We all know there are mysterious internal motivations behind impulse buys. What if technology could help us understand them?
Market researchers know a lot about what makes people purchase. Of course, there’s also a lot they don’t know: the part that goes on in the mind of the customer.
External stimuli are well known and well documented. We understand the effects of location, nearby objects, customers’ activities (on vacation, commuting to work, running errands, etc.) and personal circumstances (in a group, on their birthday). This has led to placing complementary products near each other, offering discounts or promotions at certain times of the year and putting racks of snacks and candy near the checkout lane.
But even so, there’s a gap in researchers’ knowledge. We know that impulse buys are common; about 30% of shoppers make at least one every week. But what is the internal trigger? Other than “it just felt good” or “I suddenly really wanted it”?
The Secret Life of an Impulse Purchase
Imagine that it’s a rainy Friday evening. You’re at home, tired from a long and stressful week. You usually go out with some friends after work, but tonight you’re on your own. It’s microwave dinner time.
The food doesn’t taste as awesome as a restaurant meal would. To take your mind off it, you grab your tablet and start looking at pictures of Aruba. Maybe you’ll go to Aruba for your next vacation. After such a long week — such a rough quarter, let’s be honest — you deserve it. You look up some information on Aruba: flights, hotels, restaurants that serve fresh seafood.
Wait, was that an ad for sandals? That new pair of sandals that you’ve been wanting? Of course, you don’t buy sandals in the middle of autumn, but if you were going to Aruba in a few months …. Wouldn’t those sandals be perfect? And look, they’re 10% off, but only until tomorrow. Hey, you deserve a treat. It’s not much more than you would’ve spent on dinner anyway (maybe it’s four or five times more, but at this point, math is relative).
Click. Sandals bought.
What Just Happened Here?
If you were to take a survey about this purchase, you’d probably say ‘Well, they were offered at a discount”. Everything that led up to it — the dreary weather, the disappointment of not meeting with your friends, the dismal dinner, the search for distraction and relief, and finally the feelings of reward and pleasure — was influenced by emotion. And yet, emotions are hard to accurately compare and almost impossible to capture in research. As a matter of fact, most people may not even be aware of the emotional path that results in a feel-good moment. Can technology help us capture these fleeting moods?
Will There Be an App for That?
Now, let’s transport ourselves a year or two into the future. Imagine that you now have a mobile app that is your virtual shopping companion. Suppose you told this app you were in a sandal-buying mood, or maybe you saved some photos of the sandals you wanted to buy to the app as a reminder. The app might send you a message like “So… heading somewhere warm and sunny, or just sandal shopping in November? Either way, here are some deals to check out.” After you look at the deals, you fill out a short survey about your immediate mood and, as a bonus, you get a percentage off your purchase.
This is what we call a win-win. The shopper wins because they get personalized offers and a discount for providing some information. The marketers and researchers win because they get to capture something that would otherwise be lost: the “emotional environment” surrounding the purchase. The fact that it is captured so immediately means that some of the dulling effects of time — the rationalization, the hint of buyer’s remorse that can later dampen and color one’s initial thrill — are avoided.
“But what do we do with that information?” you ask.
I’ll brainstorm a few suggestions:
- Create buyer personas based on personality traits
- Link the shopper’s reaction to other profile information
- Fine-tune segments and targeting
- Get even more detailed, granular feedback on campaigns
- Build out your 360-degree view of the customer
More sophisticated techniques can be applied to take research results to this next level. Which is why you hear so much today about Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, deep learning, etc. Market research is a great place to start learning deeply about customers and their behavior.