Consumer Behavior: The Relationship and Parallels Between Built & Digital Environments

Consumer Behavior Blog

If COVID-19 has taught businesses anything, it is that they must rethink how the behavior of their target customers might have shifted during these past six months. This means they need to develop better ways to influence the mindset, motivations, and actions of these customers to get them to engage with the business differently. In a 2016 blog post about understanding and influencing consumer behavior,  author Kit Smith states that consumer behavior is complex and includes understanding how a business’s target customer may feel about competitive alternate offerings, what makes this customer choose one offering over another, the effects of the environment surrounding the transaction, and how marketing campaigns influence these customers to adopt the offering. 

With the dramatic impact of COVID-19, businesses from every industry are grasping to understand these elements. They are now evaluating what changes they need to make to their use of traditional, new, and developing technologies that will positively influence the behavior of their target customers. They are also looking at how social media and consumer behavior trends are incorporated into integrated communications plans concerning these various technologies.

Use of Traditional Technologies

To appreciate the progress made in technologies used to advance consumer behavior as it relates to the adoption of an organization’s offerings, it is important for organizations to not only incorporate new and developing technologies, but also to understand traditional technologies used in shaping consumer behavior. In a 2018 blog focused on the evolution of the buying process, author Penny Green notes that organizations generally follow a linear path using one-way communication in the form of traditional technologies, such as blogs, radio, television, etc. However, there is now too much real-time information available through new and developing communication mediums that provides more power to organizations hoping to shape the behavior of their consumers.

For example, Costco relies on certain traditional technologies and processes such as coupons and promotions, as well as rotating store layouts to create a ‘treasure hunt’ experience. Have you ever walked into a Costco and immediately found yourself glancing all around to see what items are being pushed? The process of rotating products at store entrances as a way to disorient the consumer is called the ‘Gruen Transfer Effect.’ In essence, this method is used so the consumer might temporarily forget the items they came to the store to purchase and be subject to their impulses, purchasing items they did not consider before entering the store. This ‘impulse buy’ triggers feelings of happiness for the customer who has now found what they consider a bargain or product they did not expect, and is one way Costco manipulates consumer behavior. 

Whether you know it or not, you are experiencing these same “manipulative”  techniques in the digital environment, as well. The use of ‘scarcity’ tactics (think Amazon’s lightning deals) is the type of tactic organizations use to effectively distract people from their initial search/buying intents, particularly if they position these items to look like “once in a lifetime” deals. They are typically flashy and not often based on a user’s behavior/history, driving them to augment their original goal. 

Time-bound promotions (e.g., “50% off sitewide, today only!”) have a similar effect – a user may have a very clear, singular intent, but if faced with a seemingly exclusive deal, they are more likely to throw some extra things in their cart or explore more. Similarly, it’s been shown that invoking demand as a means of showing scarcity gets people to act (e.g., messaging like “X people have this in their cart” or “only X left!”). A user might just be browsing, but if they get the sense that an item might be snatched out from under them, they are more likely to buy.

Use of New and Developing Technologies

Organizations are effectively implementing these tactics in modern-day user experience (‘UX’) techniques, which are used to influence consumer behavior through web and mobile-based platforms, as well as digitally connected consumer interactions. Consumer behavior once depended upon traditional marketing, such as radio and television, have shifted to consumers using technology to research offerings and consider online recommendations or reviews. This creates more of a two-way messaging between the organization and the consumer, which highlights the need for any business selling products or services to have a defined UX strategy for interactions with their target customers – ultimately promoting an ability for a consumer’s identity to align with the brands they love.

Another way an organization uses new and developing technologies to drive its business is by using real-time data collection and analysis. In his 2019 blog on Costco’s marketing tactics, Randy Hayashi explains that Costco gathers data on the individual shopping habits of its members so that it can create a profile of consumer behavior and buying habits that inform how the organization markets directly to these preferences. In addition to being able to take this information and market certain custom promotions to different members, they are also able to use this data to promote cross-sells and upsells that have a higher opportunity of success due to their custom nature.  

From a digital perspective, up-selling and cross-selling are often related to the user’s initial intent (e.g., showing comparable items), organizations use certain approaches to divert the user. When a user is shopping for a sweater and a site has a “shop the look” section or “pairs well with,” the user is suddenly shopping pants, shoes, and handbags that they weren’t interested in in the first place. A user might just be shopping for a grill, but get upsold to the larger model and end up with a cover, matching toolset, and warranty that they weren’t even considering in the first place.  These are all data-driven, intelligent solutions that every organization should consider implementing for the products or services they are trying to sell in the digital marketplace.

Social Media and Marketing – Technologies

Today’s consumers are more technically adept and are more likely to be reached during consumer-determined times, which means organizations should be using social media channels for marketing purposes. By keeping the organization top of mind or putting products and services in front of a potential consumer, companies might trigger an impulse desire to purchase the product at times when they were not seeking that product or service.

Other benefits of a connected community offered through social media marketing include the concept of belonging and exclusivity. In their 2016 research study, Persuit and McDowell-Marinchak discuss the concept of epideictic rhetoric which highlights how sharing and marketing within social channels creates a sense of community for participants, allowing them to take advantage of a human’s desire for belonging. Reflecting on how Costco utilizes the concept of exclusivity for its members to drive consumer-buying behavior, Hayashi suggests Costco uses exclusivity as a marketing tactic to provide members a sense of community, as well as increase the likelihood of triggering an impulse purchase by making these members feel they are getting a good deal.

Integrated Communications Plan and Technologies

Okay, so what does all of this mean to your business? Well, organizations need to design an integrated communications plan that includes traditional, new, and developing technologies as a means of positively influencing consumer behavior. Organizations that understand the relationship between the development of an integrated communications plan and the effects it has on consumer behavior are in a better position to shape consistent messaging in their use of advertising, branding, marketing, public relations, social media, as well as decisions regarding web and mobile development activities. This consistency in messaging eliminates confusion and helps guide consumers toward the type of interactions desired with offerings from the organization.

As a digital commerce agency, CQL takes a holistic approach to help its clients understand how to use modern-day technologies coupled with traditional approaches to help refine an integrated communications strategy. As mentioned earlier, COVID-19 has taught every business that they must incorporate new and developing digital tools and strategies as a means to elevate their brand and positioning within their target audience’s market. The use of these available digital tools helps the client positively influence their consumers through web and mobile interactions, leading to greater two-way communication between the organization and their consumers, and elevating the opportunity for consumer loyalty to the brand.

For more information about CQL and the services we provide to help your organization take advantage of modern-day technologies for consumer interactions, contact us today.