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The Psychology of Shopping – from vice to virtue

The Psychology of Shopping – from vice to virtue 

Shopping has traditionally fallen in to two broad categories: that of “want” and “need” with little room in-between for anything representing higher value, virtue or enjoyment. 

All too-often considered a vice, ‘retail therapy’ is regularly seen as a form of escapism that should be immediately followed by pangs of guilt associated with overindulgence.  

While the opposite side of shopping, that is associated with utility and requirement, is often seen as a mundane chore that’s to be completed efficiently as opposed to enjoyed. 

But all of that is changing. A major shift in the consumer mindset is transforming shopping in to something that can be enjoyed and revelled in.  

Criteo’s new report, The Psychology of Shopping, highlights some fascinating insights into the reason people shop the way they do today. Some of the changes, like the joy of finding a bargain, have evolved with technology developments, while totally new behaviours, such as the ethics of modern consumerism, are putting a completely new spin on the retail world. 

Virtuous circlers 

Shopping is being transformed from a guilty task into an ethical activity that people can feel proud of. 

Almost half of shoppers (40%) feel more positive about brands that publish their ethical standards as they become more aware and discerning of where their purchases come from. You only need to look at the recent outcry over Iceland’s banned advert on the use of palm oil to see this. 

Technology is also helping consumers make ethical choices about previous purchases. The option to re-sell and recycle purchases makes a third (33%) of UK shoppers feel better about spending money as shoppers reject single-use culture. 

Social capitalists 

Twenty years after the idea was first coined, the experience economy is becoming mainstream. 

Led by millennials, but popular across all age groups, spend on experiences that can be shared in-real-life and online is overtaking more traditional discretionary spend, like leisure or entertainment.  

At the same time online retail has made many purchases easy but functional. Physical retail and the ability to share experiences on and offline fulfils a social need for consumers. According to the research a quarter of people (24%) prefer to shop with friends. 

Interestingly this figure rises to 46% for millennials (18-24 year olds), despite the common perception that they are the ones who shop online most regularly, which would be expected to be a solitary experience. 

When shopping with friends, department stores are ranked the highest as social retail destinations because of their wide product range, and distinct locations that offer sandbox-like experiences – with ‘stop spots’ where discoveries can be made. 

Self-care shoppers 

Online and new retail sales rituals (for example Black Friday) have transformed shopper expectations and behaviours. Consumers now expect to find just the right deal or shopping experience for them, at any time. Take the rise in shoppers using their homes as a more convenient changing room for example, more shoppers are rejecting retail stores as the best place to make purchase decisions – one-third of people don’t like using fitting rooms. They prefer to buy multiple items to try on at home. 

The availability of bargains online has created an emerging ethos of “self-care”. Almost half (47%) of UK shoppers have self-gifted in the last 12 months, claiming bargains are the number one reason. 

Finding bargains is a labour that transforms shopping into a productive activity that makes us feel better about ourselves and our purchases. Two in five (44%) will search or wait for a discount code or voucher before buying something, higher social grades (ABC1) are more likely to do so than the rest. 

Conversely, a third (34%) of under 25s have felt remorse or regret because they bought something online without thinking about it. 

These behaviours will define shopping in the coming years and retailers will need to ensure that they’re catering to this new mindset that demands increased levels of service, personalisation and efficiency in the sopping experience. 

It is only through using data and artificial intelligence that retailers can truly understand and interpret consumer behaviour and ultimately succeed in today’s competitive modern market.