What makes shoppers buy?


In October last year I ran a workshop called “The Principles of Shopper Marketing” and it had the sub-title “A complete guide to turning shoppers into buyers”. I’m a little ashamed to say that subtitle wasn’t entirely true. The participants did get loads of good stuff: an integrated shopper marketing model; “how-to” guides for research, insight generation and shopper marketing strategy development PLUS we had a great time! But what one question I didn’t answer was “how do I turn my shoppers into buyers?” so let me answer it now.

I don’t know.


You see every individual is unique which means different shoppers, buying different categories, in different retail environments, will behave differently.  So how to convert your shoppers into buyers requires a whole lot of information. See the process of behavioral change is quite complex: a pre-disposed individual assigns specific meaning to a stimulus and commits to a new course of action. With a fair understanding of the individual, her pre-disposition and the meaning she assigns to a stimulus, behavioral psychologists have a reasonable chance of predicting whether or not that individual will commit to a course of action.

I’m not a behavioral psychologist and when asked, “how do I turn my shoppers into buyers?” I don’t have the information necessary to give an answer. What I can say however is what stimuli play a role in affecting behavioral change.

To make it simple we can group these stimuli into three categories:

  • Availability – since shoppers can only buy what’s available in the store this is pretty fundamental. Take a product off a shelf and pretty quickly you’ll see evidence of behavioral change – you’ll lose sales! But it’s not just about being in stock – it’s also about the messages you send in the way your product is made available. When your product is made clearly available by being highly visible in appropriate places where shoppers with a pre-disposition to buy are looking; there’s a good chance that you will stimulate the behavior you want.
  • Communication – unless you’re my wife, it’s difficult to stimulate a response with silence. In most cases shoppers respond to messages that resonate with their beliefs. So a pre-disposed shopper who receives a resonant message may respond by changing his behavior. There a hundreds of ways of communicating with shoppers so instead of giving a list I will offer some advice: shoppers don’t have time to process complex messages so whatever media is chosen keep your communication simple and clear.
  • Offer – this includes price, promotions and so on. It’s often presumed that price or promotions are the main stimuli for inducing change in purchase behavior. This is rarely the case and for a passionate articulation of the issues surrounding price see my buddy Mike Anthony’s post on the topic. What is important is to understand how offers influence the shoppers you are targeting so that money isn’t wasted.

These stimuli tend to work together rather than in isolation so defining the right blend  of the three is important. To get this right and to really turn shoppers into buyers, you have to first know which shoppers you’re targeting, and their pre-disposition to behavioral change in a given retail environment.

The next time I run my workshop (in Singapore on 14th and 15th August) I’ll be sure to make this really clear!



2 thoughts on “What makes shoppers buy?

  1. Toby, thx for the nice post! I like that you don’t offer the one-size-fits-all solution but instead it is a much more complex process to turn shoppers into buyers. really nice introduction summarizing the key dimensions which marketers can influence.

    Looking forward to reading more from you!



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