Harvey Nichols Istanbul vs. House of Fraser Nottingham

Harvey Nichols Birmingham // Credit harveynichols.com

Harvey Nichols Birmingham // Credit harveynichols.com

Framing is everything. Framing effect: Our brain interprets information depending on how it is presented

The summer of 2008—it has been a really long time. I was at Harvey Nichols Istanbul during the 70% sale period. Yes, in Harvey Nichols Istanbul, they used to have crazy sales for their entire collection.

Along with the 70% discount, the shopping experience in Harvey Nichols Istanbul was amazing. The whole experience touched all my senses. For the price tag, you are not just buying a product to cover your body; you are buying a journey, replete with thick carpets, immaculate sales representatives, the scent of high-end perfumes and perfect lighting. When you add these signals together, the cost of a t-shirt is a bargain! You buy a tangible product, plus an intangible experience that can’t be quantified.

I clearly remember, I bought a Hugo Boss Orange t-shirt (this brand is now defunct). Thanks to the 70% discount, the price was very low—around £30, although I can’t clearly remember after eleven years. This price, for the combination of a designer t-shirt and the experience of shopping at Harvey Nichols, was a great bargain. That’s why I preferred Harvey Nichols Istanbul over the lower-priced shops during the 70% discount period.

The same year, I moved to England to study for a PhD in marketing at the University of Nottingham. There, I visited House of Fraser in Nottingham. I had never heard of House of Fraser before I moved to the UK. Their product range looked high-end, and their website too signalled a sense of luxury. After a while, I visited the store with the idea of perhaps buying something.

However, it didn’t really go well. I saw the same Hugo Boss Orange t-shirt, and I didn’t really like it. I couldn’t understand why.

When I diagnosed the problem, I noticed that House of Fraser was missing the intangible part of the shopping, the luxury experience touching the senses. The Nottingham store was not designed as well. It was hard to navigate through the store. The high-end brands were next to relatively lower end products. There were too many things. It was too dark, and I can’t even remember any scent of perfume.

Fun fact: the prices were lower, probably due to the exchange rate. However, I skipped everything there and didn’t really buy anything until I had to for its utilitarian functionality.

Sadly, House of Fraser struggled a lot and had to recover from a period of financial difficulties. This shows the importance of framing the product. Our brain doesn’t work like a computer that stores each individual piece of data separately. We store these signals attached to each other, and any signal through our senses triggers our existing memory structure.

At this point, David Aaker’s unique selling point hypothesis does not really work well. Our brains do not have a built-in spreadsheet and compare every decision based on tangible facts. We make decisions based on how the product is framed to us, and that framing triggers the subconscious part of our brain. A Hugo Boss Orange t-shirt from Harvey Nichols Istanbul might be pricier than the same product purchased from House of Fraser Nottingham. However, the sensory experience of shopping at Harvey Nichols was more satisfying. Using the same technique, VW Group can reskin an Audi Q7 SUV and sell it as a Bentley Bentayga.

Sadly, many companies ignore the importance of the human brain and our emotional decisions. They assume that consumers are super-rational and super-utilitarian. At the same time, they try to sell very uncomfortable high-heeled shoes for the price of a second-hand car.

Companies which understand the importance of human psychology will be more resilient in a financial crisis, despite changes in trends and many other factors that could damage their industry. This is because our brain is still the same brain which we inherited from our ancestors. We haven’t received any updates yet.