Knowledge Bank Blog, Behaviour Change, Pricing & Promotions, Shopper Communication

Shopper Psychology : Nature vs Nurture

Is shopper behaviour working for you or against you?

In 2013 a Kenyan, Wilson Kipsang, won the Berlin marathon in 2:03:23 – an average of 4.42 minutes per mile.  At the time it was the fastest marathon time ever recorded, a pretty remarkable effort. What was perhaps more remarkable, was that his fellow Kenyans came in second, third, fourth and fifth.

But they weren’t just Kenyans.  All these runners were from the same tribe of Kenyans – the Kalenjin.  The tribe numbers 5 million, making them a small minority, even in Kenya, yet they dominate most of the world’s long distance races.  There are 17 American men in history who have run under 2hrs 10 minutes for the marathon.  There were 32 Kalenjin who did it in one month – October 2011.

The debate about why the Kalenjin are such good distance runners is based around one of the oldest arguments in psychology – Nature vs Nurture.  Are our lives pre determined by things that we were born with or by our environment and personal experiences as we grow up?  Thousands of papers have been written on the subject, but to save you the hassle of reading through them all, they can be summed up in 4 words.  ‘A bit of both’.

For instance, the Kalenjin tribe have the ideal physique for long distance running (nature).  As they grew up, they often ran a few miles to and from school each day (nurture).  And many of them endured initiation ceremonies that you had to be mentally tough to get through (nurture).  Put all that together and you have the top 5 in the 2013 Berlin marathon.

Why are we talking about this?  Well, for many of us, the end objective of the work that we do is to influence shopper behaviour.  To get more shoppers to come to our stores and to buy the things that we want them to buy.

And most shopper behaviour falls into one of two areas.  ‘Nature’ – behaviours that are hardwired.  Things that are rooted in the way humans process information and make decisions. And ‘nurture’ – behaviours that we have conditioned in shoppers.  Things that shoppers have been slowly trained to do.

So, what type of shopper behaviours do we classify under ‘nature’?

Relying on very simple, visual cues.  This is no different to the rest of daily life.  We stop at a traffic light when we see a red light.  In store, shoppers navigate and find brands using very simple visual cues.  This is why, if you change the visual cues on a pack, your brand can suddenly become invisible to a shopper.

Filtering information and reading very little.  You all know which coffee shop ‘srtabukcs’ is referring to.  We don’t need to read every letter.  No matter, how beautifully crafted the paragraph of information about the product, provenance or promotion, it typically won’t get read.  At best, it will be glanced at, by a shopper on the move.

Rarely doing the maths and using simple rules of thumb to judge value.  This is why detailed price and brand match schemes have little impact.  It is usually not about who has the ‘best’ scheme, but who communicates it in the simplest way.  It is no surprise that the simplest communication in recent years – Aldi – has been the most impactful.

So, what type of behaviours do we classify under ‘nurture’?

Training shoppers to focus on promotions.  None of us were born with a ‘discount’ gene, no matter how much some of us might love a bargain.  Over the last few years, brands and retailers have encouraged shoppers to buy whichever brand is on deal.

Training shoppers to look for the lowest price in many categories.  It you are struggling to make a choice between a few different products, all with competing claims, the easiest way to make a choice is to select the cheapest.  And most price communication typically implies cheapest is best.

Training shoppers to adopt new usage and buying habits.  Shoppers are using new products at new occasions (e.g. breakfast biscuits), are prepared to pay more for convenient products (e.g. pre prepared fruit & veg), and are prepared to spend more on quality and experience (e.g. a £3 daily coffee).  It is not all bad!  We can, and do, encourage behaviours that drive category growth.

Even though we have separated out nature and nurture behaviours, the reality is that, in store, just like in life, there is a bit of both going on.  We think the important thing is to firstly understand how shoppers think, process information and make decisions – the nature.  Then do the things that best play to this behaviour – the nurture.  To make sure that shopper behaviour is working for not against you.

Over the next few weeks we are going to talk about this in more detail.

In the meantime, if you come across someone from the Kalenjin tribe, we’d suggest you don’t challenge them to a race.

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