Melting The Cold Heart of Commerce

For much of the history of retail, customer research has often unearthed community issues and desires which, while many acknowledged had social importance, did little to effect the heart of retail – purchase behaviour. Without an affect on purchase behaviour, the economic rationalists argued there could be little justification for "wasting" shareholders funds supporting the "cause".

We've all seen the research on "Australian Made" and then seen the reality at the cash register. And that's only one example.

However something is changing. Issues once seen as emotional are increasingly affecting purchase behaviour. And when purchase behaviour is affected the cold heart of commerce begins to melt. Environmental and social concerns for example have begun to affect sales. "It doesn't feel right" is increasingly being heard from customers to justify the re-drawing of their shopping lines.

Why is this happening?

There are two critical drivers. The first is that needs shopping is well catered for and commoditising rapidly leaving wants shopping as the critical area of growth. And the second is that many of these issues are physically affecting or touching customers not at a distance, but up close and personal. Their perception of their world is changing because they are seeing and feeling what they perceive as evidence or proof – first hand.

What it means is that – where once we could pay lip service to or even ignore emotional, environmental and social issues – we must now focus in on what is affecting customer purchase behaviour and be seen to be doing something positive about it not just making warm noises. Bono's RED initiative is just one example. Westpac's ethical bank stance is yet another.

Finding the issues that mean something to your customer and directly affect their purchase behaviour is a new priority for retail businesses in the 21st century. Not all, but many issues have a direct correlation today between whether the customer wants to support a retailer or retail brand or not.

And as the world increasingly moves toward the commoditisation of needs in favour of the aspirational immersion in wants, the emotional magnetism of the business is becoming an increasingly important attribute. An attribute based not only on relevance but empathy and leadership.

Just ask yourself this question – can your customer feel a warm and passionate heart to your business or do they sense the cold hand of exploitation?