Shopper marketing is gaining prominence for many of the world's major brands. Also known as retail communications, it focuses solely on the point of purchase and its surrounding activities. The premise is that consumers become shoppers the moment they enter a store. Although "consumers" and "shoppers" are often used interchangeably, there's a clear distinction: shoppers are active agents of purchasing decisions with clear objectives in mind, whereas consumers are people who acquire a product/service and are passive recipients of advertising messages.
Shopper marketing recognizes that behavioral and psychological differences exist between the two segments and focuses on targeting shoppers with in-store marketing tactics. Thus, the discipline of shopper marketing is about modifying the retail environment to best induce purchase. As Joe Celia, chairman and CEO of G2, thoughtfully said: "The most compelling message that a shopper will hear in a store is not necessarily identical to the most compelling message a consumer will hear at home on television...The way that you deliver a message or message content to shoppers...isn't necessarily the same format that you would use to deliver a message to consumers if they were in their living rooms."
Whereas communications targeted toward consumers encourage consideration and awareness for a brand, shopper communications zero in on getting them to buy the brand's products.
Applying Shopper Marketing to Online
The physical world makes sharp distinctions between retail and non-retail environments and can clearly separate consumers from shoppers. In the virtual world, however, the line between consumers and shoppers becomes a little blurred. Any person surfing the Web falls under the "consumer" category, irrespective of site content. Since the Internet enables people to buy what they want, when they want it, the switch from "consumer" to "shopper" status can be instantaneous -- with the main difference being a mental shift in purchase intent.
Most targeted advertising efforts focus on communicating with consumers, who may or may not be considering purchase. The goal for carefully placed online ads, banners, and links to attractive microsites is to convert consumers into shoppers who makes purchases somewhere down the line. If online marketing were to follow the shopper marketing model, focus would be placed on communicating with shoppers who have high purchase intent and have already reached the "pay now" button.
From Consumer to Vacationer
People planning a vacation and browsing for ideas are consumers. They'll likely do some background research on potential destinations and consider a multitude of elements: attractions at different cities, money conversion rates, weather conditions, nightlife options, and so on. They don't become shoppers until there's a cognitive switch in purchase intent, usually resulting in visits to travel booking sites. Once they're on a booking site, the process for buying flight tickets or vacation packages begins.
Granted, some consumers will complete the initial stages of an online purchase as a way to estimate total cost. But going through the online checkout process automatically increases purchase intent for consumers. In this case, even if the consumer went on the travel site with no real intention to spend money on a vacation, the mere possibility of purchasing a roundtrip affects the purchase intent. This is similar to window shopping. Consumers may have no purchase intent to begin with, but on seeing a good deal, they end up making a purchase.
Most targeted online ads focus on communicating with consumers to create desire for products or services and to lure them into the purchase funnel. Meanwhile, shoppers with high purchase intent are often left out of communication efforts. A shopper may go through an entire sales process, only to abandon the whole endeavor after seeing the final cost and deciding it's too pricey.
Continuing with the travel example, perhaps adjacent to the "buy now" button should be a "too expensive" or "not ideal" button. The buttons could link to a page with cheaper flight options or hotels or suggest similar cities in more affordable areas in the world. Regardless of what the buttons link to, the purpose is to communicate with shoppers at that crucial buying moment and keep them in the purchase cycle. With behavioral targeting's capabilities, the shopper's previous travel history or profile can be accessed to create targeted communication that will recommend vacation spots and deals that are both relevant and interesting to the shopper.
Targeting the Shopper
Shoppers and consumers are different entities with different mindsets. Applying retail communications online means targeting the mindsets of shoppers with relevant messaging in the moments right before purchase. The opportunity lies in identifying the challenges faced by online shoppers and offering them marketed solutions. Targeting the shopper may be the most important catalyst in getting to that decisive final click yet.
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Vicky Chen is a strategist at Sid Lee. Based in Amsterdam, she works with global clients such as Heineken, Red Bull, Swarovski, and Adidas to create and communicate desired brand experiences.
Vicky was previously a strategist at Naked New York, and started her career as a psychologist, focusing on socio-cultural dynamics and its influence on people's realities and behaviors.
March 19, 2014