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Getting physical with the digital customer

As online shopping becomes more prevalent, brick-and-mortar retailers need to be aware of how they can meet different shoppers’ specific needs.

Forty years ago, a marketing researcher named Edward Tauber set out to learn why people shop. His investigation led to a seminal article, “Why Do People Shop?” that has influenced marketers and retailers ever since.

Recently, the Minneapolis agency Little & Co. set out to see if Tauber’s conclusions remain valid in a society gone digital. As it turns out, the world may have changed a great deal in 40 years — but shoppers haven’t.

“A lot of the motivations from 40 years ago haven’t changed dramatically. But the expectations of how those motivations are met have changed dramatically,” said Mary Haugh, vice president of strategy and account management at Little.

Building on Tauber’s work, Little identified six categories of shoppers (PDF), each one seeking a different experience from her shopping trip.

  • Inspiration Seekers, looking for a creative spark
  • Shopping Socialites, who love to share the experience
  • Treasure Hunters, who get a shopper’s high from unexpected finds
  • Brand Worshippers, loyal to stores and products
  • Pampered Guests, who want to feel special
  • Self Expressionists, who love to set their own trends.

A shopper generally may fall into one of these categories, but most of us will see ourselves in several of the personae, Haugh said.

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“For example, I like Anthropologie, because it’s a great place to seek inspiration,” she said. “But they also pamper you. They’ve got great dressing rooms; the receipt comes in this wonderful little envelope. It’s a great experience even if you don’t buy anything.”

As online shopping becomes more prevalent, brick-and-mortar retailers need to be aware of how they can meet the specific needs of different shoppers, Haugh said. In particular, retailers need to cater to the younger Millennial generation (roughly ages 18-33), which grew up as “digital natives” and which will outnumber Baby Boomers within a decade or so.

“They’ve got a different set of expectations than Baby Boomers,” Haugh said. “Personalized, customized products are an expectation. They’re looking for a unique experience. And they’re really excited about the social aspect of shopping. Whether it’s talking to the person in the next dressing room, or snapping a photo and texting it to friends, that’s just the way they shop.”

Mary Haugh
Little & CompanyMary Haugh

The phenomenon of “showrooming” has been much discussed among retailers in recent years. If you’re not familiar with the term, it means that shoppers visit a store to try out the goods and check the prices. Then they go make their purchases online.

“What showrooming tells us is that the in-store experience isn’t optimal,” Haugh said. “There wasn’t anything of value provided to the customer in that physical environment. The Harvard Business Review has identified three reasons for buying in person: convenience, a sensory experience and needing assistance or education.

“A physical store has to meet one or more of those criteria, or they’re going to lose the customer to online.”

Finally, the best retailers will have an online presence that seamlessly complements their brick-and-mortar stores. In marketing-geek speak, they’ll offer a cohesive brand experience across all channels.

Said Haugh: “When marketers better respond to shoppers’ motives, the result is better sales, deeper engagement with the brand, repeat customers, and a strong sense of loyalty.”