The difference between buyers and shoppers

Most people visiting a digital store are trying to do one of two things. They are either buying or shopping. On the outside, these two activities seem pretty similar — and most retailers don’t recognize the difference. That’s a big mistake.

Buyers are hunting

A buyer knows exactly what they want. They’ve already done their research and they are now in hunting mode, seeking the cheapest source with the best shipping deal. Modern e-commerce has made their life duck soup. A consumer knows everything about those noise cancelling headphones they want to buy. And in less time than it used to take to download a whole album from iTunes, those headphones are at their doorstep. Over the past 15 years, e-commerce has (almost) perfected the buying experience. So much attention has been placed on getting the buying part right that the industry has all but neglected the shopping side of things.

Shoppers are fishing

If we call buyers hunters  with an exact target in mind, then shoppers are fishers  trawling for something that catches their attention. Although they might have a vague idea in their mind, most people visit an online store without a specific plan for what they are going to buy. They spend long, valuable periods of time floating around your site in search of something they’re not even sure exists. All the benefits of buyer conveniences like an easy checkout process and fast shipping aren’t terribly relevant until later in the process. At this early shopping stage, you need to employ age-old retail magic and help the shopper discover a very good catch. Retailers should never underestimate the fact that shopping is meant to be a discovery process. The question is how to encourage, rather than discourage it. 


Does your site discourage shopping?

While perhaps very good for buying, the environments that most digital retailers have created are not conducive to shopping. Visitors don’t easily see most of their options. They are forced to sift through pages of often irrelevant, uninspiring items and that element of enjoyable exploration goes right out the window. The burden is on the shopper to remember images of items they liked and even page numbers so that once they’re in buying mode they can return to that item they kind of liked. In truth, shopping online can be a challenge for the most intrepid of shoppers.


The secret to getting shopping right

When it comes to finding the things they want, shoppers need your help. But to hold their attention and keep them interested, you have to help them in the right kind of way. But how can you do that, when in most scenarios the shopper doesn’t even know what it is they want? The simple answer is that you need to actually know what the shopper wants before they do.

Takeaway: When it comes to finding the things they want, shoppers need your help.

Knowing what shoppers want before they do

As the retailer, you have all the information you need to anticipate exactly what each shopper wants. This doesn’t mean employing mind reading techniques or mysticism  you simply need to use data. Data that’s sitting right in front of you. The moment a shopper visits your site and starts clicking and searching for products and categories, they are providing hints that can be used to solve this puzzle of what they might want and how you can guide them to it. Each product they select is full of attributes (gender, length, material, category, brand, etc.). As the shopper selects a few more items, they reveal patterns about their tastes and interests  often the shopper isn’t even aware of these preferences themselves. When you match that developing set of preferences with the retailer’s full product inventory, it is easy to see how a smart retailer can start curating and scoring the items that the shopper is most likely interested in.

Takeaway: By definition, shopper intent is not static.

Why the individual matters

The key to all this is that we are focused on one single individual. We aren’t trying to target a large group of what we perceive to be similar people with similar tastes (a segment). This idea of anticipating what the shopper wants is all about that singular shopper, their specific interests, and their current need. The retailer in this scenario is really responding to the individual intent of the shopper. This strategy is often called Individualization because it’s not something you can get from a segment or cohort.

Why real time matters

By definition, shopper intent is not static. With few exceptions, people’s thoughts about what they want are changing constantly (sometimes even within the same shopping session). So to get shopping right, retailers need to act in real time. This means responding to each click intelligently and in the moment. There is an important distinction here that is sometimes overlooked. Many personalization tools claim to respond in real time, but in reality all they have to offer is a set of pre-meditated responses to certain clicks. These faux real time responses don’t take the current intent of that individual into account with real-time intelligent presentations.


Every product has a conversion score that’s uniquely calculated for each individual shopper. That score is reassigned every time the shopper clicks. In this example, the shopper is looking for a stylish wear-to-work dress, but is also needs to be appropriate for dinner after. Ultimately, the last suggestions are dresses that are black, sleeveless, and above the knees.


It’s technical — but it’s actually just retail

This all might sound like science fiction, but in reality it’s really just an emulation of what retailers do every day and have been doing for decades in brick and mortar scenarios. Take for example an associate at a men’s apparel store engaging with a customer. If the customer asks about linen and mentions that he’s going to Thailand next week, the associate knows to lead him to resortwear. If a baby blue sweater catches the customer’s eye on the way to the other end of the store, the associate can start thinking of linen and resortwear that are in a bright color palette. If he asks about suits, the associate can present linen or lightweight suits. Within about sixty seconds, the associate can figure out what items in the store’s inventory will most likely get that specific customer excited. He knows what the customer wants before the customer does.


What kind of impact can you expect?

What can you expect in terms of results from Individualization? What’s interesting is that regardless of the category, number of SKUs or even the average order value, there is a fairly consistent business impact. The average revenue per visit increase for e-commerce sites that implement Individualization is over 20%. While that number is large, it makes sense. Shoppers are finding what they want more often because sites that use Individualization are tailoring their merchandising across the site experience (site search results, homepages, product detail pages, etc.) to anticipate what each of their individual visitors want. Knowing what your customer wants before they do doesn’t require any magic, it just requires a new focus on what each individual shopper is already telling you about their interests every day. If you can listen to those shoppers and respond intelligently, you will see a dramatic transformation in your business.

Reach out to our experts and find out more about how Sitecore Discover can transform your customers’ online experiences.