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Consumers Have an Attitude

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The many faces of women's apparel shoppers...
The many faces of women's apparel shoppers...

I recently spoke with a marketing director at a small college who said that one of the best channels for driving people to his website is bus advertising in the midsize Southern metro where his school is located. Prospective students or their parents, bored waiting for a bus or sitting on one, he figured, see the ad and link to the site via their smartphones. You may say, “Well, how many people take a bus? Most people drive cars.” And I could retort, “Well, OK, but how many people driving by your billboard at 70 miles an hour ping your site?”

Media channels are fragmenting, sure, but consumers themselves are fragmenting into more and more segments made possible by the infinite combinations of media they consume. What channels they frequent and how much they're willing to pay for a pair of shoes may depend more on their attitudes than their incomes, according to a study from Acxiom due to be released later this month.

Acxiom collaborated with Gfk Research on an online survey of 1,000 females over 18 who have purchased women's apparel in the past six months. While, in and of itself, this represents a broad segment, it's a group chased by several retail chains—ones as diverse as Nordstrom, Payless, Target, and Victoria's Secret. But the study says that women shoppers come in more varieties than do stores—five, to be precise:

Fashionistas: Younger and hipper, they are the most likely to engage in social media communications when shopping—their favorite pursuit. They will shop both Nordstrom and Goodwill in their pursuit of style.

Style Sophisticates: They seek current fashions and high quality that equate “the good life.” Sophisticates plan their wardrobes carefully and love direct mail pieces and emails tipping them off to sales.

Centsibles: Apparel is merely a necessity, not a statement, for these bargain hunters who comb the web for deals. They prize comfort, value, and price and prefer shopping nearby stores.

Different Drummers:  Just the basics for this crew. Not much in the way of marketing can influence them. They shop locally, try clothes on for comfort, and buy on the spot. They make 82% of purchases in-store.

Disinteresteds: The fashion-no-stas. They just want to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible.

Higher-value shoppers rely on digital channels for shopping information. Nine out of 10 Fashionistas, and highly research purchases via digital channels. But retailers would err to throw all their media weight into digital. More than half of all women's apparel shoppers surveyed, however, rely on traditional channels such as newspaper and magazine ads, direct mail catalogs, and circulars. Some may not be actively looking for any product information.

Those would be the the Disinteresteds. They are an older segment (average age: 56). They're not inspired by celebrities, fashion shows, magazines, or even television. They don't shop a lot and they hardly ever buy add-ons or accessories. Yet fashion-neutral Disinteresteds spend 33% of their apparel dollars at high-end retailers like Macy's and Banana Republic—more than the Fashionistas who spend 26% there.

Consumer attitudes—not education, income, age, or social standing—play a large part in how, why, and where people buy things, says the Acxiom study, and retailers need to figure that into their marketing equations. “While there is some discrimination in the demographic makeup of the five segments we found in the study, consumer attitudes trump demographics, motivations, and preferences,” say Gary Ostrager, Acxiom's senior retail marketing strategist.

This point should become crystal clear to retailers when looking at the store preferences of the five groups. The fact is that, aside from retail outlets on the very low and very high end, they aren't that different. The status-conscious Sophisticates, the bargain-hunting Centsibles, the basics-only Different Drummers, and the detached Disinteresteds all said they did between 33% and 36% of their shopping in middle market stores like Sears, Kohl's, Gap, and Limited. Sophisticates made 23% of their purchases in premium stores like Macy's, but it's not as if Centsibles and Different Drummers were repelled by force fields at the pricey stores' doors. Both those groups made 15% of their buys in the higher-end emporiums.

Here's the challenge for Macy's, et al: Their marketers might well argue that brand messaging should be pointed at the Sophisticates. That's what their brands stand for, after all, and, the Centsibles and Different Drummers are in their stores because they aspire to be Sophisticates. That might work with the bargain-hunters, who will take all the sophistication they can get if the price is right. But it doesn't address the Drummers, who are what are known in old marketing jargon as inner-motivated.

This is a chess game that could pay off in a big way for the retailer that gets it right, because it just so happens that all three of the aforementioned segments make their purchases in-store. Get them inside the doors more often and they're bound to buy more stuff. Drummers like to plan their purchases and like to stay as local as possible, and they trend low for digital media, so targeted direct mail circulars might be the way to entice them. Centsibles like to hunt for bargains online, so perhaps retailers ID them perusing their websites and retarget them on discount-hunter sites with bulletins about sales.

“Consumers behave in a variety of different ways during a typical shopping purchase process based on their attitudes,” Ostrager says,” and, to a lesser degree, their preferences and demographics.”

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