Knowledge Bank Blog, Shopper Communication

Buying What Others Buy

Is what other shoppers say & do more important than what you say & do?

We all like to think of ourselves as individuals.  That we make our own decisions – weighing up the pro’s and con’s of something and deciding what the best course of action is.  However, the reality is a lot different.  We are very influenced by the environment around us, particularly what other people are doing.

We’ve probably all stayed in a hotel and seen a sign in the bathroom encouraging us to re-use towels with a message about caring for the environment.  An interesting experiment was run a few years ago.  Different hotel guests were exposed to different versions of these messages.  The first group were given the standard environmental message.  The second group were told that most guests reused their towels at least once during their stay.  The third group were told that most guests who had stayed in that room had reused their towels at least once.

What was the result? People exposed to the second message were 26% more likely to reuse their towels than those exposed to the environmental message.  And those who were exposed to the third message were 33% more likely to reuse them.  Why?  Well one of the simple rules of thumb we use in life is ‘do what other people do’.  The more people who do it, and the closer we feel to those people, the more likely we are to do it too.

Why is this important?  Shopping is all about making choices and these choices determine whether a brand or a retailer wins or loses. As an industry we focus most of our attention on the rational elements of the marketing mix – product quality, proposition, price point, pack size and format.  These are all important elements to get right.  However, it is often the less rational elements that influence behaviour.

Why does what other shoppers do matter?  We trust what other shoppers think.  They don’t have any skin in the game – they are not trying to sell something.  They bring reassurance.  If lots of other shoppers are buying something then it must be a good choice, right?

So, what are the things we can do to tap into this?

Sales (unsurprisingly…).  Demonstrating that your brand or product has high sales implicitly signals to a shopper that the product is good.  Bestsellers are bestsellers because they are bestsellers.  Read that again if it didn’t make sense the first time.

This can be demonstrated in a variety of ways – from being No 1 in the chart, to saying ‘UK’s best selling shampoo’, to the number of shoppers who buy your brand.  This is a tactic that personal care brands use a lot, because product performance is so important.  Food brands use it far less.  But there is no reason why it wouldn’t be influential in foods.

Reviews & Recommendations.  Admittedly, this tactic has been around for as long as marketing has been around.  Most of you will be old enough to remember the Whiskas ‘8 out of 10 cats’ campaign.  And for those of you who don’t remember, that is where the name of the Jimmy Carr panel show comes from.  The difference now is that this information is freely available – online, through smartphones, in store.  Good reviews travel further than ever before.  And so do bad ones.

Again Personal Care brands and retailers seem to be leading the way here.  Walk into any Boots store and you will see lots of ratings and reviews at shelf.  If you have the choice of Brand A or Brand B and Brand A has a 5 star rating, which would you choose?

People Like Me.  We put an extra weighting on what people like us say and do.  For instance, if you are a young mum, you are more likely to trust what other mums say.  Or it could be an affinity with the shoppers of a store.  Are Waitrose shoppers more likely to be influenced by what other Waitrose shoppers think, than what the general population think?  Probably.

Who are the people who do, or could, buy your brand and how can you use them to sell more of it?

Some of you might be thinking this all sounds a bit sinister, aren’t you just tricking shoppers?  In a word, no.  We are not saying make up sales figures, reviews or claims on pack.  What we are saying is that if you can talk about what other shoppers think of your brand, or how many buy it, why wouldn’t you?

If 33% more people reused their towels because of what previous room occupants did, then you might just sell a few more units.  Worth a try?

Feel free to forward.  Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.