People are complex entities that are hard to decipher as they live, work, play, eat, use, consume and shop. This article explores their shopping behaviour specifically and attempts to demystify effective communications practices that can enhance the engagement between marketers and shoppers along the path-to-purchase.

People tend to exhibit different behaviours depending on the role they play, so it’s important that we clearly define the difference between consumers and shoppers. While consumers use products and services, shoppers buy products and services.

We believe that everything that matters in the business of marketing communications simply starts and ends with two things; people and their behaviour. If we observe today’s shoppers, they all seem to behave in a similar way. If we look closely, we will get the feeling that shoppers in a retail environment are merely being herded like sheep!

Retail environments, brands and communication tools seem to push people down a funnel, trying to get them to act in a predictable and pre-designed manner. This is not the right approach to winning the hearts and minds of shoppers. What if instead of ‘herding’ them, we ‘help’ them? What if we reframe the conversation with shoppers?

It’s about providing solutions that help people navigate their shopping journey. Today, people don’t differentiate between offline, online, social and in-store. All are a part of their total shopping experience. If shoppers don’t differentiate, then neither should we as advertisers and marketers.

Changing the conversation requires us to define and understand the ecosystem in which our shopper exists. We, at Arc Worldwide, refer to this ecosystem as “me Commerce”. In this world, we need to develop programmes that deliver a win to the shopper, to the brand and to the retailer.

We need to reach out and meet shoppers where they are, and design programmes to meet their actual needs, no matter what the channel, because shoppers are in control.

Most brands today design for shoppers based on who they are as consumers and the channel they are shopping.

The work is also done in silos, be it packaging, merchandising, activation, or communicating, and this results in a disjointed view of the brand for the shopper and a lack of true shopper insights to drive omnichannel integration.

Most marketers imagine the path-to-purchase as a linear journey, but the reality is that shopping happens anywhere. No matter where people are along the path-to-purchase, they are, fundamentally shoppers and brands will need to deliver relevant messaging that meet their needs at every touch-point along their path-to-purchase.

This simple premise guides Arc’s retail approach called ShopperBack, which is fuelled by proprietary research that helps unearth valuable insights on shopper behaviour. These findings led to the development of PeopleShop, a methodology that helps brand understand various shopper behaviour patterns based on their shopping modes, needs and touch points.

PeopleShop research data was compiled across more than 15,500 shoppers in nine markets around the world from North America to Saudi Arabia. It covers 27 product categories and 40 different touchpoints. It evaluated 60 shopping attitudes and covered 22 shopping trips and modes, uncovering 40 needs and motivations for shopping.

This deep knowledge of shopper behaviour allowed us to compare and contrast the shopper in the GCC versus that in the rest of the world. Here are a few relevant shopper insights that we’ve unearthed:

Understanding shopper motivation is key

The shoppers in the GCC profile equally to those around the globe. We could cluster the shoppers across all categories into distinct archetypes defined by behavioural attitudes, thereby bringing behavioural insights to shopper segmentations.

Depending on the category shopped, the same person can exhibit different archetype behaviours. The framework tracks motivation by trends (emotional) and price (functional) and reveals three distinct behaviours: The “Thinkers” who seek information to help validate decisions; the “Doers” who seek to minimise time and money spent: and the “Feelers” who seek fun and pleasure from the experience

Less about ‘price’ and more about ‘value’

Shoppers in the Gulf are not price sensitive. More than six out of 10 shoppers prioritise emotional triggers along their path to purchase. A meagre 2 per cent of these shoppers base their purchase decision on lower prices, versus 18 per cent of shoppers in the West.

GCC shoppers neither shop strictly to find the lowest prices nor are they driven by a sense of achievement felt by bargaining for lower prices. They want to make a smart purchase decision, and “smart” is not necessarily “cheap”.

We highly recommend that brands stop the value race to the bottom, in which price becomes the weapon of choice, and start working towards developing experiential shopping journeys that delight their shoppers and engage them.

Meeting the multifaceted needs of GCC shoppers

The other behaviour has to do with the touch points our shoppers consume along their path-to-purchase to help them make better informed purchase decisions. These range from traditional mass media to traditional online spaces to one-on-one communication tools (e-mails, word of mouth) to engagement tools (social media, review sites, blogs) to brick-and-mortar.

Shoppers have specific needs along their path-to-purchase. We cluster these needs into three buckets: Functional, Rational, and Emotional.

Today, the majority of brand support and communication spends in the GCC, and around the world, are focused around touch points that primarily deliver on the functional aspect, but barely touch on rational or emotional needs to help motivate them to turn off their autopilot shopping modes.

Our research concludes that 3 out of 10 shoppers in the GCC fulfil their rational and emotional needs via social media.

In conclusion, shopping happens anytime, anyplace, anywhere, anyhow. We live in a brave new me Commerce world where shoppers are in control.

A world where the physical, digital, mobile, and social dimensions are no longer separated. However, shopper knowledge should never be used as a gimmick. It should be used to enrich experiences, to connect at a human level, to build brands and, ultimately, to move people to buy out of active participation and choice.

Raja Sowan is Regional Managing Director at Arc Worldwide MEA. Ahmad Abu Zannad, is the firm’s Regional Strategy Director.