What makes a shopper decide to click on the “buy” button—or close their browser? Or, once a shopper has made a purchase, what makes them decide to return it or keep it?

Marketers, psychologists, economists, and sociologists have spent decades studying consumer behavior, and they’ve found that a range of factors influence a shopper’s decisions around which purchases to make. Being aware of these factors can help you shape your marketing strategies based on each of these variables, optimizing for engagement with each customer segment. 

Understanding your shoppers is key to The Future of Shopper Experience

The three factors

Authors and professors Philip Kotler and Gary M. Armstrong outlined three primary categories of factors that impact consumer behavior in their book, The Principles of Marketing

Those are: 

  1. Psychological (motivation, perception, learning, beliefs, and attitudes)
  2. Personal (age and life-cycle stage, occupation, economic circumstances, lifestyle, personality, and self-concept)
  3. Social (reference groups, family, roles, and status)

By designing a customer experience that aligns with each shopper’s unique contributing factors in decision-making, you’ll be able to convert and retain more customers, and drive a higher lifetime value from your relationships.

Let’s look at each factor in more detail:

The psychological factors

An individual’s psychology is a prime motivator for whether or not they’re going to make a purchase, or return a product they’ve previously purchased. Motivation, perception, learning, and attitude, and beliefs are all key components in a consumer’s psychological outlook on a buying decision.

  1. Motivation
    How badly does the shopper want or need the product? For instance, if they’re on their last roll of toilet paper, it’s a safe bet that they’ll purchase a new 12-pack even if they’re down to the last few dollars in their checking account. A purchase that they don’t need, but simply desire—such as a new handbag or a pair of shoes—is likely to take a lot more time and consideration, requiring multiple touch points from the brand to keep it top of mind until the time is right to buy.
  2. Perception
    Perception refers to the process of interpreting external stimuli about the brand, and making a judgment about it accordingly. If the shopper looks up to their manager at work, and notices that the manager has recently purchased a nice jacket from Aviator Nation, then the shopper is more likely to favorably consider purchasing a jacket from the same brand. 
  3. Learning
    Learning happens after the shopper has had the opportunity to interact with the product. In some cases, that’s before a purchase has been made. It may consist of a free trial for a piece of software, or when a shopper tries on a pair of jeans in a fitting room. With ecommerce, however, learning is more likely to take place after purchasing a product—after it arrives at the shopper’s door, they’ll be able to test it out and see if it meets their expectations. If it doesn’t, it’s likely that the shopper will request a return.
  4. Attitudes and beliefs
    Attitudes and beliefs are shaped by an individual’s culture, background, and circumstances. For example, a Gen Z shopper is likely to focus more on sustainability in their products than a Baby Boomer, so marketers who are targeting a Gen Z audience are more likely to make environmentalism a bigger part of their marketing story to appeal to these shoppers.

The personal factors

Marketers pay close attention to shopper demographics for good reason—differences in age, income, occupation, and lifestyle can play a big role in how to target shoppers with the right message. 

  1. Age
    Purchasing priorities can vary greatly based on someone’s age and phase of life. A teenager may not have much disposable income, but they’re able to spend what they do have on non-essentials like Starbucks drinks and movie tickets. Meanwhile, a married parent in his 40s is more likely to prioritize spending on essentials for the family, including cleaning and hygiene needs—so just because a teenager will use toothpaste, it makes more sense for marketers to target their parents, who’ll most likely be the ones buying it.
  2. Income
    A shopper’s income level makes it more or less likely that they’ll spend on discretionary or luxury purchases. A shopper working a lower wage job is likely to spend the bulk of their income on expenses like rent or mortgage and food, with not much left over for optional purchases like restaurant meals or jewelry. A high income earner, however, is more likely to splurge on expensive meals and clothing, so marketers for discretionary purchases will often look for opportunities to target by income level to increase their chances of getting a sale.
  3. Occupation
    Shopper are more likely to purchase products that fit their lifestyle or practical needs at work—so a farmer might purchase a pair of sturdy boots, while a teacher may wear sneakers or comfortable flats. 
  4. Lifestyle
    A shopper may lead a very different lifestyle depending whether they are single or have a family, or if they live in a major city versus in a rural area. Marketers pay close attention to trends that fit each type of lifestyle, and target those shoppers accordingly.
  5. Personality and self-concept
    Is the shopper a self-described geek, or a jock? How they think of themselves is likely to have a big impact on what products they buy to present the image they want to demonstrate. Someone who prides themselves on academic pursuits is more likely to invest in vacations with an educational component, for instance, while someone who participates in many sports may be more likely to purchase a trip that includes a lot of physical activity and endurance tests. 

The social factors

While the psychological factor is shaped by an individual’s internal perspective, the social factor is more shaped by the outside world and the shopper’s desire to fit in. This includes:

  1. Family
    What brand of toothpaste did your parents buy when you were a kid? Chances are, you may well find yourself purchasing the same brand without even thinking about it. Many purchasing decisions are made out of habit, and if your family of origin frequently purchased and introduced you to certain products, you’re more likely to continue buying them after you’re making your own purchasing decisions.
  2. Reference groups
    Shoppers also pay close attention to what those in their peer groups, such as coworkers and neighbors, are buying. If they know that several of their neighbors have recently purchased Teslas and are excited about their new cars, they’re more likely to consider a Tesla when it’s time to purchase a new car. 
  3. Roles and status
    Shoppers are also likely to pay close attention to how a product can symbolize their status—so a VP at a midsized bank may telegraph their success by purchasing designer clothes, whereas a mid-level manager might wear attire from a mall apparel store. They can also use products to “buy” status that they don’t have. For example, a shopper may choose to buy a $5,000 watch that they can’t comfortably afford, because it makes them look more financially successful than they actually are.

Tracking data on how each of these factors impact buying behavior can help you develop specific customer segments. You’ll be able to understand each segment’s customer purchasing behavior, and have the insights to make relevant recommendations and design messaging across the right channels to deliver maximum engagement for each type of shopper. That will help you deliver a delightful customer experience across the entire buyer’s journey, no matter who they are—leading to sustainable growth and profitability. 

Need a better way to leverage your shopper data? See how Loop can help you optimize your post-purchase experience in a personalized way.