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T or F? The less you know about something, the more you think like a consumer.

November 23, 2015

Consumers today are smarter than ever. Is your business keeping up?

Before the mid-90’s, when the general public had less access to product attributes, other than TV commercials and magazines, there's no doubt that the title of this LinkedIn post was 100% true.

And to much degree, it still is. But let’s journey into this statement together.

The game has changed. Drastically.

Today, consumers are armed with more information that has instant affect to spending behavior than many CPG companies realize. And the companies that know how to market according to these characteristics develop measurements that track response, react quickly, and market ideas through multiple channels to reach their audience at the right time.

The most effective partners in the supply chain understand through shopper behavior that consumers do not wish to be sold something. They wish to be educated about something. They don’t want advertising, they want to have a conversation with the products they buy and look for companies that communicate their own life values.

So, before we get too deep into this article, let’s start with seven ways consumers shop today as our benchmark…

  1. They seek reliable sources of information
  2. They aspire to maintain a healthy lifestyle
  3. They communicate effectively, and assert themselves
  4. They understand the logic of science and practice it
  5. They manage their personal economy with rationale
  6. They shop comparatively both online and offline
  7. They socialize what they like and don’t like

As a retailer, wholesaler, marketer or manufacturer, you may be questioning the title of this article and wondering what it's all about. How much more do consumers know today about the products they are buying, than they did "pre-internet"? And to what end will they go to know about a product before marketing tactics become irrelevant? 

Those are the big questions. Product knowledge is becoming increasingly complicated which is why it's more important than ever to know how consumers are getting it. Just because the consumer today pursues and digests more information about product than ever before, doesn’t mean that retailers should assume they are only being used as a fulfillment center.

Yes, a fulfillment center. That's what Amazon wants retailers to think of themselves as. They've won the war on brick-and-mortar once traditional retail thinks that way.

Retail still has an edge.

It's loud and clear that many retailers understand that “consumer learning” takes place on a computer or mobile device, and opinions are formed before they enter stores. It's been happening long enough -- but is it reshaping how retailers think about merchandising, what products they offer, and how to make their aisles easier to navigate? Many consumers are still having a difficult time buying everything online...

The edge that retail still has over e-commerce is a desire for people to visually and tangibly learn while walking the aisles. That aspect will never go away. In fact, the opinions they form prior to entering the store, means they are looking for confirmation, and better yet, even more "learning" about what can help them solve a problem.

This means those who are selling a product or service need to adopt the thinking process of, “What would I want to know about this if I didn’t already know it?”

The secret sauce with brands today is to drop your stake in the ground where it matters to your consumer, and do it precisely. You have limited time and you need to hit hard.

How are you different? What do you deliver that your competition doesn’t, or can’t?Don’t tell the consumer a lofty or fluffy mission statement about what your product does.Instead communicate your brand’s purpose outside of making money. That is the way to drive genuine connection. Being different is better than better.

Decision-making is more complicated than ever. So simplify.

Take health and wellness consumers for example, before consumers make a purchase they want to know the nutritional content, the environmental and social impact, the production source AND health benefits all at once. That’s what I mean by complicated purchasing decisions. There’s opportunity inside the complexity, and it happens inside brick and mortar. It’s an opportunity that online cannot offer.

Researching and getting to know a product online is one thing, actually touching and holding the product is another. The internet can help steer your consumer towards a product and its benefits, but in-store is where the proof is. A product viewed online is not being merchandised right next to the competition. There is still opportunity for retailers to influence shopping behavior, even when a consumer has read all the reviews from their Amazon account.

All that said, the crisis in retail today is how to deal with a shopper that is mission-oriented. According to Forbes.com, US retailers are experiencing 50% less foot traffic today than they were six years ago. That means the shopper is viewing the in-store experience as a task, and no longer enjoys the trip as much as he or she used to. It’s clear why – digesting information about a product online is more convenient than it’s ever been. From a consumer’s perspective, the engagement platform at retail has eroded, but it doesn’t have to be the case.

Power has shifted.

The consumer education model has been turned upside down. Both retailers and suppliers don’t get a second chance to make a first impression anymore.

So what’s next?

Tell yourself the truth. An educated consumer is your best shopper. As a supplier, you need to let your consumers know everything about your product, why it matters, what it contains, and where it’s made. Tell them both online, and offline, and make it consistent.

For the retailer, don’t always assume the consumer knows everything about the product they are looking for inside your store. You still have the ability to speak and make convincing cases about products that e-commerce can’t. Many of your consumers indeed know what they want as a result of educating themselves, but remember the experience is very different when you have their captured attention in an aisle. Products at face-value can have an emotive affect to a shopper that a JPG file cannot.

So now, your mission is to help them find "it" easier, and tell them about it through engaging signage, personalized service and merchandising, display it amidst neighboring categories, and make the shopping experience as easy as possible.

Here are two things that trading partners should keep in mind when considering the factors that influence the way shoppers shop:

1. Cognitive fluency: This is the human tendency to prefer things that are familiar and easy to understand. It also explains why you stick with a brand or service that you’ve used before. You’ve tried it, it worked, and you don’t want to spend a bunch of time researching alternatives and risking a bad purchase.
  • Take away: For marketers this means two things. First, the easier your offer is to understand, the more likely people are to buy it. Second, it’s important to get that first-purchase from a customer. Make your first offer packed with value and as easy as possible to buy. Once they have their first positive buying experience, it’s much easier to get repeat purchases. 
2. People gather information from mixed sources: Even though social media and internet rule, customers make purchase decisions using a combination of old media, new media, and actual conversations with friends and family. The most common methods of gathering information prior to making a purchase are using a company website, face-to-face conversation with a salesperson or other company representative, and simply talking with a person not associated with the company such as a friend or family member. Personal interaction is still the strongest form of pre-purchase...hands down.
  • Take away: Asking the people around us for recommendations still happens. This means that the experience you provide to your customers matters a great deal! Pack up with knowledge so you can turn your shopper queries into loyalty, and make it less about price. Drive deeper connections between trading partners and truly get to know the difference between brands in order to distinguish between like-products fighting for the same basket.

 It’s a human factor that when we know so much about a product, we can assume others know it as well. This can cause businesses to forget about, or even lose the educational factor when selling or marketing a product or service, thus resulting in a loss in the pool of potential customers. Don’t assume the consumer knows everything about your product before they enter the store, and more importantly, don’t assume they’re entering your store just to browse and experience a treasure hunt.

Consumers today don’t want to be sold something; they want to be educated.

What are you doing to educate yours?