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The changing psychology of shopping: three trends set to shape retail


By John Gillan, Managing director

January 23, 2019 | 5 min read

Shopping has traditionally fallen into two broad categories: that of “want” and “need” with little room in-between for anything representing higher value, virtue or enjoyment.

Criteo assess the psychology around consumer shopping habits.

Criteo assess the psychology around consumer shopping habits.

All too-often considered a vice, ‘retail therapy’ is regularly viewed as a form of escapism that should be immediately followed by pangs of guilt associated with overindulgence, while shopping for essentials is often seen as mundane task that has to be completed.

But all of that is changing. A major shift in the consumer mindset is transforming shopping into something that can be enjoyed and reveled in, with technology playing a key role.

New behaviours such as self-care shopping will define shopping in the coming years and retailers will need to ensure that they’re catering to shoppers’ desires. It is only through using data and artificial intelligence that retailers can truly understand and interpret consumer behaviour and gain their edge.

Virtuous 'circlers': The only way is ethics

The first major trend identified in the latest Criteo report that looks at the psychology behind shopping in the UK points to a shift in mindset towards more conscientious consumerism. Ethical shopping is one of the fastest growing sectors in retail today. Spend last year on sustainable food and drink grew 9.7%, with the market now worth £81.3bn in the UK. The result is a shopper-base actively looking for an ethical ingredient from the brands they’re buying from.

Almost half of UK shoppers today (40%) feel more positive about brands that publish their ethical standards as the internet makes it easier for people to discover the credentials of manufacturers and retailers alike.

In a retail environment where choice is everywhere and brands are scrambling to lower price points, there is a distinct subsection of shoppers out there actively seeking higher ethical standards. For brands looking to capitalise on the virtuous cyclers, promotion of supply chain information, usage of local suppliers and sustainable resources is key to success.

The rise of ethical brands is a clear demonstration of how the compass is moving from guilt to virtue in the retail sector. It’s no longer enough to use ethical ingredients, ethical is the first and foremost ingredient.

Social capitalists: The redefinition of the high street

Yes, the ‘death of the high street’, has been a popular tabloid headline in recent years, yet the enjoyment social capitalists get from the physical shopping experience suggests a brighter future. A quarter of people (24%) prefer to shop with friends, rising to 46% for millennials (18-24 year olds), despite the common perception that they are the ones driving the ever increasing online spend. In the case of social capitalists, they are giving it a whole new meaning.

Department stores for example, with their wide product ranges, and distinct locations that offer sandbox-like experiences complete with ‘stop spots’ where discoveries can be made, are the most popular destination for these retail revellers.

However, to nurture and encourage this behaviour, brand marketers need to ensure that the physical shopping experience is up to the standards of a largely youthful subset of shoppers deriving enjoyment from the overall social experience associated with retail. Another micro behaviour of the social capitalist underpins this point; one in four consumers (26%) haven’t bought something in the last 12 months due to a long queue. If retailers can’t iron out the kinks in the physical experience, they risk missing out on their custom.

Self-care shoppers: Sales, sales, sales

A final new subset is self-care shoppers. Rejecting physical retail stores and the social capital they bring, they instead they get their enjoyment from a feeling of having earned a great deal. This is perhaps the subtlest of behavioural changes set to impact mainstream retail because couponing, bargain hunting and price comparison has long been a part and parcel of the shopping experience, but now it’s taking on a different guise. Driven by the thrill of the chase and the hunt for bespoke experiences, self-care shoppers get their enjoyment from the careful consideration of a purchase earned. The guilt of senseless splurging simply doesn’t come in to the equation for these savvy shoppers.

New retail sales rituals (like Black Friday) have transformed shopper expectations and behaviours. Consumers now expect to find just the right deal or shopping experience for them, at any time. Finding bargains is also the means of transforming shopping into a productive activity that makes people feel better about their purchasing decisions.

The psychology behind shopping is changing. Key trends are driving people everywhere to start thinking about the activity as more than just a utilitarian necessity or something which represents

self-indulgent hedonism. Retailers will need to ensure that they’re effectively making use of data and artificial intelligence to truly understand and interpret consumer behaviour and win in today’s competitive modern market.

John Gillan is managing director Northern Europe at Criteo.


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