Consumer shopping trends are always evolving: while in the past a purchase was the simple result of three actions (seeing an advert, going to shops to get more information or try the product, and then purchasing it), the introduction of technology has opened the way to wider possibilities, according to Bhavesh Vaghela, CMO for ResponseTap. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

The internet and every innovation that comes from it - such as social networks and the abundance of new digital channels that stem from them - are making the path to purchase much more complicated to understand. Like a real-life, continuously-updated Google Map, the customer journey is getting more varied, confusing marketers and strategists who are increasingly unsure of where, when and whom to target.

At the same time, traditional channels tend to be forgotten or devalued; the most important of these being the humble telephone call. The internet continues to rise in popularity and digital channels will always grow, but a common mistake is to entirely focus the marketing or communication strategies on these. ResponseTap's earlier research highlighted how customers still value the human voice, and feel frustrated when unable to contact a company or a brand directly on the phone.

With potential customers jumping from online to offline, and online again, it is hard to get a hold of what people do and how they choose to do it, which are two key pieces of information.

Who is the 'unknown customer'?
As a consequence, the market is increasing with 'unknown customers' - those people preferring to stay anonymous, using a wide range of channels to find the information they're looking for, until they decide to interact with a brand by picking up the phone.

The issue rising here is that data about whom is looking to buy from your brand is essential to be able to deliver a relevant customer experience. Unknown customers are difficult to approach, as lack of information about them can lead to inappropriate interactions, costing both in terms of customer attraction and retention. In the always-on world, unhappy customers see no problem in switching from brand to brand.

ResponseTap conducted an international study, asking customers about their shopping habits and preferences. To begin with, the study noted an interesting gap in how people prefer to buy, depending on their gender. While 80% of all respondents described themselves as cautious buyers who like to take their time before purchasing anything and 20% said they were impulsive buyers, buying at the last minute or, at the contrary, at the very first minute a novelty hits the store; percentages differ for men and women. Indeed, men appear to be more cautious (85%) and women more impulsive (24%) than the overall average buyers.

But it also became clear that, when it comes to purchasing products and services, clear patterns are emerging, which can be linked to five very distinct buyer personalities. We called these personalities 'personas', lifting the veil on the unknown customers:

  1. Socialites
    With 38% of the respondents pointing out their need to compare and take recommendations from few communities (online and offline) before making any decision, the majority of the unknown customers are what ResponseTap calls 'Socialites'. This is a logical consequence of the rise of the internet and of the development of various apps and social channels allowing people to connect and exchange information with each other. It was also interesting to note that 57% of all respondents picked the internet as their most trustworthy source of information. As a result, brands need to take into consideration the increase in channels where people can exchange, and be able to support their customers on every single one of them; one bad review, picked up, shared and left unanswered, can be catastrophic.
  2. Perfectionists
    The second most common group is the 'Perfectionists': 36% of the people who took part in the survey recognised that they will conduct extensive research in every channel they can access in order to be 100% sure that what they will buy will satisfy their needs and expectations. These perfectionists don't like to make mistakes so, if they're disappointed, they will typically turn their back on the brand that didn't deliver its promises.
  3. Ain't Got Timers
    The 'Ain't got timers' might not be the most important group, with 21% of the respondents identifying themselves as efficient shoppers, but as a persona, they are one to watch closely. As the name implies, those customers don't have any time to waste and will value the brands making their journey smoother and quicker. Typically, busy professionals and families will be the core of this group: both being very interesting for marketers. Being more traditional, the 'ain't got timers' will equally value online reviews (45%) and word of mouth (44%).
  4. Impulsive Buyers
    One of the biggest findings concerns 'Impulsive Buyers': this group is made up of people who value being the first to own a new product or service, and as such they are targeted heavily by brands launching new lines. The marketing logic behind it is to play on the attraction power of the novelty. However, only 3% of respondents described themselves as impulsive buyers. This could be the result of so many innovations hitting the market every month, making people more aware of the quality-price value proposition. So what needs to be remembered is that novelty doesn't seem to be an attractive sale argument anymore.
  5. Panic buyers
    Finally and with very little surprise, we found that only 2% of the people who took part to the survey described themselves as 'panic buyers', shoppers who like to leave everything until the very last minute when they have no choice but to pick what's available.

"Brands need to take into account these different personas and to adapt their strategy to the new channels and touchpoints to build strong and long-lasting engagement and loyalty - feeling heard and receiving great responsiveness will directly impact customer retention and how they feel about your brand," concluded Vaghela.