Friday, 26 March 2010

How knowledgeable are shoppers about what they are buying?


Assignment 4

How knowledgeable are shoppers about what they are buying?

Taking this question and expanding on it led me to realise that it related a lot to my previous semester work; thinking about where they got there knowledge seemed to be the most important because not only was it knowledge, it was also influence. If you received advice or information from an advertisement then you are really being influenced by that advertisement. It works the same way with friends they suggest something, share their knowledge and in turn are influencing you in your choice. After mind mapping and brainstorming I wanted to focus primarily on the source of the knowledge shoppers obtained. In doing this it would allow me ‘rate’ how knowledgeable a shopper is from their source, however depending on a shopper’s opinion of a source means that what some may class as a valuable informer could be inadequate to someone else. By selecting a different variation of interviewees I would be able to study these diverse opinions to help answer the initial question.

Mind mapping allowed me to broaden my mind and think of different sources of knowledge that a shopper would have access too. Peers, advertising and staff seemed to be the most obvious, so I thought it only evident that I interviewed a sales adviser, a primary source of knowledge. Peers being friends, partners even enemies must heavily influence people with their knowledge of what’s good or not, but some people are affected more than others. I wanted to investigate this factor further by interviewing a couple to get the male and female perspective of whether they know more than their better half. Finally I wanted to interview someone who classed themselves as a shopaholic and someone who didn’t allowing me to compare their knowledge of shopping, ironically enough the shopaholic was female.

The sales adviser I interviewed worked in a well known clothing shop, so this interview not only covered the knowledge of consumers but also the taste of consumers. The knowledge was taste, what was in or not and who decided this, it related a lot to the lecture we had on the matter of taste. I believed that a lot of people obtained their knowledge of taste from the staff in shops and wanted to investigate this further. I didn’t want the subject to feel like they were interviewing for another job, I wanted their honest opinion, however starting off with the interview I did find this hard to achieve. Perhaps my question was too rigid and didn’t allow the subject to feel at ease so I introduced a visual question. Showing the sales adviser a number of pictures of well known celebrities and asking her to pick out the celebrity she thought was the most fashionable, I then asked her why she thought that, hoping that I would get a lead on where she learned that knowledge. Explaining that it was Pixie Lott because she wore the ‘in’ style at the moment and it was a style that she herself would wear. She told me that she had seen this particular picture of Pixie Lott in a magazine before where it had been talking about the best dressed celebrities, from her answer it was fair to assume that she based her knowledge on the magazine article. Hopefully after that question she felt more relaxed and the questions next did not seem as tense.

I then wanted to learn about her process of advice, how the customers obtained her knowledge, I asked her to tell me about the last sale that involved a customer asking for her advice. She explained that the customer required shoes to go with a dress she had purchased recently, this told me that the customer may have approached her due to the customer’s lack of knowledge and the assumption that the sales advisers would have that information needed. She filled me in with the process she took with the customer, showing her variations of shoes that she believed would be appropriate for the dress, suggestion alternative styles and colours, showing the customers examples of the same outfit in the store to validate her opinion and also suggesting added accessories that went with the outfit. This showed how willing the sales adviser was to share her knowledge with the customer not only did she share the required information but she offered additional advice; perhaps this was a sales tactic to guarantee the sale. I then followed up a question of how the customer reacted to such advice, whether she took it or not. I found out that the customer asked for the opinion of the sales adviser between two of the shoes she had seen and in the end the sales adviser technically made the choice for the customer who happily bought the pair the sales adviser had picked.

This made me think that staff knowledge seemed to be ranked pretty high with the customers allowing me to assume the buyers tend to get a lot of their knowledge from the staff that they buy things from. However this does not also suggest that they have more knowledge than those who don’t ask for advice, so I though I should ask what type of people tend to ask for your advice and who don’t. I got a shaky result but none the less there was evidence that a lot of the time people who (in the opinion of the sales adviser) look like they are wearing the most fashionable outfit don’t tend to approach them, assuming that they already have the knowledge needed to obtain a fashionable outfit. I asked her to describe what the women looked like from the previous question and I got a very descriptive answer as I found out in a previous lecture that females do tend to be more expressive when answering questions. She pointed out that the women wasn’t particularly up-to-date with her current outfit, she got the impression that she didn’t really know what suited her but none the less still managed to put together something that wasn’t hideous. So it wasn’t that those who asked for advice were clueless but it was more that they need that extra knowledge to complete their outfit.

These previous questions allowed me to target where the customers got their knowledge but not where the sales adviser got hers so I ask her; where is it that you find out what is good or not, what is in or isn’t? I first got a professional answer stating that her knowledge came from the managers who told her that this was fashion, that there was a certain zone in the shop that was known as zone A, the new in style high street fashion section, I assumed that this was the knowledge that she based her advice on when speaking to the customers. So I then asked out with her job what else helped her in advising the customers. Magazines then became apparent, advertisement, but also other clothes shops, what she seen in them classed as a source of knowledge for her. So it seemed that even though her knowledge was sought after by customers it was not necessarily ‘her’ knowledge but decided by her managers, by advertisement, and then by those who decided this for the managers.

