The Hedonic vs. Utilitarian shopper.


Several years ago back in the 90’s…okay so maybe not several…anyway, I was in college and I happened to take a course called Advertising on the Internet.  Interestingly enough, depending on who you talk to, the Internet at that time was only 2-4 years old and in it’s infancy.

I pulled out the old textbook from this class and browsed through it with a chuckle.  A lot of terms, numbers, methods and even strategy has changed or evolved in the last 15 years when it come to advertising.  Heck back then things like Google, Facebook, Twitter or any social networking sites didn’t even exist!  The top search engine advertiser was Netscape, which by today’s standards, drew in a “meager” $27,704.80 in ad revenue.  Today, sites make millions of dollars in ad revenue.  Facebook alone raked in $1.86 billion in 2010!

In 1996, the top web ad spender was Microsoft, who spent $13,002.20.  You can’t even imagine what advertisers are spending today.  Around 2000, during my time in San Francisco, I remember buying online ads for some of my company’s product line with $20,000 which could sustain me with a campaign for at least 6-9 months!  Depending on what type of pricing model you’ve subscribed to you could easily blow that $20,000 off in a week especially now that the lines have blurred between traditional online advertising and integrated campaigns utilizing other mediums.

Much has changed with the internet over the years.  But one thing that I can take away from this class that remains constant is the difference between Hedonic and Utlitarian shoppers.

A hedonic shopper is an individual that falls into one of several categories:  Adventure, social, gratification, idea, role and value.  Think of the time you just aced your art history class in college and felt the need to go shopping for new clothes “just cause.”

A utilitarian shopper is the efficient individual shopper who knows what they want and they want to spend the least amount of aggravation or hassle in the shopping process.  This however does not by any means eliminate any element of fun or entertainment for the shopper.  Let’s say for example you want a PS3.  You know what you want.  You search online as well as discount retailers because you want to compare pricing.  Once you’ve found the best price you go ahead and purchase the PS3. You ignore all other game consoles because you had the PS3 in mind all along.

With the rise of internet traffic, e-commerce and advertising…the shopping process for hedonic and utilitarian shoppers has evolved from their earliest “brick and mortar” form to a mixture of these establishments as well as online retailers.  These online retailers diversify their product offerings and even their site structure for the “ease of shop” process to accommodate consumer needs and wants.

Amazon is a good example of a retailer who has diversified itself to accommodate both the utilitarian and the hedonic shoppers.  No longer are they there just for books (utilitarian).  You can pretty much get anything from that website (hedonic).

Although it would seem that a hedonic shopper shops more and spends more, recent studies have shown that it’s actually the utilitarian online shopper who has the lower “shopping cart” abandon rate and the one more than likely to complete the shopping process.   It’s almost like saying do you go for the quality shoppers or the quantity shoppers?  Regardless of the case, it’s important for online retailers to recognize this shift in shopping habits so they can understand today’s consumer and plan accordingly on their approach to appease them.

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