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As the traditional approaches and tactics of retail continue to march toward commoditization, it is time to have to look beyond brand and product stories to define shopping motivations.

People’s behaviors may change over time, but, psychologically speaking, their motivations tend to remain constant — and it is from this perspective, or “motivational lens,” that new, adaptive experiences can translate omnichannel access into omnichannel relationships.

In other words, if you can figure out what really motivates your shoppers at a very deep level, you can build strategies and experiences based on those motivational personas

The Interactive Customer Experience Association asked researcher Mark Murray and his firm, Cottage 8 Market Planning, to help our retail members delve into those motivations, to understand what ultimately gets today’s omnichannel shopper to travel all the way down the path to purchase.

The research study that came from his work, “The Domain of Shopping: A Motivational Segmentation for Adaptive Experience Design,” defines the six motivational segments that can help reveal why a particular brand or product is missing out on significant shares of the market, as well as its potential path for growth.

Its findings identify the forces that drive decision-making based on an individual’s self-image and needs. Introduced at the ICX Symposium in February 2016, this qualitative study identified six distinctive shopping strategies or “segments” employed by consumers.

The significance of the study grows as retailers progress from creating omnichannel platforms to adapting in-store customer experiences and online message platforms based on how individuals choose to browse, shop and buy.

We recently conducted a brief question-and-answer with Murray to help other public-facing segments understand how and why this motivational research can help them better engage with their customers.

His responses, edited for clarity and length, are below:

Q: What would you say to someone who asks how they can apply this study to their vertical/niche/market (retail, restaurants, hotels, etc.)?

A: Most retail marketers have a strong handle on their category and the segments within the category from a product and service vantage point. These motivational insights from the study provide a new lens in which to evaluate and adapt the shopping experience based on the desired shopper — and most importantly, when they’re in the actual process of buying.

There are two ideas it’s important to keep in mind: First, motivational studies such as this one are “domain” based, not category or industry based. In this case our domain was “shopping.” In other studies, our domain might be “food” or “money,” as opposed to restaurant or banking. And second, motivational segments are constant, unlike behaviors, which are dynamic. Although the approach shoppers take will change over time, the core need, what they’re trying to satisfy within a domain, remains the same.

The research does not only measure the size of each segment but also places the client’s brand, along with competitive brands, on the same map. Once the size and types of shoppers within a category are dimensioned, consumer brands can prioritize.

In the field of motivational research there are a few basic truths that give confidence to all industries and categories. The first is an understanding of consumers’ motivations drive behaviors that change over time and need to be correctly interpreted. With motivations, we’re able to get to the core drivers and the segments that emerge are both manageable and actionable.

To put it simply: Behaviors track the what; motivations tell you the why consumers are behaving the way they do and what they are ultimately looking for in the experience.

Q: How can we apply this to creating interactive or adaptive customer experiences in our own stores or venues?

A: At a high level, it’s responding to how an individual chooses to shop, and it can extend from product packaging, complimentary services, loyalty program offers and even store/site design. In the area of new shopping tools or technologies that are able to adapt in real time, very small initial consumer responses or feedback can direct/redirect the presentation to the one that best responds to the one of six distinct segments. (Essentially, you’ve adapted the customer experience to respond to how the individual chooses to shop)

Once identified, the merchant appends their customer files with the right shopper segment. They are then able to adapt to the individual — presenting the most meaningful aspects of product, store or experience in the most compelling way.

With each of the segments quantified and described, they should be prioritized based on the brand and desired customer experience. From what we’ve learned, it’s less about creating new channel features and services but more about bringing them to the individuals that find them most meaningful. Ultimately, the effort can create preference across a large share of the marketplace in different ways.

Q: Will these behavioral segments apply to all retail markets, or will my customer base have different segmentations?

A: The study can fuel both creative and strategic agendas.

A marketer can adopt Motivational segments within the Shopping Domain as stimulus for experience design, message development, etc. Based on response modeling they can append customer files with a specific segment and continue to refine in time. They are adapting their messages to respond across various segments — in this scenario they’re covering all bases.

The methodology in full form has been developed to extend from qualitative insights to quantifying each segment within a category and across competitive brands. At this level, the marketer is able to prioritize segments, see where their brand is connecting or not fully satisfying the corresponding shopping criteria. At this point, the marketer is at a distinct advantage over their competition — enjoying a new platform for defining creative assignments and evaluating responses by segment over time.

Q: Why is a motivational approach any more insightful or better than a behavioral approach, and what does that mean?

A: Behaviors are actions driven by a motivation to “adapt” or “assert” oneself in an effort to satisfy a need or reflect one’s self-image. Motivations are deeper, easier to identify and manage, and remain consistent over the life of the relationship.

Motivations are at the core of what the individual is trying to achieve — why they do what they do. Today’s behavioral approaches are filled with noise with the addition of each new store presentation, service, site enhancement and mobile app.

When we look at modeling in response to “behaviors,” we’re awarding assumptions to the click of a mouse, swipe of a finger or visit to a venue. The factors that prompt them are unknown. To be clear, many of these behaviors are important and actionable, but from my point of view, why respond to a symptom when we’re able to understand the deeper cause?

In addition, “experiences” that are able to respond to behaviors and win satisfaction while responding to the underlying motivation allow a marketer to extend the connection to much deeper emotions. What we saw in the Shopping study were strong drives to bond with their community, being treated as a valued customer or a desire to celebrate finding just the right item by staging the experience around what’s most important to the customer. And that’s where brand building needs to be.

Q: OK, this is great; now how do we do this with our customers or in our market?

A: The applications of the findings are far reaching and can be applied in either small or major strategic steps.

On the surface, an understanding of the segments can be used to create “personas” to mark the dividing points for a series of experience designs, product presentations, loyalty programs or promotions.

For instance, we observed that segments live in two general areas:

  • Those wanting to win in the shopping activity — hunters.
  • Those wanting to emerge from the shopping experience with the product that best meets their needs — gatherers.

Depending on the marketing objective, the segment definitions, which live on either side of this continuum, will provide insights on the style, tone and presentation of these offers. The other continuum is “need” and “self-image”:

  • Those need-driven shoppers want simplification in the buying process and assurance that the product meets all standard expectations.
  • Our shopper hoping to return with a reflection of their self-image wants detail, choices and guidance.

By just understanding the differences of these groups of shoppers, a marketer is able to link message, offer and experience in powerful ways. A marketer can go directly to the decision drivers of an appropriate segment.

The most powerful application of the findings is to create a platform that identifies a customer as one of the six “Shopper” segments in the domain and develop segment-specific relationships.

By quantifying the proliferation of segments within their category and brand, a marketer is able to develop strategies to appeal across the board or see an opportunity to embrace those valuable audiences able to satisfy sales volumes/margins, extend brand loyalty and evangelize an approach to satisfying shoppers like no one else in their business.

“The Domain of Shopping: A Motivational Segmentation for Adaptive Experience Design” is available to ICX Association members as a free download here, and for purchase to non-members here. To explore conducting a similar study for your brand, contact ICX Association Managing Director Christopher Hall at

Image courtesy of iStock.

Christopher Hall

Christopher Hall is the Managing Director of the ICX Association. As the former editor of both and, he brings years of experience as a reporter and analyst of the interactive technology space to bear in his role as he works to move the interactive customer experience technology sector forward.

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