Understanding Your Customer's Shopping Heuristics

The nature of email marketing can be illustrated through a comparison to book buying. The average consumer spends less than three seconds scanning titles of books on a bookshelf in the store, and then spends roughly 20 seconds scanning the contents before making a decision to either purchase or sit down with the book to research further. We have turned into a culture of top 10 lists and recommendations.

It's not surprising that publishers recommend book titles that are three words or less. Much of the focus of book marketing today is on the design of the cover, the author's bio and leveraging recommendations.

Email is not that different. We've exhausted the promotional aspects to the point that we've seen a continual decline in response rates over the years. We can't survive as a subject line in the inbox, with a very isolated view of how email and other channels help shape how consumers learn, research, compare, try, and purchase goods and services. We will continue to see response attrition climb as our inboxes get fuller and our social connections take our time away from the inbox.



We got smarter about targeting and segmentation only to find that we end up focusing on certain types of customers that may not be our most loyal. We've embraced behavioral messaging only to discover that a single message can't adequately help a customer form a consumption habit, change an existing habit or bring about any persistence to purchase. We've tackled trigger-based messaging to generate reasons for the consumers to go to the inbox and to reinforce an event or behavior or service them in a timely manner.

What we haven't done is totally embrace customer shopping heuristics: how email helps consumers shop, and what information they need to help bring persistence and habit to the shopping event. Most companies that build Web sites apply some form of customer heuristics into their design, navigation and logic. You shouldn't have to relearn how to buy something on the Web! The more difficult a site is to navigate, the higher shopping cart abandonment. The same applies to email in many respects. What is the role of email in triggering this purchase event -- and how can we make it simple?

Customer loyalty and retention is about helping customers form "habits" around the consumption of your product or service. A habit is how they consume the product or how you trigger the consumer through some form of stimuli (advertising).

Email marketers typically get left in the dark planning channel synchronization. How often do you get to discuss how your promotional message supports shopping heuristics? How do your customers get information on your products and services? What level of involvement does your product/service require? How does the advertising campaign move the customer towards trial? What are your customer's habits around shopping, and use of your products? How do you link advertising and communications to specific behaviors that you desire out of the consumer? And how do you roll these up into a meaningful plan that keeps working?

The future of our channel will be predicated on our ability to adapt our strategies to evolving consumers and their purchase habits. Thinking through only the email channel is like trying to buy a book without the use of the Internet, recommendations from friends, top ten bestseller lists or promotional signs in bookstores

4 comments about "Understanding Your Customer's Shopping Heuristics ".
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  1. Carol Ackerman from the ackerman group, May 11, 2009 at 10:06 a.m.

    this is good, as far as it goes. It would be great if the questions posed in your next to last paragraph were demonstrated with specific campaigns in a subsequent article or linked to another post.

    thank you.

  2. Jason Baer from Convince & Convert, May 11, 2009 at 12:38 p.m.

    Fantastic post David.

    We need to think about how email is the first step in a process, not a process unto itself. It can't be self-contained, it has to be integrated and ingrained into larger patterns of customer behavior, which are typically cross-channel.

    Email should be the ligament that binds disparate marketing tactics together, helping customers make efficient, intelligent, successful decisions. But too often, it's just a direct appeal in a fancy envelope.

    Partly, I believe this is cultural, as the email team is too often siloed in the corner, without full visibility into the big picture. This has to change for email to continue to succeed.

    Thanks for bringing this issue to light.


  3. Matt Riker, May 11, 2009 at 2:33 p.m.

    I will recommend using for all email marketing needs. Its the best desktop email marketing software I have used so far.

  4. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, May 11, 2009 at 10:24 p.m.

    Yes, an interesting point in so much as email marketers we are left to strategise how we will market products and services already released to the customer. It is important to understand email marketing should be considered into three main areas.
    1. The List, 2. The Relationship you have with your list and 3. The Offer.
    By keeping this in mind no matter if we are not involved in the initial planing of a product or service release or not we at least can understand the psychology of email marketing.
    Cheers Kurt Johansen Australia's Email Marketing Guru

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