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What the Rise of Shopper Promiscuity Means for Brands

The way people shop has evolved, and the change that got us here didn’t just come from behavioral adjustments to COVID. We’ve been watching this shift happen in our research for more than a decade, and it’s so profound that we gave it a name: Shopper Promiscuity. Shoppers are taking care of their own needs first, and thinking about the brand second (or third, or not at all). They are constantly trying out new brands, products, and services. They want the next best thing, and they certainly don’t want to miss out. This disruption to traditional shopping models is driven by economic, technological and social factors.

Choice, innovation and FOMO

The shopping ecosystem now provides virtually infinite choice to the consumer. And consumers have unlimited access to information to research every purchase, exposing them to a wide array of new possibilities. And they take advantage of that: our recent study showed that 76% of shoppers want to be as informed as possible when making a purchase decision. In addition, new shopping channels are popping up everywhere, from direct-to-consumer models to social ecommerce and other category disruptors. Some get creative, with YouTube recently offering exclusive merchandise during a livestream of the 2022 Coachella event as “part of an effort to enhance the viewing experience of people watching the festival at home.”

It is partially this fast-paced, convenience-driven environment that is creating an expectation among shoppers for constant change and improvement. Not only in their actual shopping experience, but also in the products they purchase. Shoppers are always looking for the best innovation, the better, faster, upgraded product. The most obvious example of this is something in which nearly all of us participate: new smartphone releases. Consumers who have a perfectly serviceable smartphone will upgrade just to get a phone with a few more new features. After all, who wants to go to a work meeting or a party with the old model?

Value-based shoppers

We’re also seeing a shopper who will quickly pivot to buy a product that reflects their own values and personality. This value-based shopper does their research, and brands would do well to clearly define their own values so their target shoppers see how the brand and product fit into their story. Social media regularly bombards us with ads for skin and hair care products. This is due to a number of factors weighing into the personalization algorithm, including gender, age, search history and possibly even conversations with others. Even though some of these products may hold great appeal and promise, for many shoppers that’s not enough. Increasingly, our research shows more shoppers who prioritize cosmetic products that are cruelty-free do extensive secondary research to find those options. They will only buy a brand that meets their ethical requirements.

The bottom line is that this reality is changing the game for brands from the ground up. Brand loyalty is diminishing; in our study, the majority of shoppers in four of the six categories began their purchase journey with no brand in mind. They are completely open to all possible options. This means brands must be in a state of constant acquisition. As we write in our book, “Customers aren't acquired for life – they're won or lost at every single purchase decision.”

Changing the market research model

To stay a step ahead of this hard-to-pin-down shopper, brands must start with a better decision-making foundation. This means, first and foremost, changing the way market research data is collected and analyzed. New shopper needs and behaviors are no longer reflected in the way we have traditionally done research. There needs to be a shift away from what we call “Brand Narcissism”, where surveys are full of questions about the brand and are disconnected from customers and their experiences. Questions solely focused on brand awareness, familiarity and consideration are clouding the brand’s vision to what’s really important: shopper-centric research.

Researchers must push beyond traditional awareness and consideration metrics to understand how their brands can intercept shoppers who are becoming less and less interested in loyalty. Employing methodology that helps brands understand what’s driving shopper promiscuity and a new kind of decision-making can help. Consumers are asking themselves questions like: What problem do I need to solve? What are my priorities? What matters to me in this category? Questions need to align more with these consumer concerns so brands can build a better, data-informed foundation for taking real action.

Of course, a more effective approach to market research is just the first step in transforming shopper marketing, communications, product offerings and more. But it is a critical step. Shopper Promiscuity is disrupting the status quo in nearly every category, and brands need to keep a close eye on their target audience's needs and behaviors, monitor innovations in their space, and be ready to pivot their business to meet new expectations. Market research methods that take into account a new kind of shopper can mean the difference between success and failure.

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