5 New Ways To Look At Shoppers

When it comes to understanding consumer behavior at the retail level, attitudes -- not solely demographics -- push the shopping cart.

Consumers with similar demographics often have quite dissimilar mindsets, purchase habits and motivations. Psychographic segmentation makes it possible to move beyond demographics to incorporate attitudinal variables that affect consumer behavior. A "buying styles" segmentation, for example, can take into account dimensions such as brand loyalty, brand trust, impulsivity, frugality and price consciousness, plus preferences for specific brand and store attributes. This makes it possible to better identify and target distinct types of shoppers.

Here is a snapshot of five Buying Styles segments derived from MRI's "Survey of the American Consumer":

  • Buyers of the Best
  • Swayable Shopaholics
  • Habitualized Havers
  • Conscientious Consumers
  • Penny-Pinchers

Comprising just 15% of the U.S. adult population, Buyers of the Best are evenly divided between male and female, have a median age of 49 and median household income of $74,600. Their key attributes include the propensity to buy based on specific brand and product quality, as opposed to price.



Swayable Shopaholics are 30% of the adult population, have a median age of 38 -- making them the youngest shopper segment -- and a median household income of $50,300. As with Buyers of the Best, they are evenly divided between men and women. However, this group is not brand loyal. They will switch brands for the sake of novelty or variety, seek emotional payoff from the act of shopping, and find shopping a great way to relax.

Habitualized Havers have a median household income of $73,500 -- almost equal to that of Buyers of the Best -- but they are overwhelmingly male (73%) versus female (27%). This segment, comprising 17% of adults and having a median age of 45, are creatures of habit: They buy what they have always bought. And they are the least likely to find shopping a "great way to relax."

Women make up the largest proportion of Conscientious Consumers -- at 71% vs. 29% for men -- and have a median age of 54, the oldest of the five segments. With a median household income of $49,700 they are the least wealthy. They pay attention to nutrition content and ingredient labels, and consider themselves savers rather than spenders.

Nearly one in five U.S. adults is a Penny-Pincher. This group has a median age of 45 and the second-lowest median household income, at $50,400. Females slightly outnumber males 57% to 43%. Among their key attributes is valuing price more than brand name or quality. They will gladly switch brands for cents-off coupons. Unlike Conscientious Consumers, they rarely pay attention to ingredients and nutrition contents.

So what are the practical implications of being able to identify these consumer shopping segments? Both media buyers and sellers can benefit from this kind of detailed consumer understanding.

Magazines, for example, can use these consumer insights to build unique sales stories based on the percentage of their readers that fall into each Buying Styles category. To pitch a marketer that is going to launch a value-priced generic product, magazines with the greatest percentage of Conscientious Consumers have a distinct edge because these consumers are 59% more likely than the average adult to say price is more important to them than brand name. Penny-Pinchers are a close second.

For marketers using celebrities to help move their products, magazines that can show a high concentration of Swayable Shopaholics have the inside track. Why? Because these readers are 163% more likely to "mostly agree" with this statement: "A celebrity endorsement may influence me to consider or buy a product." At the opposite end of the spectrum are Habitualized Havers, who are the least likely to be influenced by celebrities.

Let's say a marketer has identified a Buying Styles segment that it wants to target for its product or service. Which media are the best choices? If the marketer is trying to build trust for its brand among Buyers of the Best, radio and magazines would be the best options, since Buyers of the Best index high for being likely to trust what they hear and read in these media.

Just as you can't judge a book by its cover, targeting consumers using simple demographics is a near-blind exercise. Particularly considering the wealth of data available showing how shoppers approach the retail experience and what pushes their buttons upon entering the store.

3 comments about "5 New Ways To Look At Shoppers ".
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  1. Nance Rosen from NanceSpeaks!, September 14, 2009 at 5:30 a.m.

    Associating buying psychology with demographics is a pretty old approach to segmentation. Other than assigning these particular names, I don't see any new contribution to the field - and pretty thin utility. When I was a marketing executive at Coke, we used an awfully similar segmentation approach for consumers in the quick service restaurant category. While it's true that Coke is ahead of the curve of most marketing intelligence, the desire to be known for a typology must be accompanied with a lot more depth if it's meant to inform new marketing practices.

  2. Hart Weichselbaum from the planning practice, September 14, 2009 at 8:15 a.m.

    My chief problem with these psychographic schemes (no big new here either!) is that we can use demographics to target media, but can't buy media for Habitualized Havers (rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?).

  3. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, September 14, 2009 at 12:21 p.m.

    At the end of the day, no matter how you choose to segregate your audience, you are trying to predict future consumer behavior. Psychographics became all the rage in the 80's when it became clear that a $100,000/year plumber probably won't buy the same car as a $100,000/year financial executive. Now we acknowledge that not every $100,000/year plumber exhibits the same consumer behavior.

    Every time we come out with a new psychographic model with new classifications, clients will inevitably eat it up and tout it as an "improvement" because it slices the pie a new way.

    Unfortunately, we can reshuffle the psychographic deck till the cows come home, but we'll still have the same problem: these classifications are not as predictive as we need them to be. The great hope in predicting consumer behavior for my money is Behavioral Targeting, which takes into account far more variables (knowledge, intent, experience, etc.) than any of the psychographic models we've seen so far.

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