What does it take for stores to satisfy their pickiest customers?
New university research finds hard-to-please, or “picky”, customers demonstrating shopping tendencies beyond just looking for the “best” option.
Previous research has found that about 40 percent of people say they have family or friends they would consider picky, suggesting the trait is common, according to a press release promoting the new findings. Not much research, however, has been done when it comes to defining pickiness or investigating how it influences customer behavior.
“In marketing, we call customers who want the absolute best version of a product ‘maximizers,’” said Margaret Meloy, department chair and professor of marketing at Penn State. “But with picky customers, the best is more idiosyncratic. For them, it might not be about getting the best quality, but getting the precise version of a product they have in their head — a shirt in a very precise shade of black, for example. We wanted to explore this a bit more.”
The Penn State researchers conducted a series of studies to create a scale for measuring shopper pickiness. They undertook additional studies to examine the possible consequences of pickiness.
People who scored higher on the picky shopper scale tended to have a small window of what they consider acceptable, which the researchers described as “having a small latitude of acceptance and a wide latitude for rejection.” Pickiness was also found to be a “general personality trait,” i.e., individuals fussy when shopping for clothes were similarly so when shopping for groceries.
Among the suggestions for retailers, robust promotional strategies, like a free gift with purchase, faced a high risk of failure with picky shoppers. The psychological cost of taking possession of freebies was found to be a source of irritation for picky shoppers.
Promoting products by saying how popular they are with other people also likely won’t resonate with picky customers since they do not tend to change their opinions based on an item’s popularity. Customization, however, was found to potentially offer appeal since picky shoppers can align the products to satisfy their idiosyncratic preferences.
“If a company knows they have a lot of picky customers, they may need to change the way they reward salespeople or dedicate specific salespeople to their pickiest customers,” said Prof. Meloy.
- The science of picky shoppers – Penn State University
- Identifying Picky Shoppers: Who They Are and How to Spot Them – Penn State University
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What advice would you have for sales associates dealing with picky customers? What typical sales approaches tend to fall flat with such customers?