Are you Relational or Transactional? Chances are, you’re probably both. You just don’t know it. And whether you’re more Relational or more Transactional tells you everything you need to know why you either love Black Friday or were part of the Buy Nothing Day crowd.
Let me explain.
A Transactional Customer (TC) is someone who has done all of the research, knows exactly what she wants, and now is on the hunt to find the best price on that item. And once the best price is found, the TC makes the purchases.
The driving force behind a TC is the fear of paying too much. The TC sees all the research and price-shopping as part of the transaction, and each transaction is a single event, a conquest to beat the system. Transactional Customers love to brag about the deals they found and are great at word-of-mouth. But TC’s are loyal only to the price, not to any particular store or brand.
Black Friday was made for Transactional Customers. The newspaper flyers are the research. The early bird deals are the attraction. Finding the right item at the right price and getting it before anyone else is the conquest. And making it to five or more stores by 9am is the Mount Everest of Transactional Customer shopping.
The Relational Customer (RC) is a different breed. Unlike the TC, who believes she is the expert on the product, and only needs to find the best deal, the RC knows she is not the expert. In fact, the driving force behind the RC is finding that expert that she can trust, the one that will help her make the smart purchase, because an RC’s biggest fear is buying the wrong item.
Relational Customers don’t tend to brag as much (they don’t want to show their lack of knowledge), but their loyalty to a store or particular brand is especially strong. Once an RC finds that expert, all other stores disappear. If you’re second on an RC’s list, you’re just first loser – there is no second. The Relational Customer sees each transaction as one in a long line of transactions – a relationship between herself and the store.
A great example of the difference between the TC and the RC happens in the arena of auto repair. If you always take your car to the same mechanic, even if it means waiting an extra day or two, you are probably a Relational Customer. You’ve found the expert you can trust. But if you call around just to find the best price on an oil change and take your car to a service station you’ve never visited before just to save $5, you’re probably a Transactional Customer.
Wait, you cry! Do i have to be one or the other? Can't someone be both? Aren’t there people who get all major repairs done by the same mechanic who also drive around looking for the best price on an oil change? Yes! You can be both.
In fact, we are all both TC and RC depending on the item in question.
Studies also show that not only are people both Transactional and Relational, every category of product is also split quite evenly between TC’s and RC’s.
The big theory (and myth) of the Internet is that it is all about price. Students from MIT once did a study to prove this theory. They studied the buying patterns of people who shopped for videos and DVD’s through DirectLink - a website that helps you locate items available for purchase online. You type in the item, and DirectLink pulls up all the places that item can be purchased online and lists them from cheapest to most expensive. The students theorized that if you were not the cheapest price, you wouldn’t get the sale, that 99% of customers would probably click on the first link.
To their surprise 51% of the customers they tracked did NOT buy from the cheapest website. Instead they spent about $3 more per item buying it from someone other than the first site listed. Why did they spend more? Because they didn’t trust the websites offering the lowest prices. The vast majority of those higher price purchases were done at websites like Amazon.com, WalMart.com and other recognizable names. Final Score? Price 49%, Trust 51%.
Here’s another example as told by Roy H. Williams, aka Wizard of Ads. Roy was speaking to a roomful of marketing directors for grocery stores. When Roy asked how many believed that price was the major driving force behind their sales, 290 of the 300 people raised their hands. Roy then asked how many offered loyalty cards, discounts for people who swiped or scanned a special card at the checkout. About half the room raised their hands. When asked how well it worked one person stood up and explained that 43% of his customers used such a card, higher than the national average for such programs. Did each customer get asked if they had or wanted such a card? Yes, the cashiers were well-trained to ask everyone. Yet, 57% of the people in that store basically said “No thanks, I’ll pay more.” When Roy asked again how many thought price was the driving force behind their sales, a lot fewer hands were raised. Final Score? Price 43%, Trust (or convenience) 57%.
Yes, everyone of you is both Transactional and Relational. Yes, every category has both Transactional and Relational customers. You’re probably trying to figure out right now in what categories you are RC and TC. Me? I’m mostly RC. The mere thought of getting up early to fight crowds, wait in lines, and have no chance of finding a clerk to answer my questions is downright frightening. Then again, I would never want to get in the media’s way of hyping up Black Friday into the shopping day it has become. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
If you’re still puzzled, here’s a quick quiz to help you figure it out.
Do you drive all over town to save 3 cents on a gallon of gas or always stop at the same convenient station on the way home? Do you top off the tank every time you see the price drop, or do you fill up only when you’re empty? Do you grocery shop at five different stores based on what’s on sale, or shop at only one store because you know the layout? Do you decide to do without something because the only store in town that has it is one you wouldn’t be caught dead entering? Do you continue to shop for a better deal even after you’ve made your purchase? Do you believe you know more than the sales staff or do they know more than you?
The fun thing is that there is no right or wrong way to be. You just are what you are. And it’s interesting when we understand why we do what we do.
And now you have a better understanding why you were out early Friday morning (or why you thought all those people were crazy).
And now you also know that while some stores only play the Price game, we’re going after that 50% plus who want an Expert to Trust. Yes, we’ll win some and lose some in the Transactional Customer game (our prices are more competitive than some people think), but you can guarantee that we’ll always be here to answer your questions, help you make great choices, and share the joy you have watching your children grow. That's the RC in us, and part of the reason why we had such a big Black Friday that continued all weekend long.
The other stores went after TC customers. Once their sales ended, so did their traffic. The TC's were off to look for more great deals. The RC's, on the other hand, avoided the Friday early morning crowds and filled the stores Friday afternoon, Saturday & Sunday. Unfortunately, their presence wasn't recorded in any of the major media stories because they typically don't shop the big box chain stores and discounters where those numbers are gathered. But ask your neighborhood retailers, your local independents, how they fared. According to Michigan Retailers Association, more than half reported better than expected sales.
The other factor driving this is that there isn't that one "must have" toy driving Christmas sales this year. No Tickle Me Elmo or Cabbage Patch Doll causing a retail frenzy. So without a "hot" product, the advantage goes to the stores that know their products best, the stores that cater to the RC's.
As Paul Harvey would say, "Now you know the rest of the story."