Understanding consumer behavior and motivations

January 1, 2022 | 4 minute read
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It’s an age-old question—Why do people buy what they buy?

Why do shoppers purchase one item and not another? Why are they brand loyal, and is online really pitted against brick and mortar?

While data and predictive analytics can be leveraged to anticipate the who, what, when, and where of consumer actions, a lack of quality data related to cognitive motivations—the why behind consumer purchases—has been historically difficult to examine and understand, let alone predict for personalized marketing results.

But the science of psychology—why people are doing what they are doing—in traditional marketing research bears more weight when paired with what can be measured with audience data, according to Eric Bradlow, Professor of Marketing at Wharton.

Let’s look at the ways marketers can better supplement their digital targeting by understanding the psychology of how and why customers shop.


Pre-shopping research

Today’s consumers have more ways to research before they buy than ever before. This means the path-to-purchase journey is only getting more complex.

According to KPMG’s 2017 study "The Truth About Online Consumers, there are four stages in the path-to-purchase journey:

Stage 1 — Awareness: triggers and influencers

Stage 2 — Consideration: product and company research

Stage 3 — Conversion: deciding where and when to buy

Stage 4 — Evaluation: experience and feedback

Throughout these stages, consumers now have the opportunity to access information and research products ahead of their sale—but how they choose to do this varies.

According to Retail Dive, 67 percent of consumers say they research products online (at least on occasion) before shopping for those products in brick-and-mortar stores.

One in five shoppers (19 percent) report that doing pre-shopping research online first is crucial, and one-third (33 percent) of consumers head into a brick-and-mortar store without doing any research at all.

All of this pre-shopping research means brands must produce high-quality online content, consumer-generated product reviews, and effective SEO efforts to make a good impression on potential customers.


What’s age got to do with it?

When it comes to purchase behavior, the data always wins.

Why? Because even though millennials (born between 1982 and 2001) might be thought of as “the online shopping generation,” the truth is that Gen X consumers made 20 percent more purchases in the last year than “tech-savvy” millennials.

Taking it a step further, Gen X shoppers (born between 1966 and 1981) made more online purchases last year than any other age group, averaging close to 19 transactions per year.

So, while millennials are often hyped as big spenders, perhaps marketers should consider the Gen X group when planning targeted campaigns.


More shopper types you should know

In “The Shopper Story,” a survey of 2.5K U.S. consumer electronics buyers, research shows that consumers don’t usually make a purchase from the first website they visit.

Also, 52 percent of shoppers are about as likely to make impulse purchases online as they are offline. This percentage includes the following shopper types you should know, according to AdWeek:

  1. Click and collect — Order online before picking up in-store

  2. Web-rooming — Research online before buying in-store

  3. Show-rooming — See a product in-store but buying online

How can marketers optimize conversions with all these shopper types? AdWeek reports 89 percent of shoppers are swayed by quality product photos, while 77 percent are influenced by quality video.


What else influences shoppers?

While content certainly makes an impression on consumers looking to purchase (for example, 9 out of 10 consumers say they watch videos about the tech products they might buy), influencers also can make a difference.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram offer the ideal environment for shoppers to seek out objective opinions from the people they trust—whether they know the influencer personally or not.

According to HubSpot, 81 percent of consumers say they will buy a product based on a post from their friends, and 30 percent of consumers are likely to respond positively to brand offers when reposted by a friend.


What are some other ways we can predict a purchase?

Consumers also make purchases based on responses in the brain that might never make it to a survey or express itself online—AKA biometric research and neuroscience techniques.

These methods measure physical and emotional responses in the brain and then use those learnings to steer marketing strategy:

  • Biometrics — Measuring eye tracking, skin, and muscle responses to stimuli (in this case ads)

  • EEG (electroencephalography)/SST (steady-state topography) — Measuring electrical brain activity

  • fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) — Uses MRI imaging technology to track brain activity by mapping changes in blood flow

While the jury is still out on whether or not these methods are effective, neuroscience studies have shed light on how shoppers’ brains perceive information.

For example, people can recall smell with 65 percent accuracy after one year, but visual recall of photos falls to 50 percent after just three months.

Overall, neural research shows that the stronger the sensory experience is for the consumer, the greater the overall recall will be. In other words, it might be time to incorporate your customers’ senses of hearing, seeing, and even smell into your next campaign.

No matter how you incorporate these tips into your marketing efforts, remember to let data lead the way.


Contact The Data Hotline today for 1-1 help reaching the customers you care about. (What's The Data Hotline?)

Image: Shutterstock

Maren Williams

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