There is something exceptional sitting at the center of the commerce and culture Venn diagram: the teenage girl. Teenagers are a powerful buying group but teenage girls are a steadfast demographic with the ability to shape or break a product or moment. They are far more concerned with purchasing and consumption of culture, and how those form the basis of their identities. Theirs is a power that, historically, has been vastly underestimated, even ridiculed, in cultural spaces, even when their opinion and funds keep afloat brands and stars in every generation of modern history.
The 16-year-old girl, while not appropriate for every retailer, is a key age demographic that can be further split into several other versions. Data-driven retailers will categorize their buyers based on demographic information around economics, location, age, and gender. However, there is another layer to peel back to truly understand why buyers buy.
When you're selling direct to consumer, buyers can be streamlined into a few key personas. For Shopify’s State of Commerce report, we were interested in grouping buyers by their behaviors, and that provided interesting, fresh insight into the psychology of purchasing decisions. According to the report, there are four types of buyer personas retailers can use to complement their existing buyer research. The personas are Pragmatic Planners, Savvy Searchers, Engaged Explorers, and Trend Trackers.
You can sample four 16-year-old girls and find that their buying behaviors look very different from one another. Demographic information is key to understanding how a teenage girl buys the way she does but why has been left out until now with this behavior-specific research.
This makes for a more robust portrait of a consumer that ensures they aren’t flat or homogenous. Buyers want to feel special; they want personalized products and experiences. They are part of an evolving consumer wave where they demand their needs be met, not having their needs told to them by brands. Understanding who your buyers are is an intuitive next step for retailers.
Breaking down consumer psychology into four buyer types
According to the report, the Pragmatic Planner doesn’t particularly enjoy researching or shopping and tends to stick to the brands they know and trust. They prefer to research their options online and buy in-store, likely on pre-planned one-stop-shop trips.
Pragmatic Planners need to trust the stores they buy from. When they order from a brand for a second time, offer them a personalized discount code via text message. Since this group of buyers doesn’t want to engage with marketing, you’ve got to prove you’re only reaching out when there’s a relevant need.
Take jeans as an example. Jean shopping is about specificity (e.g. fit, style or brand notoriety).
It’s a product that can warrant an in-store experience. If the Pragmatic Planner is doing the buying, they will do their research online as well. The Planner buyer has made a list, cross-referenced the product, tried it on in-store, and found themselves loyal to a fit so perfect, they won’t want to shop anywhere else. They will be more agreeable to online purchasing, especially if it is incentivized with personalized discounts in the future.
The Pragmatic Planner buyer is a reliable consumer. They are meticulous about their methodology, strategy, and the buying process. They want to know their purchase is going to last. Providing an equal effort of consistency in both the product and research, as well as promotional incentives to keep them interested, make it easier for a shopper to keep trusting a brand.
Engaged Explorers like “to buy new things and shop to make themselves feel good. They will prioritize a great deal on a familiar brand and rely heavily on reviews and share advice with their networks when making purchase decisions.” They want to be validated by another voice they trust, like a close friend or a review by another customer that rings remarkably true to them. There is a level of earnestness involved in their pursuit of products. It is largely because of the underlying truth that Engaged Explorers want to look and feel good in whatever they own.
For the Engaged Explorer, being able to sample products matter—think of makeup and skincare. More than anything, an Engaged Explorer wants to feel good and know that their purchases provides that for them, and makeup or skincare products sit on that line of luxury and necessity; enhancing or shaping features with creative flare. The tangible, sensory component of trying a product before buying goes far with this persona. This buyer also wants several dedicated resources on hand to complement that experience, such as beauty consultants, experts, and salespeople as support.
On top of sampling and inspecting lipsticks by browsing in-store or online, there are so many third-party resources highly valued by this type of buyer. Online, an Engaged Explorer reads customer reviews and engages with digital consultants, even customers in the comment section. Magazines and blogs occupy a slice of that information pie, but so do beauty influencers on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. There is a wealth of information on hand, whether a buyer is a burgeoning or experienced beauty aficionado.
