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What Are The Three Types of Shoppers?

Retail Expert Reveals How People Make The Decision to Buy, and How it Affects the Economy

In the wake of last year's recession -- that actually looks like it may be returning for a command performance this year -- the face of shopping in America changed, and retailers need to take care on how they respond to the shift.

That's the advice of Darlene Quinn, a former senior executive with the Bullocks Wilshire department store chain, who thinks that retailers need to work more on service and less on markdowns if they are going to ride out the storm.

According to Quinn, there are essentially three kinds of consumers in the mass market:

  • Price Shoppers -- These shoppers' primary concern is the cost of goods. They are typically middle to lower middle class, blue collar folks who have tight budgets, so they shop at discount big box stores like Wal-Mart.
  • Luxury Shoppers -- On the other extreme, there are "luxury" shoppers who have money regardless of the economic conditions. They summer in the Hamptons, and they buy luxury all the way in both goods and services. The recession doesn't affect them any more than a stiff breeze. They'll always buy what they want, when they want.
  • Value Shoppers -- In the middle is the "value" shopper, who is typically middle to upper middle class, and they don't mind paying a few extra dollars for extra service and better quality. "Value" shoppers became 'price' shoppers during the recession. They fled the mall department stores so they could push a cart at Wal-Mart or Target."
As a response to the shift in value shoppers, retailers from all categories began working on cutting their prices in order to pull in more foot traffic. The problem is that strategy risks turning "value" goods into commodities, which makes price the primary feature of the products or services offered, flattening the playing field for competition. The result for the retailers is that there are more losers than winners when value goods are commoditized -- the consumers are the eventual losers.

"The insurance industry has already fallen down that slippery slope," said Quinn, who is also the author of a novel about the sordid tales from inside the retail and fashion industry, Twisted Webs from Emerald Book Company (www.darlenequinn.net). "Every TV ad you see is about how much you can save. Two years ago, insurance ads were more about service and security, but today it's all about saving as much money on premiums as possible. The end result is that consumers now view insurance as a commodity, and the lowest price wins. The insurance companies will begin to cut service and customer care to pay for those rate slashes, and the post-recovery consumer will begin to wonder what happened to it."

For true recovery to stick, retailers must take steps to maintain the integrity of value items and services, and return the value shopper to the department stores, Quinn said.

"That middle group represents the growth of the economy," she said. "The money lost in the retail industry was lost primarily because that middle group of consumers in the middle classes stopped spending discretionary income, because they just plain didn't have it to spend. If 2010 is going to show some solid growth, we need to see the 'value' shopper come back to the mall, and retailers need to empower their managers and employees to really go the extra mile to attract that customer back to the fold."


About Darlene Quinn
Darlene Quinn is an author and journalist from Long Beach, California. Her first novel, Webs of Power (winner of the 2009 Indie National Excellence Award for Fiction), is about the backroom wheeling's, dealings and double-dealings behind the scenes of a national retail chain, based primarily on real-life people and companies Quinn encountered during her career in the retail industry. The sequel, Twisted Webs, is set to be released in September 2010. As part of a nine-member management team for the Bullocks Wilshire Specialty Department stores, Quinn has the insider's perspective on the rise and fall of major department stores.



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