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Hard-to-please ‘fauxsumers’ pin it and save it but rarely buy it

Many trolleys have been reduced to roaming the countryside in search of work. Patrick Wilkin, CC BY-NC

Ever since there were shops, people have enjoyed window shopping. But a new phenomenon is emerging that takes the habit to the extreme.

If you save things to your Amazon wishlist without ever actually buying them, browse gadgets, clothes and offers online as a pastime or fill your shopping cart without going through with the payment, you may be a fauxsumer.

This “false consumerism”, particularly prevalent among millenials, is the process of discovering products online without purchasing anything. Shopping without having the goal of actually buying.

The rise of fauxsumerism was revealed in a recent study of 1,300 14-to-34-year olds in the US. These millenials, born between 1980 and 2000 are browsers rather than buyers. The report found they create wishlists, both to engage with brands and for fun, with no intention of actually buying. Sometimes they don’t have the money to make the purchase but save the item anyway. There is even the suggestion that these fauxsumers get the same kick out of saving an item as they would if they had bought it.

What started with the Amazon wishlist now plays out across mobile phone apps and social networking sites like Pinterest, where users curate pinboards of items they like as though that were their main goal, rather than actually owning anything on them.

Curating your fantasy buys on Pinterest or Tumblr offers you the thrill of shopping without having to pay anything. This collection and display of products in social media sites has become a way of expressing one’s tastes and projecting a “personal brand”. Entering luxury stores virtually allows you to “roam about” without having the feeling of insecurity that the products being displayed may be out of your reach.

However, the process of fauxmersism is not limited to millennials. The Accenture study of 2013 conducted market research on the shopping behaviours of 6,000 consumers, including 1,707 millenials across eight countries. Although millennials are the first truly connected generation, the study found similarities between the way they shop and the way Baby Boomers (born from 1946-1964) and Generation X (1965-1979) shop. Across all three demographics, 41% said they preferred “showrooming” –- looking at the merchandise in a retail store and then looking for it online to find the lowest price.

Meeting new demands

The fauxsumer certainly poses a challenge for the companies trying to sell goods. If customers get the same thrill out of putting an item on a list as they do from actually spending money on it, there is an obvious consequence.

All is not lost for shops though, they just need to adapt. The Accenture study also found that although millenials value online channels when checking out reviews, ratings and prices, they still prefer to visit bricks-and-mortar stores where they can touch an item, smell it and pick it up.

The findings also challenged the myth that millennials are not loyal customers. In fact, they seek a personalised memorable experience where their purchase or interaction is valued and they expect to receive targeted offers and discounts via email or post in return for their custom. That said, it turns out that they “like” a retailer’s Facebook page more often with the goal of keeping abreast of offers and news than to express an actual attachment to the brand.

Retailers need to convert browsers into buyers and should think smart to make that happen. Bricks-and-mortar retailers should include mobile devices in their in-store experience. They might send real-time promotions to their customers’ phones as they browse or let them pay with their phone. Millennials expect integrated, seamless shopping, be it online or in store.

If shopping has become a source of entertainment for millenials, retailers need to take advantage of that and show customers a good time when they buy.

A bigger problem to solve is how to keep up with social media habits. Technologies like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr are constantly evolving and users are moving around more than ever so retailers need to work out which is the best platform to use if they want to converse with customers, and adapt their strategies accordingly.

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