Trend Trackers live a little more spontaneously. They are, according to the report, “hesitant to provide personal information, cost-conscious, yet impulsive and strongly prefer to buy in-store, even after doing research online.” For their research methodology, Trend Trackers monitor the cultural direction of products they want. They look at cost comparisons and some advertising, but experience and cultural clout rank highest on their priority list. Trend Tracking buyers feel strongly about being part of something. Being part of a group implies a certain status level and that value for a Trend Trackers factors into purchasing decisions.
This is especially true in fashion and footwear, particularly in the exclusive and vogue-ish world of streetwear. Streetwear is an exciting avenue for purchasers because it feels like an elite experience in a cultural pocket. This kind of buyer flocks to events like an exclusive shoe drop at a pop-up location, and only that location. It is comforting for a Trend Tracker to see how an experience, and their participation in it, generates a conversation larger than the product.
Everyone needs to wear shoes to get around. But Trend Trackers are concerned with more than just the practical. They wonder what the cultural, social, or fashion value is with their purchase. That takes time and some research. As practical as a shoe is, there is an importance in investing in a product that is a symbol of a movement they highly identity with at that time.
Trend Trackers are drawn to temporary experiences. A brand evangelist is born when a retail strategy includes experiential, ephemeral purchasing moments. From there, these buyers spread a gospel about the brand, influencing other potential buyers. It’s sort of like a domino effect. A newbie to the brand will want to engage with whatever experience that occurs around the product, not wishing to be left out like before. A memory of an event associated with a purchase is a powerful retail tool.
Savvy Searchers are the online wunderkinds of commerce. They are “comfortable with using digital tools and prefer to research product options online and need a lot of information before making a purchase decision. They have high expectations in the quality of their purchases.”
Savvy Searchers demand a higher quality than the other four types of buyers. Because of this, it leads them to a longer-term investment with a product and/or brand.
While Engaged Explorers need hands-on product and brand research, and Pragmatic Planners are meticulous with purchase inquiry; Savvy Searchers sit somewhere in-between the two. They don’t need to be marketed to (Pragmatic Planners) or require product engagement (Engaged Explorers.) Savvy Searchers are nimble internet investigators and prefer to take charge of their own retail experience.
Think of book buying. It’s important to offer resources to see if a buyer is getting the best deal, to know if the store is well stocked, where trust is built for a return purchase. The Savvy Searcher will thoroughly go through what stores offer, both in-person and online, researching product reviews, comparing and contrasting costs of the product across different retailers. They also look for deals. After all, they are savvy searchers. Marketing works selectively for a Savvy Searcher since they are already in control of what they’re looking for. The most effective ads for this type of buyer are transparent, simple, and direct. They fill in the rest with complementary research of their own.
The Savvy Searcher goes through a more holistic experience of buying and purchasing. They need to familiarize themselves with their options before stepping into buying action.
Consumer psychology is helpful, but sell to the person behind the persona
If we think about the portrait of a 16-year-old girl as a key purchaser, her decision to purchase, the why behind it, is a lot more robust after thinking through what her buying type could be. One buyer’s goal is distinct from another’s. Each has a process through which they make decisions and they all potential differ from the other.
This sounds like a complicated request—managing and understanding the buying behavior of so many kinds of people—but the variation is quite exciting. Sameness is not like consistency. Striving to understand the myriad of buyer types and their needs allows for distinct, varying experiences, products, and longevity in the market.
Keeping up with how buyers personalize and emphasize their needs and wants is a benefit to any retailer. Remember: market for your customers, not to them. Different kinds of buyers respond to different marketing strategies (or no marketing strategies!) and are motivated in different ways when making a purchase. Research why and how a buyer wants what they want, and the ways in which behavior affects a purchasing decision. Then, try to fulfill those individual needs.
Want to learn more about how you can develop brand loyalty among these four buyers?
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