Ivy Leaf - Fall 2004

Born to Shop


When you were at the mall—last month, last week, or perhaps even yesterday—picking up a new shirt or the latest toy for your child, did you put much thought into your shopping experience? If you're like most shoppers, you went into the store knowing what you were going to buy, made your purchase, and left without thinking too much about why you bought what you did.

Tulay Girard, however, isn't like most shoppers.

As an assistant professor of marketing at Penn State Altoona who studies the preferences of shoppers, Girard puts much more thought into the experience of shopping than do most of us.

"I study how others shop, but I'm also a shopper and like observing my own shopping preferences," Girard says. "When I shop, I always have some kind of opinion about either the attributes of the retailer, or about my own risk perceptions. Now that I can analyze the consumer in general, I can analyze myself as the consumer specifically."

By looking at their shopping preferences, Girard can determine a wide variety of factors that are important to shoppers. That information, in turn, can prove valuable to retailers by helping them learn more about the consumers who purchase their products. The retailer will be better able to understand customers' risk perceptions about certain types of products and learn what attributes the consumer values most.

Girard's research suggests that shoppers love to shop, no matter how or where they're doing it.

Risky Business

While you probably didn't realize that you take a risk each time you visit your favorite stores, Girard explains that we do.

"We all have some kind of perceived risk in making a purchase; that's inherent in the purchasing process."

Such risk is based on many different factors, including what information we have on the product and whether or not we've used the product or brand before.

"For someone who hasn't used a particular product before – for example a flat-screen TV or HDTV – it's expensive and carries a significant amount of risk in purchasing," Girard says. "Of course there's the financial risk inherent in the purchase. But there may also be a time risk. If the buyer needs to spend more time reading or researching the product, in order to feel comfortable making the purchase, they must factor this in when deciding whether to move forward with the purchase."

And still more risks exist.

"Buyers may also have a social risk to contend with," Girard notes. "If they buy a cheaper product, what will their friends think? And there's a psychological risk. If it breaks down, what kind of stress will they be experiencing? If it's an expensive product, can they afford it? Everyone is different and everyone has different types of risk perceptions when making a purchase, unless they are purchasing the same brand that they are pleased with every time." In that case, the risk declines the more frequently the product is purchased.

Cultural Differences

Besides studying the risks of shopping and purchasing behavior in general, Girard also looks at the differences in shopping and buying behavior among different cultures in her teaching – a task with which she has first-hand experience. "Being from Turkey, I try to give insights to my students as to how people in a different culture may shop, think, and consider what's important."

One major difference she has noticed between the Turkish culture in which she grew up and her new American culture was brought to her attention on a recent shopping trip with her husband.

"My husband is an American, but is familiar with my culture because I've been telling him how we shop in Turkey – we negotiate price for most purchases. One thing he's noticed about me since we met thirteen years ago is that I no longer negotiate when I'm purchasing new – and expensive — items. He says that I've become too Americanized."

Online Shopping

There's also a whole new type of buying behavior with the advent of technology – Internet shopping. Girard has begun studying consumers' online shopping preferences, in comparison with store-based shopping. And her findings have surprised her. For example, she did not expect to find that people who consider themselves 'recreational' shoppers also enjoy shopping online.

'Recreational' shoppers are those people who enjoy the experience and use it as a means of improving their mood. Girard expected that online shoppers used Internet buying solely for the convenience. But she has found that there is also a recreational, enjoyable component for them. In sum, shoppers love to shop, no matter how or where they're doing it.