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Marketing Mocktail: Shop till you drop - types of shopping trips explained

“If people shopped only when they needed to buy, and bought only what they needed, the economy would collapse.”

By  Anand NarasimhaMay 23, 2023 8:29 AM
Marketing Mocktail: Shop till you drop - types of shopping trips explained
Studies done globally have classified shopping trips into four types- these apply to both offline and online shopping. (Representative Image: Hanson Lu via Unsplash)

Note to readers: Our latest column Marketing Mocktail breaks down and explains the big ideas, new disruptions and old concepts and marketing practices that matter in the modern age.

What’s a word that begins with the letter ‘S’ that every human being does many times in their lives? It’s ’shopping’ (in case you’ve started imagining something else). Shopping is indeed as basic a human activity as some of its more biological counterparts.

The idea of shopping is best summed up in this quote, “If people shopped only when they needed to buy and bought only what they needed, the economy would collapse.”

This brings us to a fundamental question, ‘Why do people shop?’ The answer lies beyond the obvious response ‘to buy stuff’.

Studies done globally have classified shopping trips into four types - these apply to both offline and online shopping:

• Recreational Shopping

• List Shopping

• Item Shopping

• Impulse Shopping

Let us examine each of these with a focus on the shopper and implications for marketers and retailers.

Recreational shopping

Here the shopping trip is completely open-ended. In fact, it may not even result in a purchase. What we call ‘window shopping’.

It happens in categories like apparel, footwear, jewelry, cosmetics and accessories where people check out the latest fashions.

In the case of gizmos like smart phones, home electronics and laptops, lots of shoppers just surf to keep abreast. Prior to refurbishing your home, you often browse through a home furnishing store to look for ideas.

The concept of ‘retail therapy’, where people, especially women, shop to relieve stress or relax is a part of modern lifestyle.

Retailers and brands must encourage recreational shopping, because, more often, it leads to purchase. It’s proven that the more time people spend browsing at a store, the more likely they are to buy. Also, even if they don’t buy today, they may buy tomorrow.

List shopping

This is where you pre-plan shopping with a specific list. List shopping is the bread and butter of the retail industry.

Shopping for food and groceries, medications and home needs come under this. Armed with a shopping list, the shopper is on a mission to acquire the merchandise quickly and with minimum fuss, as against its more exciting cousin-recreational shopping.

This is the domain of the lady of the house where she fulfills her role as the ‘gatherer and nurturer’. In fact, monthly shopping is now supplemented with ‘weekly top-ups’.

The implications of this are shorter purchase cycles, more frequent shopping trips, greater opportunity to try or switch to new brands and products, smaller basket sizes, and the expectation of constant deals and discounts.

Item shopping

Driven by a spontaneous trigger to shop for a specific item is what item shopping is all about. The trigger could be as mundane as ‘running out of sugar’, or as romantic as ‘shopping for an anniversary gift for your better half’.

Item shopping is most often driven by occasions and events. A foreign holiday is an occasion to buy new luggage, graduation day, an event to pick up a blazer, a new home, a reason to get new furniture, arrival of a baby, a trigger to pick up a whole bunch of baby care products, a party at home to stock up on booze and an invitation to the page-3 gala, an excuse to buy a designer label.

The retail and marketing industry have become poster boys at creating events and occasions for item shopping. Fathers’ Day, Mothers’ Day, Uncles’ Day, Aunties’ Day, Teachers’ Day, Valentine’s Day - a 365-day shopping jamboree. Not to mention the sea of festivals which surround our lives.

If list shopping is the bread and butter of the retail business, then item shopping is the jam. The more occasions we can create, the merrier.

Impulse shopping

The most unplanned, spontaneous form of shopping is on impulse. It is the shopper at her unpredictable best. Yet, several categories make a living out of it.

In confectionery, chocolates, soft drinks and snack foods, impulse buying accounts for almost 60 percent of purchases. Impulse is a huge industry and helps retailers and brands expand the size of shopping baskets. Even when we shop with a list, don’t we always end up buying more?

Though impulse buying is chaotic and unplanned, brands and retailers have discovered ways in which to stimulate it and bring methods into madness. Bins near the cash counter, interesting adjacencies, online recommendations, special offers, are some of the tactics used.

Another factor driving impulse is the ‘buy now, pay later’ credit culture. When you like something you buy it, thanks to plastic money. So, even the more expensive items are being bought on impulse. Some of the largest impulse categories are women’s footwear, handbags, and cosmetics.

Brands and retailers need to work out innovative ways of driving impulse and deploy it as a key growth strategy.

It is critical for retailers and brand marketers to understand the types of shopping trips and the way shoppers behave in the context of their categories and brands. This will help them design shopper marketing strategies and tactics to stimulate more purchases, both offline and online.

Anand Narasimha is a corporate turned academician with over three decades of experience spanning Brand Marketing, Advertising, Consulting, and Teaching. He writes the column Marketing Mocktail for Storyboard18. Views expressed are personal.

First Published on May 23, 2023 8:29 AM