All Shoppers Do Research – Even The Impulsive Ones

By Clayton Southerly, Alter Agents

The nature of shopping is ever-changing. Sure, we can rely on some consistency over time, like price sensitivity or seasonality. But the way in which people go about their shopping on a fundamental level exists in an ongoing state of disruption. We’ve all learned what that feels like over the past year or so, so it should be easy enough to understand: when the situation is always evolving, we have to roll with the punches. As marketers and advertisers, that’s what ongoing shifts in shopper behavior demand of us.

At Alter Agents, we’ve just finished fielding a national survey into shopper behavior. Our research spans 6,000 recent purchasers who made purchases in six product and service categories, including self-improvement subscriptions, home fitness equipment, furniture, and a few CPG products. The data gave us some fantastic insight into how people are going about their shopping after a difficult year and as the country begins to emerge from pandemic-fueled economic restrictions. Our overall conclusion: shoppers always want more information in more places, and advertisers need to rush to keep up.

Shoppers are Hungry for Information

First, consider this: 76 percent of all shoppers say that they want to be “as informed as possible” when making a purchase decision. The lengths they might go to for information will vary depending on what the purchase means to them. Overall, shoppers overwhelmingly feel as though they want to know as much as they can about your offering and how it compares with other options. And we see that investment reflected in the number of sources shoppers will consult in order to be that informed – the average shopper for packaged coffee at the grocery store consulted twelve sources in learning about their options before making a decision!


Next, consider where shoppers are going to find that information. Three in five told us that they “always” research an item online before purchasing it. That makes total sense, and the figure will increase as more digital natives age and become primary shopping decision-makers. But we also collected data on more than 50 specific potential sources of information for shoppers, and we found that they just go everywhere. From search engines to end caps, TikTok to signs outside the store, only one source was considered by fewer than a fifth of shoppers: Tumblr.

And omnichannel shopping is taking over. We found that 62 percent of shoppers will research a product on their smartphones while they’re standing in the store. Was it the shelf display that finally sold them on your cookies, or was it an online review? The answer is probably both, so you need to include both in your advertising.

Even Impulse Purchases Are Considered

There may be some products that rely on impulse buying. All those items stacked in the checkout lane at a grocery store, or special displays designed to catch a shopper’s eye. Impulse buying is real – let’s be clear about that. But shoppers that describe themselves as impulsive are also self-aware enough to know that they don’t always act that way. We found that 64% of impulsive shoppers consider their purchases to be planned. It sounds incongruent, but it raises an important question: if I rely on impulse buyers, can I be sure that they’re always in their impulse-buying mode? The answer is no – these shoppers do research and their information needs must be met.

Our source usage statistics bear that out. There’s very little difference between the average number of sources used by shoppers who often do so spontaneously (they use an average of 17 sources across all shopping) and shoppers who say they carefully consider their purchases (with an average of 19 sources used). Advertisers need to act like every purchase is researched, because most are. And that means being sure that information about your product or service is readily available on multiple channels.

So where does that leave brands and their advertisers? They sit in a position where their shoppers want more information in more places to feed a continuously changing shopping method. And because budgets are never unlimited, they need to understand exactly who their customers are, where they go for their information, and where they shop.

Author bio:

Clayton Southerly is the Marketing Communications Manager at Alter Agents (, a boutique market research consultancy based in Los Angeles. He asks the big questions, using custom research and executive-level information products to build brands better. He loves fostering relationships, and his empathic approach helps him make these partnerships stronger. When he’s not driving comms strategy and building content, Clayton enjoys sitting on the beach, food, and traveling.