The truth about shopping

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Volume 28/Number 3; July 21/28, 2014

Why shopping, marketing is more than just a science

By Ken Ryan

More than 50% of 10,000 people surveyed said shopping is too impersonal these days, and they are concerned about the reliance on algorithms to dictate their purchases.

In fact, according to the findings of a “Truth About Shopping” study conducted by McCann Truth Central—a research company that helps track consumer behavior—57% of consumers worry that they’ll discover fewer new things if companies always show them exactly what they’re looking for.

Laura Simpson, global director at McCann, which conducted this survey of respondents from 11 countries (U.S., U.K., China, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, U.A.E., France, South Africa, Spain, and India), said this finding presents markets and retailers with the opportunity to win consumers over through new product offerings and merchandising opportunities. “That’s because 66% of shoppers are looking to be inspired while they are shopping. They want the very human and personal touch amidst a wave of algorithm-based data.”

Simpson said the survey revealed a variety of behavioral reactions in how shoppers around the world are responding to the growing science of shopping through the expanded use of technology and data. “There are ways in which they are embracing it thoroughly and other ways in which they’re doing so warily,” she explained. “How do you keep the art of shopping alive in the age of algorithms? We believe that focusing on the art of shopping is essential to balance the science of shopping.”

The desire for a personal touch does not mean that consumers aren’t looking to retailers to “seamlessly blend technology into the physical experience,” said India Wooldridge, vice president and deputy director at McCann Truth Central. “When we look at our data, consumers are open to an even more seamless experience in stores than we see today. They are ready for the smart store of the future. For instance, 71% would welcome interactive walls that enable you to try on clothes without changing. However, it is important to remember that such technology cannot come at the expense of really getting to know the customer.”

The research house noted that mobile is an area where there is a particularly strong need to create more of a sensorial experience. Of consumers who have shopped on their mobile devices in the past six months, 49% can see themselves shopping exclusively on their mobile devices in the future, Wooldridge said, emphasizing mobile’s important role in the future of shopping.

Conversely, mobile usage is currently emerging as the new window-shopping, with 70% of consumers saying they think their mobile devices are good for browsing but not for buying. This perception is highest in Mexico and the U.S., among the countries studied. Brands that are able to tailor their mobile platforms to offer rich, inspirational content, as well as quick, on-the-go transactions based on the consumer’s momentary requirement, will really be able to tap into mobile’s full potential.

In line with these trends, the study found consumers expressing a mixture of greater awareness, greater concern and a sci-fi-like interest in the future of shopping.

Aware they’re being ‘watched’

McCann’s study found 84% of people globally are aware that companies track the websites they visit in order to recommend products they might like. In the U.S. this awareness rose significantly from 69% in 2011 to 87% in 2014. At the same time, shoppers accept this tracking as long as they understand the trade-off: 65% of people said they were willing to share data if they could see the benefit to them. Again, this has been increasing. In the U.S., 61% of consumers said they would be willing to share data if they understood the benefit to them, compared with 45% in 2011.

Privacy concerns

The over-reliance on the science of shopping does, in fact, worry the majority of consumers. Overall, around the world 71% worry about the amount of information online stores know about them. This concern is lowest in the U.S. (58%) among the countries studied. However, because things are changing at such a rapid pace and people are focused on technological benefits, there are some contradictory attitudes that emerge with regard to privacy. For example, 59% of people around the world would be open to a store that is able to recognize you when you walk through the door.

A sci-fi vision

Nearly half of people globally say they can see themselves potentially using fingerprints or retina scans as payment authentication in the future. And nearly a sixth of people around the world say they can see themselves potentially using payment technology embedded in their body. Among the countries studied, the U.S. ranks among the lowest in embracing this science fiction vision.

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