OPINION: Marketing Society - A shopping bag says more than an address can

Birds of a feather no longer flock together. Today they shop together instead. A recent story in Marketing (October 2) reported that Tesco, the country's biggest retailer, has been using its Clubcard shopping data to go much further than the traditional postcode-driven, census-based models of customer targeting typically allow.

Tesco's well-founded and more real-time data-driven model reportedly proves that these days 'you are what you buy' and our shopping habits now say more about us than where we choose to live.

At this year's Marketing Society Retail Forum, which MasterCard sponsored, there was debate on how much effort is being made (or not as the case may be) to appeal to, and cater for, the increasingly large numbers of older consumers we have in the UK. This is part of the shifting centre of gravity that we, like other countries in Europe, are experiencing in our demographic make-up.

Luke Mayhew, from John Lewis, said demographics are perhaps less important in this digital age than behavioural attitudes in determining consumer tastes, spending habits and consequent servicing requirements. So when it comes to being a young thruster or a grumpy old man, the answer is that you are, and act, as young as you feel.

Sara Weller, from Sainsbury's, asserted in this column on October 2 that, from a different perspective, today's consumers realise that 'you are what you eat'. While likely to be true in a strict causal sense, it is also true that one's eating habits and dietary requirements offer some pointers to the type of person you are as well.

So what are we? MasterCard has recently conducted data analysis to explore patterns in cardholder spend. The objective was to understand better what differences exist in buying habits of consumers, across standard, gold, platinum and emerging top-end 'black' card portfolios, and to establish what forms of segmentation might be employed by our banks in developing promotions that continue to drive spend away from cash and cheque in a crowded and competitive marketplace.

Our conclusion is that real understanding of consumer behaviour comes from getting behind the till-roll data. And, if possible, getting into the minds of the consumer. Research into consumer's values and attitudes may be a productive avenue to explore. Central to this type of approach is that peoples' values, built up and reinforced since birth, become a sort of personal behaviour guide that we go to subconsciously when presented with any particular event or environment.

So how can marketers use this? The thinking is that people who hold similar values tend to behave in a cohesive and predictive manner.

So if, with the right data protection agreements and arrangements in place, we can couple transactional level data analysis with a values-based segmentation approach, this can be an important driver for competitive strategy and a very powerful targeting tool. Because you know where your customer lives and you don't just understand what a customer buys, you understand why they buy it as well.

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