Mike Anthony @ engage consultants

Mike Anthony on Shopper Marketing

NO! Consumers and Shoppers are still different

with 8 comments

I read this article a little while ago and have been pondering about how to respond. Finally I was spurred to write this by a tweet I saw yesterday that suggested it was OK to “ignore” the consumer in categories such as pet food, baby food and toys. That was my ‘tipping point’.

The article suggests that the distinction between consumer and shopper is not relevant anymore, and maybe never was. Now that the path to purchase is a little complicated, and that we can’t merely draw the artificial line between ‘in-store’ (shopper) and ‘out-of-store’ (consumer) then actually we should forget about any distinction between consumer and shopper.

I didn’t hear the presentation in question,  so I can’t say how much of the article is Ms. Grant’s words, and how much is in the mind of the writer, but in terms of the key thrust of the article – with that I’ll have to disagree.

First things first a complex path to purchase, and purchase decisions outside the store, is nothing new – the path to purchase has, in many situations, been very complicated for a long time. Seven years ago (that’ll be pre-Facebook), based on research that engage conducted with a client, it took shoppers up to six months in some countries to buy a TV – and people went through very complex decision-making processes through that six months, involving interaction with stores, websites, friends, family as well as traditional media. Yes, in many ways, the path to purchase has indeed got even more complex – but the idea that there was ever a time when people made shopping decisions exclusively inside a store just feels wrong. As argued here – shopping decisions have always been made outside stores.

Tell me – “Where do I go to shop?” – is that a decision relating to shopping or consumption? Exactly.

Things have, however, got more complicated though, and the lines aren’t as easy to draw. I agree that any attempt to look at consumers and shoppers as two completely separate entities is just as limited and dangerous as assuming that they are the same.

The reason for needing shopper marketing as well as consumer marketing (as an approach not necessarily as separate functions) is because they are two target markets defined differently. The consumer and the shopper may not be the same individual. And even when looking at the same individual through two separate lenses (the shopper one and the consumer one) one sees very different things. One consumer might even be different types of shoppers in different stores (think how you might be described as a shopper in a supermarket versus in a convenience store – same person, same consumer perhaps, but a very different shopper.

Not only are the target markets potentially different, but the marketing objectives are different too. The results of my consumer marketing activities will be to create a desire or need, and to drive and encourage new consumption opportunities. My shopper objectives will on the other hand, focus on creating changes in purchasing behavior.

Potentially different targets, with different objectives, in a different environment. That sounds like a very different marketing task to me.

Of course, creating desire in a consumer without creating a way for this to be fulfilled via purchase is low value. As is creating a purchase that doesn’t drive incremental brand consumption. But this is nothing new. Value in either the consumer, or the shopper world, is theoretical without the other half of the mix, and this has always been the case. Shoppers rarely buy what they believe will be spurned by the consumer. As for consumer desires or needs – it is clearly worth nothing unless somebody buys a product to satiate that desire or meet that need.

What is required is an integrated approach, one that recognizes that marketing has two separate sets of objectives – one relating to consumption and one relating to purchase. Considering the two separately is foolhardy.  As Grant says:  “Our experiences as a consumer can prompt a different shopper experience and our experience as a shopper can influence us as consumers.” Thinking about a target shopper as separate to a target consumer does not necessitate the loss of the ability to think of them as a single person.

When developing any strategy, plan or activity, marketers should first consider who is at the heart of the consumption opportunity. Think of the consumption behavior that is being targeted, in which individuals. Next marketers should consider the change in shopping behavior that is required to fuel that consumption behavior. Then the two must be put together. I am not advocating two isolated marketing mixes. Of course we should put the two together. But only after we have considered the two separate paths to the equation. Whilst I’m sure that Ms.Grant is not necessarily advocating this, the headlines it generates are potentially dangerous, and could undo much of the good work in promoting the value of understanding shopping and shopping behavior that has been done in the last decade by organizations such as MARS . At engage we have created a completely integrated approach  – one that considers the consumption goals and the shopper goals separately, and then brings them together to create an holistic approach that connects consumers, to shoppers, to retail.

Please do not make the lazy assumption that  consumer and  shopper are the same, and just because it may be difficult to draw a definitive line between the two states, that it is OK to assume they are the same. Assumptions are always dangerous. Whichever approach you take (and I sincerely hope you consider ours!) – separate the two and give consumers and shoppers the discrete attention that they deserve.


Written by Mike Anthony

July 26, 2012 at 6:07 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on Sparkstone Technology – multichannel retail software and commented:
    Great blog post


    August 1, 2012 at 4:49 am

  2. Great post


    August 1, 2012 at 4:49 am

  3. Such a great article! As someone who covers the retail space daily, that distinction between shopper and consumer is becoming more and more paramount. Retailers must understand these subtleties. Thanks again for taking the time to write this. I have shared it around! 🙂

    Alicia F.

    August 4, 2012 at 12:44 am

    • Dear Alicia,
      Thanks for your kind words and for sharing. the distinction is indeed critical. I think it has always been there but is becoming more and more important. I also think it is an important distinction for manufacturers too. Too often activities are based on the assumption that the consumer is in the store, and often this is not the case (think sampling for example).

      Thanks again!


      Mike Anthony

      August 5, 2012 at 10:02 am

  4. […] consumer and the shopper need to be considered as separate entities, but it is not possible to fully understand one without the other. A consumer not using your brand […]

  5. […] Yours has highlighted Audi’s first digital showroom. Mike Anthony maintains that Shoppers and Consumers are still different. Craig Lodge writes that shopper experience will become the true […]

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