Why Does the Store Ignore the Recommendations that Shoppers Value?

Why, in the physical store, do we consistently ignore one of the biggest influences on the decision path? Let’s talk about recommendations.

There should be little debate as to the importance of recommendations in shopper decision-making.

The past decades of decision science research make clear that shoppers will regularly pursue the least-demanding path to purchase. Opinions from peers and perceived experts (expressed in star-based ratings and reviews) take away much of the cognitive stress that leads to decision doubt – and walk-aways.

Recommendations are a major reason why Amazon is so devastatingly effective as a retailer.

We all know the Amazon list:

  • Quickly-grasped crowd-sourced ratings.
  • Peer reviews.
  • Accessories and go-withs.
  • Other ideas to buy.

McKinsey’s recently published white paper on personalization (https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/what-shoppers-really-want-from-personalized-marketing) tells us that most-desired type of personalization for shoppers is the “relevant recommendations I wouldn’t have thought of myself.”

Case closed?

Not so in brick and mortar retailing.

Three thoughts.

First: We live in a retailing world of ever-expanding assortments and ever-more-complex products.

Recommendations help shoppers cut through the clutter. And behavioral science tells us that shoppers with less cognitive clutter are inevitably happier shoppers.

And happier shoppers return more often than those who are less happy.

Think of your last time in the supermarket wine aisle. Unless you’re a hard-core oenophile (or one of my French colleagues), you no doubt experienced an “I-don’t-know-what-to-do” moment.

If you’re like most folks, you went with one of the first brands you recognized (grasping a cognitive life preserver in a sea of over-abundance) or you selected the most elegant, impressive-looking label (at a price point that would prove to your hosts that you weren’t a cheapskate.)

A happy experience?


Second: We’re limiting ourselves when we define recommendations as primarily ratings and reviews. Or ratings and reviews and go-withs.

Go back to the decision science. Go back to the McKinsey definition. Shoppers seek cognitive ease. They seek solutions. They seek answers to questions.

And they seek inspiration in the form of answers to questions yet unspoken.

For those reasons, and more, we must consider solutions – defined here clearly-delivered information on how to use a product to its optimum value – as a key recommendation capability.

Let’s return to the wine aisle.

It’s never just the wine. A great bottle is a wrong bottle when it’s paired with the wrong entrée.

What does it go with? What’s the best pairing, or at least the pairing that will not expose you as a dim-wit when you host an office dinner party?

In this shopping situation, give me not just the bottle, but the menu.

(And I’d appreciate a few thoughts on the table decorations, too.)

Third: In this era of Darwinian industry evolution (not to mention declining brick and mortar traffic), it’s past time to see this critical decision influence in the store.

Tell me what you think.


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Jon Stine

About Jon Stine

Global Director Retail Sales at Intel. Jon Stine leads Intel’s global sales and strategy for the retail, hospitality, and consumer goods industry sectors. His CV includes leadership of North American retail consulting practice for Cisco Systems, and a prior stint at Intel, where he founded the company’s sales and marketing focus on the retail industry. His perspective on technology’s value in the industry has been shaped by advisory and project engagements in the United States, across the European Union, and in India, Australia, and the People’s Republic of China, and from 15 years of executive sales and marketing experience in the U.S. apparel industry, working with the nation’s leading department and specialty stores. At Intel, his current areas of research and engagement include the future of the store in this new digital age; how and where retailers turn data into competitive advantage; the role of technology within the new cross-channel shopper journey, and, the critical business and IT capabilities that industry success will demand going forward.