When interviewing the couple separately I again referred to pictures in the first question to allow them to feel at ease. I instantly found evidence that a lot of the reasons why the man bought the products were because his wife told him so. So he therefore got a lot of his knowledge from his wife. Asking them to choose which of the following items they would buy ahead of the others allowed me to compare there answers against each other and also to find out why they would choose such item. Like I mentioned before the husband’s reason was that his wife had told him to always get this product (when referencing to the non-bio washing powder) yet his wife went into a lot more detail of why she had choose this product; it had been recommended by someone she knew, in particular her mother, she had to learn to trust the brand, and also she bought it out of a successful experience from her previous use of it.

It became apparent that recommendations were held in high regard when it came to knowledge of what the couple was buying. The wife told me of how she bought the dog Pedigree Chum not just because the dog likes it but because it came recommended by the top breeders. Also a colleague recommended a recipe with certain ingredients she had never used before she then took it on board and cooked it not long after. The husband pointed out that if he was unsure of what product to buy then he would ask for a recommendation from a friend of family member before approaching a retailer.

Experience of the product also seemed to play a big part in the knowledge the buyer had of it; it seemed apparent that the couple both relied on its success rate the first time using it. It would give them the knowledge they needed about how good the product was and reinsure them that the product would perform the same time and time again. They both claimed that this was the reason why they bought the same brands each time needed the product.

When trying to find out what influenced them in their decisions to buy certain product I managed to get what seemed to be an honest answer from my questions. The husband instantly said his wife (with a ‘isn’t it obvious’ smile) and the wife to also claimed that her family, the children mostly, were the drive behind the reasons for a lot of her purchases. It was similar to the case with the sales adviser how she got her knowledge from the managers but the managers had to get their information from someone, so who did the children get there information from? I asked the husband about the last well known brand he bought and by chance it was a pair of Nike trainers for his son; he didn’t make the choice of the brand it was his son’s choice. I asked him why his son wanted and how his son found out about the trainers to try and determine where his son was getting the information from - it had to go with his full Nike outfit! It was simple advertised on his son’s sporting heroes that told him this, so to his son that meant to be like his hero he must wear Nike, therefore advertisement was the source of his son’s knowledge in the product. The husband also told me of how he seen an Air Flow fishing fly line in a respected fishing magazine the ad was so convincing (as he had never tried the product before) that he bought the fishing line from the knowledge he had gained from the article.

Advertisement seemed to influence their decisions as well however bad advertisement was just as strong. If the packaging didn’t look as good as the leading brands then to them it meant it was low quality. When asking them about which chocolate brand they were most likely not to buy both husband and wife stated that in would be the Asda Smartprice because of these reasons. They were reading the aesthetics of the product as knowledge of the product- it didn’t look good so it would be good. Over all both of them were getting their knowledge from recommendations, advertisements and experience, however whether that information was good or not was based on how the product performed once they had tried it out.

I then interviewed two people, one claiming to be a shopaholic and the other a non-shopaholic. Again starting the interview with a visual question regarding who they considered to be a fashionable celebrity allowing them to feel at ease. Out of the shown celebrities they both classed Cheryl Cole to be the ‘most fashionable’ however the non-shopaholic (who happened to be male) found it harder to make his decision. They both gained this knowledge of ‘fashionable’ from magazines and T.V, however claimed that it was also ‘their sort of style’ and a matter of taste had to be considered. Compared to the couple, when asking these subjects about what their latest purchase of a named brand was, they talked more about clothes rather than shopping items. This may have been down to the pictures that I showed them at the begin of the interview – fashion against household items – and also that the non-shopaholic was between 18-24 and the shopaholic relates herself to clothes as that is her weakness in purchasing.

They both told me about items they had bought for themselves and although claiming to be different people were answering the questions similarly. Each found themselves finding items they liked in advertisements on TV and magazines, also having high regard for recommendation from people they knew and again experience was a main factor that built their knowledge up about the products they bought.

The difference between the two was that the shopaholic was more susceptible to the aesthetics of the products; she read the look of the product as a description of the product’s quality. If it looked appealing then she would get positive knowledge from the visual image that it would perform well. Compared to the non-shopaholic, she also never wrote herself a list before going shopping always allowing herself to obtain knowledge from the advertisements, promotions, and shop displays and perhaps not always acquiring the right information.

Investigating the source of people’s knowledge allowed me in this assignment to process how reliable he information is about the products we buy. It is fair to assume from the evidence that recommendations are classed as a reliable source of knowledge; people must be trusting in order to believe in a product without having tried it first. There is only so much that a salesman or women can tell a potential consumer and many people do not always class their opinion in the highest degree. However in the case of the sales adviser their opinion mattered a lot to the customer, their expertise were valued in the decision making factor and a customer would feel more knowledgeable after the sale. The problem with recommendations is that the source of the information is not always obvious; who told that person about the product and that person before? That is were the experience of the product seems to be the most reliable, it’s the primary source that allows the consumer honest feedback from there own use of the product, they can base their judgment on the success of the product. Wherever the knowledge is obtained there is still the issue of how good that knowledge is, whether one shopper is more knowledgeable than the other. Nevertheless it is all based on taste, what’s one man’s lose is another man’s gain.

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