Customer mindsets: a powerful tool for retailers

Customer mindsets

When a customer rocks up to your store ready to spend, we can think of what they’re aiming to do as a ‘shopper mission’. Customers don’t think of what they’re doing in these terms, but it’s useful for retailers to group together customers according to certain aspects of what they’re trying to achieve.

The choices customers make are driven by the mission they’re on, but also by their needs, moods, emotions, attitudes, biases, habits and circumstances. Recognising and meeting these customer ‘mindsets’ is one of the most powerful tools a retailer has for understanding and influencing customer behaviour. Customer mindsets feed into everything in retail, from store formats and staff training to logistics and price point.

What is a mindset

A mindset is the nebulous state of a customer’s mind. It is influenced by long-term factors such as background, upbringing, political views and education, and short-term factors like current mood, needs and circumstances. Mindsets are complex, but it’s possible to group them into broad categories to help you understand why customers act the way they do.

The mindset a customer is in will influence how they react to the frictions and rewards they encounter when they shop. Two customers might be on the same shopper mission, but their contrasting mindsets cause them to carry out that mission differently. That difference might be in what they spend, or where they go to spend it. Here are a couple of examples. 

The shopper mission is Buy something for lunch. Two customers on this same mission are in two different mindsets. One customer is time-poor and value focused. The other is time-rich and health focused. Where does each person decide to buy their lunch? Boots? Planet Organic? Subway? Tossed?

Understanding and meeting specific mindsets can help retailers market to customers (the Boots ‘Meal Deal’ signage is doing just that), and influences store design (like the Tossed digital salad bar), product offering, branding and staff training.

Another shopper mission: Buy a coffee machine. One customer is lifestyle focused, interested in authentic coffee and highly aware of trends and fashion. Another customer is price focused and loves ease and speed in their morning routine. Those two mindsets influence where those people choose to shop, the marketing they respond to and the choices they make. Aligning to meet both those two mindsets should drive content and layout on an ecommerce website to guide each customer to their right purchase result.

Shopper Mission + Mindset

When you’re considering potential customers, you can group broadly similar mindsets together and link them to shopper missions to give insight into what choices a customer will make.

Remember, a shopper mission is what the customer is trying to achieve. A mindset is the need state, moods, emotions, attitudes, biases, habits and circumstances of the shopper at that time. Shopper mission + mindset gives you a clear picture of how a customer will behave. 

Sometimes the shopper mission + mindset is focused and clear, sometimes it’s fuzzy, and sometimes it’s super vague. A customer on a shopper mission to buy a bike lock might be worried about the security of their bike – their mission is focused and their mindset is obvious. A customer wandering around a fashion store to buy ‘something to cheer them up’ is on a vaguer mission, but their mindset still influences the choices they’ll make.

Customer mindset

How understanding mindsets helps your business

When you know the common mindsets your customers are in when they are on a particular shopper mission, you can make adjustments to your business to ensure you cater for them effectively. You might adjust your marketing to appeal to a particular mindset, tinker with your store design or product placement on the shelf to align with another mindset, or consider additional staff training to ensure staff are responding to different mindsets.

When you align well with mindsets, customers choose you more often.

You can make changes to meet mindsets in two ways. You can reduce friction to meet practical and mechanical needs. Or you can boost reward to meet emotional needs.

What you can do right now

This is a useful exercise to start you off thinking about mindsets and how to align with them more effectively. First, make a list of all the potential shopper missions a customer might be on when they shop with you. Now write down the main mindsets a customer might be in when they are on those missions. Group the different shopper missions together with their mindsets.

Organise your list into the following categories. Some mission + mindset combos might appear more than once.

  • Common mission + mindset combos. These are the ones your customers are most often in when they shop with you.
  • Mission + mindset combos you’re best equipped to satisfy. These are the combos you are already good at meeting, or that you could be meeting more effectively with some simple changes.
  • Mission + mindset combos you don’t yet satisfy – the ones that maybe your competitors do.
  • Most commercially useful mission + mindset combos. These are the combos where you have an opportunity to improve your bottom line.

Exploiting commercially useful missions + mindset combos

Commercially useful mission + mindset combos are those which give you an opportunity to increase profit. This could be because the changes required to align your offer with them are cheap – you don’t need much investment to get a return from the customers in this bracket. Or it might be that attracting customers in this combo bracket could lead to profitable sales – products with high margins, or low staffing costs. 

If you can discover a shopper mission + mindset combo that you are currently not meeting and align with it, you can increase profits. If you can find one that no one else is currently meeting, you have a potential sector disruptor on your hands. This is what successful companies like Zoom, Allbirds, Slack, Debop, AirBnB, Lush, Shopify, Snapchat, Discord did to win market share.

So, what adjustments to your friction / reward variables can you make today to meet your customers’ mindsets more effectively?