The Changing World of Shoppers
No other area of consumer behaviour seems to have gone through such a major shift as shopping has since the beginning of the 21st century. Digital technology, via online (Web) and mobile channels, has driven sea changes in the shopping and purchasing patterns and habits of millions of consumers. Consequently, traditional retailing at physical (‘brick-and-mortar’) shops and stores is shaken profoundly, requiring retailers of any scale to adapt, or cease to exist.
It does not mean necessarily that retailers, particularly smaller independent ones, should only advance technologically but moreover be creative and innovative in ways that can improve and enrich the shoppers’ experiences, from personal service to store interior design, so as to attract consumers to continue and patron their stores.
Shopping is an activity, covering the search for information, comparison of offers, and the choice when, where and what to buy. A shopping episode may culminate with execution of a purchase decision or deference of purchase (e.g., continue to look for product options, price offers, offline and online venues). Sometimes shopping is taken as a leisure activity, for fun, socialising or for the purpose of exploration, making no plan or practical intention to buy on that occasion; nonetheless such shopping excursions may lead to unplanned purchases. Consumers act in the role of shoppers while performing an activity of shopping.
Shopping has become a multi-channel and multi-mode activity. Shoppers often do not limit their search and exploration of options to physical stores or alternatively to digital platforms before purchasing; rather they search and combine information from sources of different types before making a decision where and how it is better for them to obtain a requested product or service. We can also see more mixed processes, for example: (a) shoppers may come to a store to look for a product and inspect it but then order it later on the retailer’s online store; (b) a ‘click-and-collect’ function allows shoppers to order products online and then pick them at a convenient time at a store near them.
What are shoppers looking for? At least three main goals can be suggested for guiding shopping behaviour: (1) finding the Products a shopper needs or would like to have; (2) engaging in a shopper-friendly Experience (effective, convenient, enjoyable); and (3) achieving greater Value for the money in buying a product (including acquisition + transaction values).
A primary challenge for retailers that appears crucial at this time is to streamline their offline and online offerings and utilities to shoppers-customers together into an integrated environment in payment, information, and service.
Shoppers should perceive and feel that interacting with a retailer in any channel to their convenience and preference is seamless to them. Whenever they look for product information, require assistance or support, or set to pay to close a purchase transaction, it should matter as little as possible how they perform these actions. Shoppers should be able to move freely between channels and modes, and the shopping experience should be flowing. Online (Web) discounts, mobile discounts or in-store discounts — they may all become indistinguishable because the retailing operation should be unified.
If a shopper visits a store and picks a product from a display to purchase, he or she would be free to choose whether to complete the purchase and pay at the cashier, at the Web-based store or with a mobile app while still on premises — eventually the transaction will be credited to the same retail business. Nevertheless, the retailer should preferably attribute a transaction fairly to the outlet where a product was chosen (e.g., a store location). This is the new reality of retailing and shopping that emerges right in front of us, and everyone have to accommodate themselves.