Ken Hughes about Online Shopper Behaviour

Short presentation:
We met Ken Hughes at FDIH in Copenhagen, where he presented his Keynote: “The Digital Native Advance: A New Shopper DNA”. We’re sure this is something that interests our readers too and that is why we decided to interview Ken about his Keynote and experience as Europe’s leading Consumer and Shopper Behaviouralist. He blends his vast expertise in consumer psychology, social anthropology, behavioural economics and neuromarketing to answer the question to which he has dedicated most of his career: Why do shoppers buy and how can we make them buy more?
In this interview he explains his view of online shopper behaviour. 

How did you become a “Consumer and Shopper Behaviouralist”?

By accident. I was a strategy consultant at Accenture. Then I joined Nielson. After Nielsen I started my own research agency. Over time I did more and more biometric work, such as eye-tracking and skin galvanic response. I was always fascinated by people more than markets. I believe in understanding why people do what they do and using that to get a better understanding of how to make the sale. But businesses often misunderstand.

Isn’t human behaviour different in every market?

When you start analysing human behaviour you realize that basic requirements are the same in all the markets. There are a few cultural differences but generally there’s a global norm. Humans are humans. We all have basic needs. And humans can be quite irrational in every market. The questions Online-Shop Managers are asking me are pretty much the same across all markets.

In your speech at #Ekonf15 you were talking a lot about digital natives. Do you think they are the major target group for online shops or should we consider them as trendsetters?

They are definitely the target group. 50% of Online-Shoppers are under 35 and digital natives. And there is a shift of expectations in this target group and even within that macro-group, subgrouping is also possible. Digital Natives are the framework but their behaviour is affecting everybody.

What I wanted to show in my speech is that everyone is becoming a Digital Native. The influence of digital is growing and this is affecting all age groups. Digital technology has an effect on all consumers and on natives in particular. There’s a shift from materialism to experientialism. Businesses often think digital natives will become important in 5 to 10 years and plan to be ready for it. But it’s happening much more quickly than that. Studies in the automobile industry show that most young people are no longer interested in the ownership of a car. It represents more problems and duties for them than sharing one. Owning a car was a very important thing for young Americans before, it really indicates how much their attitudes and behaviour has changed.

Read more: Study about customer service and support trends

One piece of technology like the smartphone changes entire industries. No industry can guess what the next big thing will be. But the fact is that consumers are becoming more and more demanding.
The sharing economy is increasingly important for digital natives. They don’t need to be owners (cars, dresses, music…). Inevitably, this generation is getting older, they’re now 30-35 years old which means their attitudes as consumers start to become the norm, the majority.

Ecommerce and consumer expectations are changing how relevant economic models are. If people no longer aspire to own, the models need to change. A good example is Airbnb.

Any product brand today should see how it can use sharing to position itself.

It’s all about connections in the end. Digital natives want to connect, they might have over 500 friends they don’t even know on Facebook and grew up posting and commenting. It is a debating society.

You were saying: “Companies are the administrators of their brand image”. How can companies adapt their strategy as “administrators”?

Ego has a part in this. It is difficult for brands because until now, they’ve always owned their brand image. Before, everything you said about your brand was true. This kind of PR was invented in the 50s. The principle was: if your business spends enough on the campaign and that Rihanna is part of it, they’ll believe it. But the world has changed. People tend to trust their own peers now. There’s no distrust towards the brands. But they prefer their peers. Their stories do have serious implications for brands. A good example is “united breaks guitars”. You can listen to the whole story in this video: 

This shows that one incident can effect your brand image globally. You only need to do something wrong once and put it in the wrong hands and it goes viral. But it also works the other way round. Realizing the power of the network is essential. Companies can design virals that are slightly negative and this way designed to be shared. It’s all about creating sharable content. You get your customers to talk about your product instead of yourself.
That’s what General Marketing Directors don’t understand yet.

Offering sharable experiences is also a good strategy. People want an experience more than they want a thing. When companies ask themselves the question: how can we be different? I’d say they can sell the same thing but differentiate the experience. Even the after sales experience is important. That’s enough. If brands do that they will succeed.

How can companies start interacting with their community of fans?

They need to realise the difference between communication and conversation. It’s a two way thing. Businesses talk to people but that’s not a conversation. Now they have to get into conversation mode. Using Twitter and Facebook in a one way conversation for brands sometimes –it doesn’t make any sense. They should use genuine modes and use it for conversations with potential clients but instead they’re “shouting at people” via ads in Twitter and Facebook. This is often the case for businesses without a “heart”. There are more chances people will enter a conversation, when companies have a heart and are different. One example would be the street food movement vs. Mc Donalds. People prefer going to the edgy and trendy street food stall than going to Mc Donalds. There’s a company in Australia selling only two kinds of sandwiches, but the way they’re selling it makes the difference. Customers order on PayPal and collect their Sandwich where X marks the spot as it is parachuted from the sky.

This is a sharable experience that starts conversations between companies and customers but also between customers.

According to you, what are the three major trends in consumer behaviour?

  • sharing
  • instant gratification
  • personalisation

Also, for digital natives, the only person that matters is me. Brands that personalise their products and service will win on the long term.

At the beginning of this year we launched a new product, community messaging. It is a platform where community members can log in and answer visitor questions. We are often asked how this will work out and why people are willing to take so much time to answer other people’s questions. Do you have explanations for that based on your experience as Consumer and Shopper Behaviouralist?

The basic human nature is tribal. We have always lived in tribes. There are waves of different structures. But people have always wanted to help other people who are part of the same tribe. I experience it myself when I have an IT problem. I type my question into Google and there are a lot of forums and even videos that show people have taken the time to explain the solution for that specific problem. Once again it’s about sharing. Sharing expertise. Social Media is key within that evolution. You share your problem and maybe someone out there will have the solution.

Businesses who are capturing that sharing movement are making it right.

One last question to finish this interview: What was your best customer experience as a consumer in an online shop?

You know what, I still get excited by the simple things in life. For example when I book a flight: most of the flight pages are still very complicated. The airlines I use remember all of my details, they also remember my most frequent searches. This is making it easy and it’s an advantage because competitors don’t do it. We’re an instant gratification generation. Everything has to work properly and quickly. The immigrant generation might try again if it doesn’t work the first time. But a Digital Native will leave the page instantly. Amazon studies exactly how much time they have. Every second counts, if you don’t optimise the customer journey, you’ll lose the customer. It’s got to be better than good; it has to be beyond excellent if you want to guarantee the sale.


Geborene Münchnerin mit deutsch-französischen Wurzeln. Interessiert an allem was mit Web, Innovation und Kultur zu tun hat.

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