Heuristics and Shopper Behavior in Market Research

In order to understand shopper behavior, it’s integral to understand the decision-making process and reach consumers at the moment that most influences their decisions. Heuristics is a key concept to understand concerning the psychology of shopping.

A heuristic is a mental shortcut that helps us make decisions and solve problems quickly. They allow us to shorten the decision-making time without the constant need to think about the next course of action. For example, over time, we recognize if a website is trustworthy or not. Does it look well designed and laid out, or does it have a lot of annoying banner ads and graphics? We store and use this information the next time we go online to decide if a website is trustworthy or not quickly. Due to our previous learning, the second time we encounter said decision, the process will not require much mental effort.

Understanding heuristics and how they will affect your customer is a crucial step of the marketing research process. It will ultimately influence your methodology to garner the most actionable insights from your research.

4 types of heuristics that influence shopper behavior:

  • Availability Heuristic

    This type of heuristic is a mental shortcut based on how easy it is to bring something to mind. For example, when deciding which laundry detergent to buy, you may choose Tide because it comes to mind the fastest. You might have selected another brand if you had more information available about it — you chose the one that came to mind the easiest. In other words, we often rely on how easy it is to think of examples when making a decision. The number of examples there are is directly dictated by how accessible these examples are. Consequently, we ignore less easily recalled information even if it is statistically (and obviously) more important.

    The availability heuristic can be utilized in marketing through examples of results your product has brought forth; this makes it easier for potential customers to imagine an outcome they could likely achieve if they chose it. By giving potential customers a taste of what they could experience with your product, you’re not only exciting the consumer imagination but also imprinting a positive association in their memory between your product and the subsequent attractive outcome they have the power to achieve.

    Researching what kind of results your customer base really wants from your product or service is vital to understanding how this heuristic can assist your marketing research process by informing your overall marketing strategy. 

  • Representativeness Heuristic

    This type of heuristic is a mental shortcut based on comparing a current situation to a representative example. To convince us that objects or products are representative of an idea or concept we might have, marketers use representativeness. For example, if we watch TV and see numerous ads with a rugged man driving a pickup truck, we may conclude that pickup trucks are only for rugged men who work outdoors.

    Performing marketing research on associations consumers may have with your brand, service, or marketing materials is an excellent way to ensure your message is perceived how you originally intended. 

  • Anchoring Heuristic

    The anchoring heuristic is the effect of a prior judgment of an object — an anchor to our future judgments regarding another object.  These judgments could be about a numerical value, probability, or even a moral judgment. To influence consumer choice, marketers can anchor brands according to their strategic reference points of value.

    For example, product manufacturers often introduce either a higher or lower priced item first, depending on how they desire to influence a consumer’s subsequent decisions. If they start by introducing a higher-priced model first, then the lower-priced model will look like a better deal in comparison. This is exactly the place where marketing research studies on pricing can be beneficial. Designing a survey to understand how consumers judge your product or service prices will allow you to understand better what “priced to sell” means for your company.

  • Attribute Substitution Heuristic

    When making a purchase decision, we often substitute an easier question for a more complicated one to make the decision easier and faster. For instance, when buying a new pair of running shoes, we may not inquire about the technical aspects (pronation vs. supination, crash zone, foot strike area, etc.) and instead ask the question, “Which brand do I like best?”

We can better understand shopper behavior through a deeper understanding of heuristics. Getting a firm grasp of the “how” and “why” shoppers make shopping decisions is crucial to include in your marketing research process. Your role in helping them through the steps is equally as important. Increase your chances of persuading consumers and driving them to action by considering heuristics in your research and next marketing campaign.

Think you know all there is to know about heuristics and shopper behavior? There’s more. Learn more about heuristics and how you can utilize them to understand your customers better, inform your research and help your brand grow and succeed now.

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