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10 Surprising Facts About Modern Consumers

Kimberly Palmer
10 Surprising Facts About Modern Consumers

Shoppers have changed.

In consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow's new book, "Decoding the New Consumer Mind," she reveals that shoppers are more frantic, narcissistic and empowered than ever before. If those traits sound contradictory, it's only because consumers are trying to navigate a confusing and overwhelming marketplace. Yarrow offers these 10 facts about the modern shopper to help us understand what's going on.

Shoppers don't realize they're being manipulated.

As shoppers, we make mistakes all the time, but the problem is that we usually don't realize those mistakes, Yarrow says. "People are less aware they're being manipulated by bargains or are really susceptible to imagery," she says. We end up spending more than we want because we're so eager to get that discount, even if it's not really a good deal.

We want to feel empowered.

Shoppers today have strong opinions and want to feel like they're heard, Yarrow says. "It makes them feel powerful," she adds. That means retailers succeed when they incorporate customer feedback into products and services. Shoppers like to feel like they're circumventing hierarchies.

We don't like aspirational advertising.

Showcasing luxury and wealth that customers aspired to achieve was once the way to land sales, but it's not anymore, Yarrow explains. That's because customers want to feel like products and advertising reflects them -- not some third party who's more successful than they are. That means more successful ads reflect who shoppers are, not who they might want to be.

We're hard to impress.

In the past, retailers could win by simply presenting a great product and describing how wonderful it is. That no longer stands out to consumers, who are used to those kinds of pitches. "It's so old school to stand there and say, 'Boy, do we have a good product,'" Yarrow says. Instead, retailers have to show consumers that the product was created just for them.

We have trust issues.

"Shoppers don't really trust people in positions of power," Yarrow says. We are always on the lookout for being scammed or taken advantage of, and if a shopper doesn't feel that a price is reasonable, she will walk away from it and the store. Stores need to prove to shoppers that they are offering authentic deals, not fake discounts.

We love other customers' reviews.

"Shoppers today rely more on other people to give them assurance that what they're buying is good. They love ratings and reviews," Yarrow says. That's one reason sites such as Yelp.com, UrbanSpoon.com and Angie's List are so popular, she adds. Retailers can meet that demand by making it easy to read other customers' reviews and reactions. Nordstrom, for example, showcases items that are popular on Pinterest each week.

We have short attention spans.

Blame the constant interruptions of text message and Facebook alerts, but it's hard to keep shoppers' attention. People tend to flit from one activity to the next, always looking for the next big thing. "That has been the major challenge for marketers," Yarrow says. They constantly have to find a way to stand above the noise and get shoppers to notice their products.

We want to recycle.

"Consumers really want to get rid of stuff without feeling guilty," Yarrow says. That means when they make a purchase, whether it's a car or a shirt, they're already thinking about how they'll dispose of it, whether it's by passing it on to someone else or recycling it to avoid waste. That's one reason stores that offer trade-in options have done so well.

We're narcissists.

That might sound harsh, but shoppers want to feel like their products reflect them. That's why crowdsourcing product design and advertising campaigns can be so effective. "It's part of our own increased sense of narcissism. ... It reinforces their sense of power," Yarrow says. Social media can also be a tool to help shoppers feel like they are "talking" to the brand and making an impact.

We're opportunistic.

Forget loyalty; shoppers are happy to grab the best deal wherever they find it, even if it means flouting ethics. Some shoppers are even happy to return items after they've worn them, which retailers equate to stealing. "It feels like it's a good thing to get one over on the retailer rather than something to feel guilty about," Yarrow says.

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