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Shopping and buying are worlds apart

Shopping or buying

There's a big difference between the thrill of hunting out something you really want and the functional process of buying something you merely need.

Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s loves shopping at Tiffany’s1. Although, given the fabulous clothes she wears in the film, she must love shopping at Givenchy2 too!

We never see Holly just “buy” something, although somehow she always has milk and food for the no-name cat.    

The New Year brought a plethora of emails and articles setting out key trends for the year. One caught my eye: “shopping” vs “buying”. It crystallised the difference between the thrill, the emotion, the experience of hunting out something you really want – that watch, those shoes, that lounge suite – and the functional process of getting something you need but have no great emotional link to – lightbulbs; washing powder; cat food.

Positive emotion

What proportion of your purchases are made when “shopping”? When I think about the last few months, most of mine fall into the “buying” camp. They were also, generally, less expensive than the purchases I “shopped” for.

I often say that if someone would automatically restock my fridge without me having to do anything, I’d be very happy. It started in a light-hearted way but the more I think about it, the more I consider it to be true. The time, fuel and effort of the regular trip to the supermarket or hardware store seems a waste. There’s little positive emotion in it for me.  I’m just “buying” things.

I’m not alone, so efficiency and lack of friction will be the focus for retailers who sell things we just “buy”. It explains the success of Amazon Prime1 – fill your basket with things that you need and they arrive, reliably, in two days’ time. