Style Segmentation and the Global Consumer

Research into the decision-making processes of consumers isn’t anything new; the focus on identifying, understanding and capitalizing on the complexities of choice has only sharpened since the value of a piece of apparel evolved from its functional to its social utility. Consumer typologies or psychographics tell us that most consumers fit into groups or personalities shaped by behavior, preference and other markers that guide how they make choices. Brand consciousness, price sensitivity, rational vs. impulsive purchasing practices and other criteria determine who fits where.

One of the more robust and comprehensive models to emerge in the categorization of consumers is the Consumer Style Inventory (CSI). A psychological model that asks consumers about their attitudes towards and experiences of shopping, its cognitive and affective approach draws on a factor analysis with Varimax rotation to identify eight consumer types:

The perfectionist has a need to identify and purchase only that which is deemed to be of the best quality;

Brand conscious will choose what they consider the ‘best’ brand

Novelty conscious tends to be super sensitive to new trends and will purchase what’s new and hot

Recreational shoppers are in it just for the fun of shopping

Price conscious is obvious, although they are often susceptible to interpersonal influence

Impulsive consumers are under time pressure, or inclined to ignore their buying plan before purchasing

Confused consumers are inclined to avoid too much information about products when buying;

Habitual consumers, with their favorite brands and stores, tend not be significantly affected the other psychological variables.

This index continues to evolve, but the result of the research advances the idea that decision-making styles can be used to profile consumers into discrete groups of shoppers, by identifying general orientations towards shopping and buying. For the business world, this means that there can be applications in segmenting the seemingly infinite nature of style. In essence, the consumer characteristics approach can be used as a segmentation technique in target marketing.

We can see applications of this model in retailers like UNIQLO. The brand philosophy that drove success in its home market in Japan is based on the premise of a utilitarian retail experience. Typical concerns held by the average shopper about style, quality and brand are overcome by an assurance that whatever the consumer purchases will be of good quality, relatively inexpensive and look good with anything else the consumer may choose to pair with the item. Like Joe Fresh and Gap, UNIQLO provides the basics in a stylish way. By focusing on segments that value quality and price as well as the functional elements of its stores, UNIQLO is growing by selling accessibility.

What happens when a brand like UNIQLO moves beyond the cultural confines of the market in which its value proposition and consumer segmentation was born? Well, there is strong empirical evidence that a segmentation model like CSI works across borders, meaning little has to change from country to country. A recent study comparing the reactions of consumers in Korea, Europe, and the US to Gucci advertisements identified four cross-market segments that had more in common with each other than they did with their national cohorts. Understanding these fashion ties that bind us to each other, UNIQLO has successfully expanded across Asia and into France, the UK and US without changing much of its floor stock or any of its store design.

This is an important finding for marketers in the age of the global consumer, as all of us now have access to information about brands wherever they are and whatever they cost. Despite different countries, continents and languages, the cross-national consumer has emerged. The lesson for mall and High Street retailers is one that luxury brands like Gucci have been teaching for years: rather than allow unfettered localization of your brand, maintain a consistent strategy across all markets and sell what you are, not what you think we want.

the author

Patrick Dunn

Patrick is head of multidisciplinary insight at Idea Couture. He is based in Toronto, Canada.

See Patrick’s full bio here