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No Rest for the Weary Shopper

Rebecca Brooks

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How our busy lives are affecting consumer purchase behavior

Modern life can be exhausting. There’s the more tangible business: the frantic rush to and from work, child rearing, managing both personal and business relationships, exercising, eating right, household tasks, practicing self-care, catching up on Game of Thrones. Couple these things with our online lives, in which we’re constantly bombarded by information and conversations; commentary and news; and likes, loves, shares and frantic political arguments with strangers or distant family members.

The truth is we are “always on.” This reality spills over into the consumer landscape as we know it. Our customers and target audiences are also “always on.” What does this mean for brands?

Brands and the ‘Promiscuous Shopper’

In our work as market researchers, we’ve seen the result of these trends manifest itself in what we describe as the rise of the “promiscuous shopper.” Spurred partly by this trend of being spread too thin, this new consumer is emerging in part due to a growing array of options and availability of information at the fingertips of every consumer.

This massive amount of information is driving a decline in traditional brand loyalty. Where we used to be able to describe a straightforward and relatively consistent shopper journey, shoppers now have a variety of paths to get to the same purchase, whether through online reviews, social media recommendations, Google searches or more traditional pathways.

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This shifting landscape offers real opportunities to those who are willing to adapt. As consumers become more uninhibited in their shopping habits, convincing consumers to make the switch to a novel product has become easier. While the volume of messages can make it hard to cut through the clutter, those who are offering something new can find a receptive audience for their product. Whether from a wholly new brand or an innovative legacy brand, in many ways there has never been a better time to launch a novel product.

How Market Research Needs to Adapt

In order to survive in this landscape, we must shift focus away from the brand and toward the consumer. On the marketing side, this means ensuring that diverse consumer touchpoints are consistent throughout the shopper journey, with relevant messaging that excites consumers. On the research side, this means starting from questions that prioritize the needs of shoppers rather than those of the brand. Uncovering the nuanced differences between consumers and their decision processes rather than treating them as a single monolithic group can be the difference between a successful brand and one that gets left behind.

What does this look like in a practical setting? It means that market research needs to proactively reframe an approach that uses techniques such as creating a survey design that is efficient and focused; putting the customer first, not the brand, throughout the questionnaire; letting the data lead the story; and taking the time to dive beyond the surface information for the insights that get to the heart of shopper behavior. Some of the metrics that should be explored are:

  • Shopper Promiscuity Level: How willing a person is to experiment, take risks and try new things. To get accurate insights, we must understand a person’s general proclivities toward promiscuity.
  • Product Promiscuity Level: The level of inherent promiscuity in the product category. 
  • Shopper Priorities: Parameters surrounding the individual shopping experience that reveal motives and priorities for a particular purchase.
  • Context: How the actual shopping experience—whether online or in person—can ultimately alter what people buy.

By using a new framework, researchers can start to create deeper, more accurate insights.

It’s no secret that societal drivers have long caused changes in the way people make purchases. This will continue to play out as the shakedown of digital connectivity and the need for individual connections comes to the forefront. Market research and brands need to find ways to keep up. In the meantime, I’ll be finding out what happens to Jon Snow and wishing I had a pet dragon, in between juggling all the rest of modern life’s responsibilities and demands.

Rebecca Brooks is the founder and CEO of Alter Agents, a full-service market research company redefining research in the age of the promiscuous shopper.