Shopping Isn’t Simple – a Members’ Evening at the MRS

It was a beautiful sunny evening on Monday as I arrived at the MRS Training Centre near Old Street in London. It was an MRS Members’ Evening surrounding the subject of ‘Shopping Isn’t Simple’ (which we probably all know!) 

The session put a research twist on “Shopping” to explore how researching Shoppers is now increasingly complex despite the variety of ways in which we can reach shoppers and capture data on everything they do. From a tin of baked beans to a £500 TV, the shopping and selection process is ever longer and ever more complex.

The session was presented by Martin Wootton from RS Consulting who shared with us his own opinions and those of the ‘futureologists’ out there on Planet Internet. The opening section focussed on the aging population and questioned the profile of Early Adopters in the future. 

Our image of an Early Adopter is as a young 20-something dripping with the most up to date technology.

 However, Wootton floated the idea that in the next 20 years, the Early Adopters may well actually be the 60-somethings who are the only ones with enough disposable income to afford the newest gadgets and are not afraid to use them. And with that in mind, manufacturers should be sure to adapt devices to appeal to this age group not, as is often the case in R&D, ignore them all together. So until the predicted 2030 pensions crisis, we should bear this group in mind.

Looking at some tracking research they had done between 2008 and 2012, we saw how consumers have embraced technology more and are increasingly using it for pleasure rather than necessity. However, there is also an increase in those believing that technology complicates their life and they need more help to understand it.

What did become clear was that far from speeding everything up, the complete process of buying a product, no matter how small, has lengthened in the overall length of time.

This is certainly something that we saw in our piece of research entitled “The Considered Consumer” (watch our video here).

There are more avenues to research available to us and, as savvyness increases, we feel we should reference more sources. Particularly popular are the ‘virtual correspondents’ found on forums and blogs reviewing the products. However, be aware that the larger and more corporate these get, (see Amazon and Tripadvisor) the less trusting we are of them as impartial and independent reviewers, sceptical of the power of the brands to infiltrate these sites.

 As researchers, we should be aware of this longer process. There is an increasing pressure on us to deliver faster and faster results to clients. Whilst technology does allow this faster turnaround, when considering the overall shopping process, there is an argument that we should be slowing the fieldwork period down allowing it to take 3-4 weeks to reflect the decision making process. By asking only the rational questions about why someone bought a product, we miss out on the irrational behaviour and emotions which are encountered throughout the buying process and may be more impactful in the choice of item. It also needs to be done in real time – or else customers cannot recall accurately or may post rationalise the actual decisions they made throughout the process.

So, with all this talk of  the internet, is it yet another nail in the coffin for the high street?

Well no, because recent research shows that it was ‘all about the demo’. Where customers had done a lot of research online, this was quite easily dropped when they walked into the physical store and actually saw something which looked or felt nice ‘in the flesh’. There is no substitute for seeing and feeling the product and so it is important that we still have outlets to do this. Brands need to be cleverer about how they do this – see Apple for a good example and Jessops for a bad one. Brands cannot afford to have great stores with knowledgeable staff as an outlet for customers to choose the product, for them to select and then go home and order on the internet – it is key that the pricing model is right. You can read more on my thoughts about the high street in Marketing (High Street Retailers Must Rediscover that Emotional Connection) or here on The Breakout Room in my previous blog

The session finished with a series of stores for the future which involved shopping being very tailored to the individual – through your smartphone, tablet (or phablet!) – as soon as you arrived in the store, your information could be shared with the ‘store’ who would know what you liked (products and offers), what size you were and what sort of (fun)experience you would like to have in that store. Virtual reality booths which allowed you to select your products and a greater personalisation of everything in the store would be commonplace – we’d be entering an era of personalisation of shopping – ‘Me-tail’. If everyone has a different shopping experience – how do we, as researchers, measure that?

As I returned to the train station and pondered over the evening, I felt that stores and products tailored to me would not be something I would want, it seemed a bit gimmicky …then I went into M&S at Waterloo and saw a Diet Coke bottle with my name on it and just HAD to have it … and then one for my brother (who I probably won’t see for a month) …and then spent about 5 mins before my train pulled in scrabbling through the bottles to find one for my husband… maybe personalisation does appeal to me after all!

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Danni Findlay
01962 842211
Article date - 10/07/2013
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