Pregnant mothers – the holy grail of retail

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Retailers try many tactics, some obvious and others devious, to take advantage of our buying habits and maximize how much we purchase. They also use purchase data and buyer demographics to identify their most valuable customers, and make them purchase more. Nothing surprising there. But what’s interesting is that across retailers, one customer archetype is consistently the most valuable – pregnant and new mothers.

I recently read The Power of Habit, which outlines the process by which we form habits and explains how we can modify them or create new, more constructive habits. It’s a fascinating and insightful read, and I’m going to try changing some of my habits using this framework (no more candy for me!).  But this post is not about the habit process (read the book, lazy people!). The book had a very interesting chapter on retail habits, and how retailers take advantage of them.

Some of these retailers’ tactics are pretty obvious – think of how you have to walk all the way across the mall in search of a staircase. Studies have found that over 50% of your purchases are impulse buys – and this is if you made a list beforehand! So, making you walk across the mall, seeing more products than you would otherwise, will make you purchase more. Slightly more devious is how supermarkets keep fruits and vegetables right near the entrance. If we stock up on healthy stuff right at the start of a shopping trip, we feel great about ourselves and are much more likely to stock up on chocolates, biscuits, chips, ice creams, etc. when we encounter them later. There are many more such tactics employed by retailers to take advantage of our habits – you can see a few more here.

These habits – buying what we see, weakening after buying healthy products, etc. – are ingrained, as are our choices for where we buy specific products. Tactics to take advantage of these habits are now table stakes. But where retailers can make the most impact is when habits change. And even ingrained habits change – typically during some major life change or emotional upheaval.

For example, when people get married, they’re more likely to start buying a new brand of coffee. When they get divorced, there’s a higher chance of them trying different kinds of beer (and of course, more beer). And what’s the most major life change there is? No prizes for guessing (especially since I let the cat out of the bag in the title) – it’s the birth of a child.

Given the sea change in lifestyle that occurs with the birth of a child, new or expecting parents are particularly flexible to changing their buying behavior – more than any other consumer segment. As a result, they are a gold mine for retailers.

  1. They buy a lot of new products – diapers, wipes, cribs, prams, blankets, bottles, etc. – that they haven’t bought before. Surveys in the US have shown that new parents can easily spend over $10,000 on baby items before their child’s first birthday!
  2. They’re less price sensitive: New parents are highly price insensitive; they’re less likely to cringe at high prices. When you’re heavily deprived of time and sleep, you want to make quick decisions on baby purchases – you’re going to buy a lot of them! Therefore, retailers always manage to sell such products at a hefty profit.
  3. They prefer buying everything in one place: Being sleep-deprived also means that you value ease and convenience over anything else. Therefore, new parents tend to buy everything they need in one place. If they come to a particular store to buy diapers, they’re more likely to buy juices, snacks, groceries, clothes, etc. there as well.
  4. And given that these new habits will also quickly get ingrained, they will remain loyal and valuable customers for years (till their next child, at least).

Given these factors, new mothers are the most valuable customer segment there is. Getting one into your store to buy just diapers today can have significant revenue and profit impact for years to come. Retailers, therefore, try a lot of different tactics to catch these customers in time. It’s easy to find new mothers – just go to a maternity hospital! The book talks about how P&G, Disney, and others have giveaways for new mothers at hospitals.

But if everyone is targeting new mothers, you need to target them even earlier to capture them – when the woman is pregnant. As a retailer, one can mine purchase data for different customers to know what people who are buying diapers today were buying six months earlier. Using these correlations, one can then start tracking families where the wife is pregnant, in real time. Of course, finding out that you know this can creep families out quite a bit. It can also lead to very sticky situations, like this one!


This is just one interesting tidbit from an excellent book. Do give it a read. Would love your feedback on this post – do comment here / email me at gt.jithamithra@gmail.com / tweet to @jithamithra. And yes, subscribe – I write about startups, books, consumer behavior, etc. once a week, and I promise not to spam you.

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