetic chemists are formulating the best-ever body wash down to every last bubble.
Here are four science careers in retail that are making shopping much smarter.
Shopping is certainly not the first thing that springs to mind when you hear ‘neuroscientist’, but a rise in science-based marketing means these nerve-studying scientists have a new career area to explore.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, every single product in our supermarket aisles has been designed to trigger a response in your brain. Did you know that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than it processes text? It’s science like this that’s responsible for recognisable brand logos like the McDonald’s golden arches, or Apple’s eponymous image.
In one study, neuromarketers used eye-tracking technology to analyse how we view ads with images of babies in them. Researchers found that babies making eye contact with the viewer tended to distract from the product, as viewers spent more time looking at the baby’s face instead. But, if the baby switched its gaze towards the product, viewers were more likely to view the product in detail.
2. Data scientists
The world of shopping and retail is bursting with millions of data points ripe for analysis. Every website you visit, every product you buy and every link you click is data that retailers are using to measure their success and improve their sales.
Recommendations, for example (products that a website reckons you might be into) are driven by sophisticated machine learning algorithms, analysing every little detail from what you’ve clicked on, to how much time you spent on the page of a similar product.
Companies like Amazon are even working on developing Tinder-style apps that have customers swiping left or right on images of shoes or coffee tables. Using the data from your likes and dislikes, the app creates a pool of options that are more likely to tickle your fancy, cutting down customer browsing time and (hopefully) skipping right to a sale.
3. Computer scientists
Computer scientists are developing innovative solutions to the challenges of online shopping. How do you know if those pants will fit, or if that shade of green will suit your skin tone?
A virtual reality changing room is just one of the inventions that we might see cropping up during our online shopping sprees in future. Using your laptop’s webcam, or a camera built into a shopping mall mirror, a virtual dressing room lets you try on any item of clothing without needing to undress first.
4. Cosmetic chemists
Cosmetic chemists specialise in formulating the creams, deodorants and perfumes that we use everyday. Landing at the research and development stage of product creation, these specialised chemists need to take customer needs and wants (No more smelly underarms! Vanishing wrinkles in 3 months!) and translate them to reality.
But, it’s not enough to fulfil those desires. Products need to be formulated with the perfect scent, colour and texture, which can take many attempts to perfect. Cosmetic chemists need to use all their science expertise to formulate and reformulate products that can be replicated on a grand scale.
Author: Eliza Brockwell
Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.