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The Wall Street Journal has a report on a new kind of shopper that has evolved in the marketplace, in part because of tough economic times and in part because of new capabilities made possible by technology. This consumer is called the “new info shopper,” and “these people just can't buy anything unless they first look it up online and get the lowdown. These shoppers have the Internet at work, typically hold information-based or office-park jobs, have some college or grad school, and are often making ends meet with two jobs, kids, and pets on a middle or upper-middle-class income.”

Some interesting statistics that appear to back up this new definition:

• One shopper survey suggested that 78 percent of respondents said that there is not enough information in most advertising for them to draw a conclusion about whether to buy a product.

• According to the Journal, “A whopping 92% of respondents said they had more confidence in information they seek out online than anything coming from a salesclerk or other source.”

• Seven out of ten survey respondents said that they check online product reviews before actually purchasing things, and 62 percent said that they spend at least-a half-hour online each week specifically reading consumer product reviews.

The Journal writes, “We have seen many of the big market areas convert to an information-driven model -- cars, homes, personal computers and medical care are areas where nearly 4 in 5 shoppers say they gather information on their own from the Web before buying. ‘Do-it-yourself doctors’ (that is, info patients) show up at their doctor with the Web-derived diagnosis in hand, and a list of the medicines they need prescribed. Customers appear at the car dealership with the wholesale price and the model already picked out.

“Information-seeking is not just an activity, it's a way of looking at the world. New info shoppers are proud of the progress they have made in putting facts over pablum.”

Now, it is important to note that not every shopper is an “info shopper,” and that “there is still a healthy role for big emotional brand appeals and mega-advertising campaigns. For every trend there is a counter trend. But that's not the real new thing in consumer behavior.”

KC's View:
This isn’t just an argument for transparency, but for a complete redefinition of the function of the customer…especially the customers of the future. Retailers have to take this very seriously, understanding that it is a fundamental shift in the balance of power that traditionally has existed between consumers and product providers.

The Journal makes a persuasive case: “New Info Shoppers are bigger than a microtrend. They represent a broad shift in the marketplace brought about by the Internet, higher education, and changing economic times. But the question is when is the marketplace is going to really catch up to them.”

In other words, yet another example of the “new normal.”