Founder and CEO of market research consultancy, Alter Agents; believer that powerful insights can change businesses.
As with all aspects of our lives, widespread adoption of the internet has changed the nature of shopping dramatically, upending much of how we do things and supercharging an ever-more connected economy. We have moved into the information age, where data has become a sought-after commodity as people change how they behave across a variety of areas, including shopping. In no other time has so much changed so quickly.
After over a decade of studying shoppers in this digital era, my company, Alter Agents, launched its Shopper Influence Research program with a nationwide survey of 6,000 recent purchasers. We asked them all about their shopper journey in six broad-ranging categories: household cleaning supplies, dog treats, home fitness equipment, online self-improvement subscriptions, packaged coffee and home furniture.
What we found is that shoppers are incredibly hungry for information: 76% of them told us they want to be as informed as possible before making a purchase. And that stated desire showed up in their actions. Across the six categories we studied, shoppers consulted somewhere between 12 and 24 sources of information on average. But this isn’t just the story of new digital tools. There’s been a fundamental shift in shopper psychology driven by a few key trends that you need to watch, regardless of your business.
The Age Of Shopper Promiscuity
When you’re always expecting change, you naturally start by looking for answers to your questions. That’s the default setting for people living in the age of shopper promiscuity because they have moved beyond the brand and are focused on finding whatever product or service meets their specific needs. Our research has shown that brand loyalty is collapsing, particularly for Gen Z. For some categories, most shoppers are now starting their buyer journey without even having a brand in mind.
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So shoppers start by looking at which options will be in their consideration set. And they understand that, because they have access to so many options, what’s available will always be changing. When you want the best product that is the perfect fit for your needs and you know you can get it, the name on the label matters less and less. Goodbye brand loyalty, hello shopper promiscuity.
Uncertainty Breeds Scrutiny
The years since 2000 have been a period of significant upheaval. From 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the financial crisis of 2008 and the political challenges on the world stage in the 2010s to the psychological, economic and social costs brought by Covid-19 and America’s reckoning with racism, our collective experience has been wracked by uncertainty. For Gen Z shoppers beginning to age into your target audiences, it’s all they’ve ever known.
So this state of shopper uncertainty has profound implications for how they think. During our previous Facing Fear research on consumer anxiety, we spoke with experts about the emotional impact of recessions, which encompasses high uncertainty and low confidence. When in this mindset, individuals are pushed to more closely scrutinize their choices. Is this product actually environmentally friendly? Is the promise behind that advertisement real? Is the message that this marketing is trying to sell me true? They’re looking for more and more information to build confidence.
For brands and their marketers, this means that messaging has to be abundant, specific, authentic and reflect the reality of what the product is and how the company behind it operates.
The Drive For Personalization
The trend toward personalization is well recognized—from specifically customized burritos to in-store experiences that make shoppers feel like they have a personal assistant, to augmented reality-enabled virtual try-ons. Customizing the product or experience to a shopper’s exact situation drives purchase decisions. It also dovetails with the concept of shopper promiscuity. Shoppers aren’t looking for a known brand or just whatever’s on the rack. It needs to fit them personally.
For brands and retailers, that means there’s work to do in product development and redesigning the shopper experience. For marketers, it means crafting inclusive messaging and campaigns that center the shopper as the main character and allows them to see how the product can be personalized to them.
How To Meet The Moment
So with these trends continuing to affect how your brand’s customers are shopping, how do different parts of the business work together to move forward and drive growth? Let’s look at marketers and executives in turn.
For Marketers: In times of change, you have to refresh your consumer insights after events have made them go stale. As shoppers age into and out of your target audience, your marketing strategy and messaging need to adapt for your campaigns to continue to be effective. Understanding that pivot starts with good, reliable and timely market research that focuses on the shopper and doesn’t give in to brand narcissism. And get the message out everywhere, all the time.
For Executives: Lead through empowerment. If the world is changing around you, your shoppers are too. This means that consumer research and audience understanding are more critical than ever, but in order to bring actionable insights to the table, your marketing and market research teams need support. When your team brings their voice into your boardroom, listen to it and give them the resources they need to accomplish their goals and propel the business forward. The ROI will be in the solid business decisions you are able to make based on their insights. Your shoppers, and your bottom line, will thank you.
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Author: Rebecca Brooks, Forbes Councils Member