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EDITORIAL Just what is it that you need to know?

As the economic climate continues to do its impression of El Nino, potentially promising extreme conditions at any point in the coming months, understand how consumers behave has become one of the key tactical, strategic and technical challenges facing retailers. 

While there has been much talk – including by me – into the role AI is going to have to play in granular personalisation at scale, understanding some basic consumer tropes is really all you need. 

What influences the choices they make around what they purchase and from where is something of a science, but looking at the broad brush of a consumer survey can often be all you need to get going.

And luckily, customer service software provider Gnatta has asked just those questions – and found that Google is the first port of call for pre-purchase research, while reviews are the most prominent way to decide if something found on Google is worth the onions.

So far, so simple. However, it is in all the other fragments of how consumers shop that look more interesting. Social media is used by just 7%, a surprisingly small proportion, given how many millions of people use it. It also calls into question the wider issue of how influential social media has been in shaping politics and culture in the wider world. Why, I wonder, would it influence those sorts of choices, but not what things people buy?

Similarly, family and friends only works for 5% of shoppers as a recommendation. Taken against the 40% who trust online reviews – from unverified strangers to boot – this too seems surprising. Looked at the other way, 95% of consumers don’t trust the recommendations of their own kith and kin, nearest and dearest.

Another surprise is that 6% of shoppers are swayed by in-store experiences. While this too is a small number, it is surprisingly high given how poor the in-store experience in most shops actually is these days. While I am a dedicated online shopper – I work for InternetRetailing, I have to be – the brief forays I have made into stores with my kids has been a frankly unpleasant experience. Lack of stock, lack of information, lack of helpful staff (though Urban Outfitters were very nice) and crowds of other people touching everything to name but a few. With this in mind, the fact that 6% get their first flush of research done this way baffles me. 

The study’s final gift is that the number of people influenced by a ‘pay later’ option has rocketed, now a serious influence for a quarter of shoppers. Of course, the economic El Nino is driving this, but one has to wonder how sustainable this is a way to get people to buy things?

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