The Evolution of Shopping

July 15th, 2019

The Cycle of Retail Consumer Behavior

“How are consumer behaviors changing with regard to how they shop?”

As I started to answer this, I had to ask, “changing since when?” After all, change is happening so fast in the retail environment. Amazon has only been a major force in retail for about 20 years. Smart phones – giving shoppers the ability to comparison shop right in the store – have only been in wide use for a little more than a decade.

In that time period, the retail landscape has been littered with casualties. Circuit City, Sears, Payless Shoes, Winn-Dixie, Radio Shack – all fallen by the wayside because they didn’t keep pace with the consumers’ race to online retail. It’s one headlong rush to the future, and old ways are dead ways, right?

Or are they?

I was thinking about this in the grocery store the other day. The aisles are full of grocery store employees, fulfilling customers’ online orders – for delivery or pick up.

This is a major change in consumer shopping behavior. Letting someone else pick out your groceries? For years, Americans were resistant to this. They wanted to select their own meat, pick out the most appealing produce, check expiration dates on that box of cereal. But now we are willing to relinquish this control to an unseen third party.

This “new” behavior made me think of the days long before the modern supermarket. You know; you’ve seen it in movies. A customer goes to the counter and asks the shopkeeper for what they want, rather than browse the aisles, selecting their own purchases. They go from store to store – the bakery, the butcher, the dry goods store. Milk and eggs were delivered directly to your home.

Then the revolution happens. Supermarkets. Department stores. Big-box chains. The Sears catalog. Shopping is entertainment. And the freedom of choice is so great that it is almost overwhelming.

Fast forward to today, and where do we go first to shop? Online. And not even just Google anymore. Amazon has become the #1 destination for browsing. And we buy things sight unseen. We allow others to select our groceries. We buy based on the recommendations of strangers (five stars!).

One click and almost anything we desire can be delivered direct to our door, taken out to our car, or ready for pick up when we walk in the store. It feels a little like the past has cycled into the now.

So even as the retail environment is undergoing massive upheaval, there are retailers adapting and thriving. How? By understanding consumer behavior and evolving to meet their needs. But here’s the key to true success: Don’t ask customers what they want, because, most of the time, they can’t see beyond our current worldview.

Surveys, focus groups, intercepts – they all have their places but cannot substitute for the real thing. Go out into the world and watch. Follow. Overhear (yes, eavesdrop). If you’re patient, observant, and get out from behind your desk and go where your customers are, they will teach you something. Would you expect to learn about animal behavior from going to the zoo or going to study them in their natural habitat?

Shopping behavior is evolving. If you want your business to keep up, then you need to evolve as well.

Beacons: The GPS for Your Business

Want to engage with people while they’re shopping at your store? Try beacon technology.

Beacons won’t help people navigate city streets. But they will help people navigate your store – sales, products, etc.

Grocery stores use them to help customers find the cereal aisle. Ballparks use them to direct people to the shortest concession line. Malls use them to help people find the nearest bathroom.

You can use them to better communicate with customers. Because the more you can help customers navigate your store, the more you can direct them to the product you want to sell.

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