Consumer Versus Shopper: What’s the Difference?

Until recently, CPG companies have focused their attention on consumers, understanding who and where they are, how they behave, and building profiles to enable brands to align their products and services to meet the needs.

Then, one day, a revelation happened. Someone introduced the idea that a consumer is multi-faceted and able to be influenced in different ways.

E-commerce breathed life into the shopper.

How we perceive customers at different stages in the decision and buying process has led to a distinction between the consumer and the shopper, which has inevitably led to differing opinions on how this affects the marketing approach.

I believe that it has been the convenience of buying online that has illuminated the identification between the two modes of a singular human: shopper versus consumer.

Online shopping has had such a profound effect on how shoppers shop, that the path to purchase has forever been altered. The consumer is still alive, but the shopper characteristic has become more important because of the many ways to connect with him/her, ultimately transforming how a consumer thinks.

While the consumer is a person who purchases goods and services for personal use, the shopper is focused on the experience; hence, the birth of shopper insights.

The shopper has always been there, inside us.

Marketers see the shopper under a whole new light. Both the consumer and shopper are one in the same person, but think differently.

Consumer Mode

  • That brand looks great, I should buy one next time
  • I need to remember to put that on my list
  • That product could make my life easier
  • Values of that company are aligned with me
  • Research led decision-making, logical

Shopper Mode

  • Do I need this?
  • Where is that product in the store?
  • The other brand is cheaper, but will it do the same thing?
  • Why was I convinced I needed this?
  • Emotional decision-making, impressionistic

Everyone is a consumer. We all digest media, we make a certain amount of money, we live in a certain place, etc.; however, we are not all the same type of shopper. It’s the personal side of who we are. The shopper is about values, relationships, and environment.

“When the shampoo runs out, you go into shopping mode and become a shopper. That is when the emotional drivers of shopping kick in and you have the chance to connect with the shopper,” Dina Howel, Saatchi & Saatchi CEO.

But wait, the lines continue to blur.

We all have preferred categories in which we spend a significant amount of time and money on. We also have categories in which we are trying to spend the least amount of time and money in. In some categories, we are shopping for ourselves and in some we are fulfilling the needs of others. All of these decisions are personal and vary by each person. That is where the lines become blurred and the real complexities of understanding a shopper lie.

Just think about the person who buys the majority of products on the web. The shopping experience takes place inside the home via a personal device. Is this person a consumer or a shopper?

Our involvement and engagement in a category or channel as a shopper does not tie neatly to our consumer type. Each individual shopper has different needs, wants, likes and dislikes, so retailers and suppliers need to analyze what decisions are made pre-store and what decisions are made in-store. The more the retailer is in sync with the manufacturer, the better the manufacturer can create a proper media mix both pre-store and in-store. When successful, the two can drive trips and increase basket size, quantify the shopper’s decisions, and turn analysis into a profitable outcome for all.

For a consumer, a habit that will never die are pre-store decisions that are brand driven: the shopper has purchased the product in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

Small and innovative companies know this well. And not until this decade, have we seen the rise of shopper knowledge sparking a movement in the industry that has greatly benefited these companies. Knowing that the shopper is the way to gain market share from the big brands that have big media budgets has made all the difference in the success of nimble companies. By leveraging an understanding of in-store decision-making where the consumer becomes the shopper, disruption runs rampant in the CPG industry, but also provides the consumer with more selection.

The evolving mission for retailers.

As soon as a consumer walks through the front door of a store, he/she is instantly transformed from being perception-based to engagement-based. The mission for a retailer and its trading partner goes from outreach to “inreach.”

Merchandising adjacency, occasion placement, the element of surprise, package design, clarity of message, and convenience are all opportunities to show the shopper just how intuitively a brand can speak to lifestyle. This is the best investment tactic that brick and mortar has.

For example, health-conscious shoppers will shop based on ingredients and preparation and will seek brands that meet their needs, but the more time it takes the shopper to understand product attributes and benefits, and to compare prices, the less likely they are to browse unplanned categories and products. Thus, fewer products are browsed and bought, and the store loses potential money making opportunities, proving the point that time is money.

With so many shopper complexities, what can be done?

Understand the shopper journey. The cycle of consumption is intrinsically linked and both retailers and manufacturers need to understand the Who, When, Why and How motivators along the way.

Shoppers want choices that are wide enough to provide alternatives but are laid out in ways that makes it easier to find their first choice brand or format, or be able to switch between two or three acceptable alternatives. Balance a shopper’s interests in a planogram according to your local demographics, and you’ll deliver a compelling experience.

Consumers no longer delineate between shopping information and product information. This is the tipping point where the consumer becomes the shopper. And people are in shopping mode more and more. They rely on apps (on devices they take everywhere with them) that will help them buy their desired product at their desired retailer in a seamless process.  (see Nielsen chart below)

By studying shopper insights and knowing the cause and effects that direct the consumer throughout the aisles (path to purchase), retailers and manufacturers can understand and address the difference between product consideration and product conversion. That is the ultimate difference between how to market to a consumer, and how a shopper shops.

Finally, build conversations and keep them simple, both online and offline. Offer your shoppers solutions to common problems in their life. Everyone is pressed for time, so sell to the shopper not to the consumer. Improving conversion and strengthening brand equity are about knowing the most effective touch points along the path to purchase.

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