Thursday, April 4, 2013

Some personal consumer preferences

Some recent shopping trips have made me think about what I prefer as a consumer. Here are some of my thoughts and preferences.

I like being treated as an intelligent person capable of making her own decisions. If I don't want something, the sales policy known as "overcoming resistance" is unlikely to make me change my mind, and, in fact, is more likely to create further resistance. When someone is trying to sell me something over the phone and I say no the third time and they continue trying, I just hang up. If it's in person, I just continue saying no, or sometimes just tell them to stop trying.

I have found that I'm closer to the "planner" end of the spectrum than to the "spontaneous" end. I often have a list, sometimes written, other times in my head, of what I need to buy, sometimes very specific, other times just a general idea of the sort of thing I need. Of course, I sometimes do buy things spontaneously, but I don't particularly like the feeling of going shopping without any idea of what I will be getting.

In terms of the shopping experience, I prefer shops to be uncrowded and relatively quiet. I have refused to enter, or quickly left, fashion shops where loud and unpleasant (to me) music was playing. I am quite independent and prefer to make my own choices, so shop staff who keep asking if they can help me can be really irritating. On the other hand, it those cases when I do need help, it can be annoying not to find any staff member available.

Among the various types of bargains and discounts, the best is always a reduced product price. To find that something I intended to buy costs less than before feels like a success. When products are offered in 1+1 or buy-one get-one-free deals, this is also worthwhile, unless they are food products with short expiry dates, or things that are used very rarely. Once it gets to 2+1 or buy-two get-the-third-free, this seems less worthwhile.

Some shops have offers where you spend a certain amount and get another amount free. This is only worth it if I already intended to buy enough products to reach the qualifying amount. In some cases I know that it would be difficult to find sufficient products to reach that amount, so I don't bother. In general, when a discount or offer has too many conditions and "strings attached", it becomes less attractive.

I also find it less worthwhile to receive a voucher for use in future shopping in the same shop, especially if this voucher can only be used between specific dates. I don't find myself compelled to use such vouchers unless I was intending to shop there in any case.

I sometimes cut out or print out coupons, or use coupons that chains send me. However, if I can't find the product offered or if I don't manage to get to the shop before the coupon expires, I don't feel worried about having missed out.

I have mixed feelings about chains offering membership or loyalty cards. I would only bother with such cards in places where I shop frequently. I prefer them not to be credit cards, and don't understand the expectation that people should carry many different credit cards for the various chains where they shop. If membership cards give regular discounts on products I buy and other benefits, such as accumulating points that can be used for future purchases, they might be worthwhile.

One card that was offered me this week, in a shop I rarely visit, offered points amounting to half the value of my purchase that could be used for a discount of that value on purchases during the following month. Since I don't buy there every month, I declined. Even when membership is free, if the conditions are too rigid or if I don't shop there often it just doesn't appeal to me.

I am also conscious that these membership cards can track my purchases and create a consumer profile, even knowing which branch I visited each time. I am not too worried by this, since my purchases are probably very standard and boring. People valuing privacy would do best to pay in cash and not use membership cards.

As for online shopping, I have for many years bought books online, and to a lesser degree CDs and DVDs, and more recently digital downloads. I sometimes also buy software and computer-related items online, and in some cases I have booked holidays online. I have bought a few items of clothing online, though it is difficult to get the size right without trying things on. I have yet to try the online supermarkets that are becoming increasingly popular, and so far haven't tried bidding on eBay, for example. I may become more adventurous about online shopping in the future.

Another use of online shops is searching for items online and then buying them in the physical shops. I sometimes compare prices online before deciding where to buy something, and I also look at product catalogues of shops I intend to visit, to get an idea in advance of what I would be most interested in finding and perhaps buying.

Looking back over the various preferences I have mentioned, I think I come across as quite a conscious consumer, aware of how shops seek to manipulate their customers. I prefer to maintain control of my own decisions, and expect to be treated with respect. Perhaps I lack some of the spontaneity that some shoppers enjoy, but I don't think this is something I miss.

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