The three most essential words to consider in the industry may be these: "customer," "consumer" and "shopper."
What's strange about these words is that in certain applications they can be used interchangeably, but in others they can't. Stranger still, bringing a precise definition to the words can lead to a new way of thinking about advertising and in-store merchandising. So let's take a closer look.
The easiest one to define is "customer," although it has several meanings. To see just what this word means, it's necessary to do no more than consider who's speaking. When a manufacturer speaks of a customer, it means a wholesaler, a chain supermarket or maybe a sales agency. To the wholesaler or sales agent, the customer is a retailer. To a retailer, the customer may be all those people buying goods in the store, although retailers may be more prone to refer to them as "consumers" or "shoppers." In short, a customer is no more than the entity or person who purchases goods offered for sale.
This brings us into more useful territory, figuring out the difference between consumer and shopper, and why it's important to cater to the differences they present. By the way, I'm indebted for the following analysis to Mel Korn, chief executive officer, Collaborative Marketing Worldwide, New York, with whom I've spent several pleasant hours lately talking about marketing and how it's best done.
To get us started, let's agree on the definition proposed above, that both consumers and shoppers are people who find themselves in stores looking for product. But there's a big difference between how consumers and shoppers make purchasing decisions and in how much they spend.
Consumers are people who need something. The need might be to obtain one or two specific items or to restock the pantry with many different products. Consumers need no persuasion to go to a store; they are driven there by need. If left alone, consumers will do no more than fulfill their needs.
But consumers are also units of a mass advertising audience. They passively receive a plethora of information that, at most, will engage no more than two senses, sight and sound. Consumers are also unwitting objects of media battles involving impressions, rating points and so on. But through all that, consumers are likely to pick up cues that will guide them to consider a certain brand, a certain trade channel or a certain store.
Once consumers arrive at a store, the opportunity exists to upgrade them to shoppers. Shoppers emerge when consumers' focus on what they need is changed by suggesting to them what they want. The transformation occurs under the influence of the greatest of all marketing media, the store itself.
A well-done store is a marketing medium that changes behavior in ways advertising can never accomplish: The store is active, it's personal, it has multiple contact points, it's multidimensional and it engages all senses. And, it puts product in shoppers' hands, which advertising can never do.
All stores don't do that and when they don't, consumers may remain consumers. But when it's done right,shoppers result and it's shoppers -- not consumers -- who cause average tickets to soar.