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Customer Stereotyping Leaves a Bad Impression

Every retailer has a strategy on how to best serve a customer that walks through the front door. There's nothing insidious about that. Tailoring your initial approach to someone based on their gender, age, or general appearance is not anything new, and people on both ends of the experience have become accustomed to certain norms that are both socially and morally acceptable. A man walking into a lingerie store, for example, will draw a different reaction than a woman. Is he shopping for his wife? Himself? Is he a pervert? Maybe he's just lost? All of which are legitimate questions that may come to mind in the initial few seconds he enters the establishment.

What is new in big box corporate America is the practice of developing whole personas for customers. These personas come complete with fictitious names and backgrounds that incorporate family structure, moral values, emotional needs and wants, attitudes and psyche. There are even more precise sub-set types for each persona.

According to a Best Buy internal document recently leaked by The Consumerist, I would be a Buzz. Who am I? Well, apparently:

  • A single, young male (23-30)
  • Live in an urban area
  • Have fully integrated technology into all aspects of my life

I am, actually, a single, 31 year old male who does live in an urban area. However, I have not yet fully integrated technology into every aspect of my life (My bathroom, for example, still lacks electronics.). 

But that's not all. As "Buzz", I am also someone who:

  • Has high enthusiasm for staying current, especially on technology and entertainment
  • Has a strong sense of community and a need for inclusion into a group ( always looking for ways to entertain themselves, friends or family
  • Strongly integrates technology and entertainment into their lifestyle (Both are a constant passion)
  • Does a lot of "research" as part of the shopping experience and feels it's fun to do so

I do enjoy new, cutting edge electronics, but I don't spend endless hours of my time researching and anticipating my next purchase with the intention of maintaining my happiness. Nor do I feel the need to impress my friends with the newest gizmo, and thereby re-affirm my value as someone worth knowing.

There's a whole sub-set of "Buzz"es such as "Status Buzz", "Fun Buzz", and "Responsible Buzz" that further stereotype people.

"Status Buzz"'s psyche:
  • Craving the latest and greatest technology
  • Researching like crazy product details and getting impatient with unknowledgable salespeople
  • Enjoying membership in exclusive clubs or access to exclusive products
  • Loyalty to brands but not retailers
His needs:
  • Self esteem from the products he owns
  • Need for a leadership role
  • Staying current
  • Recognition
How do they go after him?
  • Providing access to the latest image driven technology
"Fun Buzz"'s psyche:
  • Entertainment junkie
  • Impulsive-Willing to sacrifice needs for wants
  • Likes getting help but doesn't always need it
His Needs:
  • Hear it, see it, play it
  • Fun, escapism, and competition
  • Uncomplicated shopping experience
  • Improving time with friends
How do they go after him?
  • Satisfy his appetite for entertainment, WOW him with the rest
"Responsible Buzz"'s psyche:
  • Lets "Fun Buzz" and "Status Buzz" buy the latest products first
  • Asks questions, but doesn't want to be oversold
  • Pragmatic and logical
  • Most likely of all sub segments to buy installation services
  • Looks for information from different sources before he buys
His needs?:
  • Needs to feel he is a smarter shopper than others
  • Requires the most bang for the buck
How do they go after him?
  • Reduce his risk
I've gone into detail about just one of many personas that have been invented for shoppers. There's "Charlie", the 50-70 year old empty nester, "Maria", the 35-40 year old soccer mom, "Ray", the 40 year old bread-winner, and a slew of other stereotypes for just about every person who walks through their front door, all with their own sub set categories to further categorize people.

It's easy to see how people that fall into this pre-determined set of parameters could resent some of the implications being made. Alienating your customer base with stereotypical prejudice is, needless to say, a really bad idea. The need to train employees and improve sales numbers should not take precedence over serving the customer.

The most disturbing aspect of this new Best Buy approach to customer service is the "angel" and "devil" classifications. "Angel" customers are seen as customers who are simply the most profitable. They make their purchases from the same store, buy extended service contracts, and rarely make returns. "Devil" customers are seen as bargain hunters who comparison shop, don't purchase extended service contracts, and are not afraid of returning products. "Devil" customers are identified when they are approached and sized-up by Best Buy salespeople. They are then steered into purchasing extended service contracts or other products or services (such as accessories or installation) to make them more profitable. Another technique employed is to have a 15% "re-stocking" fee applied to returns, further discouraging people who make a habit of returning items that they may have recently paid too much for.
This cynical approach to customer service is a sad trend that is fast becoming the norm among corporations looking to sacrifice service in favor of a better bottom line. This article should be used as a cautionary tale against putting profit in front people. Openly, and quite literally, demonizing and categorizing people who seek to maximize their own return on investment will only serve to drive them away. Smile, not just at the 20 something, but at the little old lady as well, and maybe they both will return to your store wearing one as well.
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