Online Retail: ‘Who’ Is More Important Than ‘What’


ADOTAS – Retailers spend $5.73 billion a year trying to attract buyers online.  The competition for consumer attention is fierce: comScore reports that U.S. Internet users saw 4.9 trillion display ads last year.

Yet, with all that money at stake, and with all that competition, retailers still typically blast the same offer – making the same pitch to millions of consumers – as if they’re all the same.

But shoppers are not the same.

New research reveals distinct shopping personalities that provide insight into what kind of offer will actually move a consumer to act. No, this is not about serving up an offer that gives a discount on the exact product someone happened to view on a particular website. That approach simply focuses on the “what.”

This is about the “who” – knowing an anonymous visitor’s shopping personality and what drives his or her purchase decisions, and tailoring an offer accordingly.

Does that shopper ever buy on a first visit to an eCommerce site?  What type of offer is most likely to be attractive – a discount on the product, or free shipping?  Does that shopper only buy name brands?  Does he or she always look for coupons first?  Does that person always research before buying?

This is a new kind of intelligence that is now available to eCommerce companies. This new movement is called behavioral commerce. It’s based on analyzing shopping personalities and buying behaviors, and making offers that will appeal to consumers based on those distinct personalities.

Using anonymous, aggregate shopping behavior data, we can start to understand some basic personalities and what motivates certain people to buy.  Here are the top 10 shopping personalities my company SteelHouse has identified to date:

1. Distracted Shopper. When I shop online, I often like to begin the checkout process but for one reason or another, I don’t always complete the purchase.

2. Premium Shopper. I only buy the best. I want premium name brands with the latest features, trends and the most advanced technology.

3. Determined Shopper. I always research before I buy. I will view the exact item I want multiple times, looking for a drop in price or an offer.

4. Active Shopper. I am always shopping online, not always buying, but always browsing. I am not looking for incentives but they can help me convert when I’m window shopping.

5. Free Shipping Hunter. I like to buy online, but it has to include free shipping. If I find out the store doesn’t offer free shipping, I’ll leave and find a website that does.

6. Thrifty Shopper. I like to buy used or refurbished items. If I can get the same product used for much less, I’ll buy it.

7. Loyal Shopper. I only purchase if I can join a rewards club or special rewards program. This often leads to me purchasing at the same stores.

8. Methodical Shopper. When I shop online, I like to browse for the exact product I’m looking for. I often browse using site navigation, browsing through each product until I find that perfect product.

9. Impatient Shopper. When I shop online, I search for what I’m looking for at a given site. If I don’t find it immediately, I look somewhere else.

10. Wish List Shopper. I like to shop online — I just don’t always purchase. I add everything I am interested in to the shopping cart to see what the total price might be.

But knowing the personalities is just the first step.

There are two distinct ways an eCommerce marketer can put that intelligence to use:  start with the shopping personality you want to target and create an offer that fits that buying behavior; or, start with a business problem you need to solve – i.e., unload overstocked inventory – and choose a personality that is most likely to respond to an offer that will help solve that problem.

Start With a Shopping Personality

Let’s say you’ve identified two particular shopping personalities as particularly prevalent on your website.  Here’s how you might use that information:

  • The “Determined Shopper” revisits an eCommerce site multiple times, comparison-shopping for right product and offer.  You can engage this shopper by showing your highest-rated and best-reviewed products among the ones they’ve browsed. Then motivate them to purchase by reminding them of your highly rated products alongside user reviews in an offer.
  • The “Premium Shopper” pays top dollar for the newest and trendiest items. Try engaging them by showing your newest arrivals. You can further motivate them by alerting them as hard to get premium items come in or giving them a sneak peek or first shot at them.

Start With a Business Problem

  • Overstocked products need to be unloaded quickly while maximizing revenue. Target “Active Shoppers” – they are always shopping but not always buying. They don’t require an incentive, but respond well to them. You can motivate them to purchase your overstocked goods by offering “loyal shopper deals.” This turns your overstocked products into revenue and builds brand loyalty at the same time.
  • Reducing cart abandonment.

Target “Distracted Shoppers” – they shop actively, but frequently don’t complete the checkout process. Present offers during the checkout process, like free shipping or discounts off their next order, if they complete this check out. You’ll be able to save the shopper and preserve margin since the offer doesn’t have to be shown to everyone.

Personality research has helped people more effectively manage employees, choose a life partner or simply understand themselves. And now it’s doing the same for eCommerce marketers.  As we analyze buying behaviors to determine shopping personalities, we’re able to focus more closely on the anonymous “who” behind those website visits – gaining valuable insight into consumer behavior that ultimately boosts sales.

And that’s good for us all.



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