Global Power 2015


On the couch 

Understanding consumer shopping behavior

What makes retail consumers prefer one venue over another? How does increased access to information influence shopping and spending choices? Three Rs—research, recommendations, and returns—may hold the key to understanding consumers.

The chasm between online retail and its brick-and-mortar counterpart is expanding, and people’s shopping preferences are evolving in turn. For storefronts, traffic and sales are declining, leaving retailers with little choice but to adapt to an interconnected world and to their customers’ shifting expectations of the shopping experience. A great deal of research focuses on how consumers shop, but the rationale behind their chosen behaviors remains somewhat underserved. This article bridges that gap by capturing consumers’ decision-making processes—in their own words, from in-depth interviews, and combining these insights with secondary research that adds context, resulting in a closer look into the minds of modern retail consumers.

The shopping journey and its Rs

THREE factors are evolving the shopping process and empowering consumers. Lucky for us, they all begin with the letter R: research, recommendations, and returns.


The proliferation of digital technology is giving consumers access to an unprecedented amount of product information. Not only is more information available, consumers are increasingly accessing this information—and doing their own “homework” before visiting a retailers’ venue to make their purchase. In 2014, a Deloitte study found that digital data influenced 49 percent of consumers before they made an in-store purchase, and analysts expect this proportion to grow to 64 percent in 2015. For some categories, particularly electronics (62 percent) and home furnishings (59 percent), destination shoppers (who have already chosen which product they want to buy from a retailer) are outnumbering traditional information gatherers who browse in stores before deciding what to buy.

Recommendations and reviews

Historically, consumers lost their leverage once they made a purchase. That is no longer the case: Retailer-sponsored content— advertisements, user guides, retailer blogs, etc.—are losing out to user-generated content and reviews as the predominant influencers of purchase decisions. Consumers feel more comfortable searching online and reading expert reviews and user opinions as a first step in gathering initial information about a product or service. As evidence, Deloitte’s Digital Democracy survey reveals that personal recommendations (81 percent), including those from within social-media circles (61 percent), play a major role in purchase decisions.


Returns have become both a normal part of the shopping process and business as usual for retailers, representing a little over 8 percent of retail sales. When it comes to returns, dissatisfaction isn’t the only driver— other factors, such as buyer’s remorse, are consumer driven. Another driver of returns is the fact that consumers don’t always evaluate the product (e.g., trying on the item) prior to purchase.

Research, recommendations and reviews, and returns are toppling traditional shopping and empowering consumers at each phase of the purchase process. Astute retailers, in turn, are creating opportunities to resonate in the hearts and minds of their consumers. Connecting, however, is necessary but insufficient. The interviews in this report capture snapshots of the underlying reasons why consumers choose one retailer over another and how they recall the customer experience.

Understanding consumer shopping behavior
Did you find this useful?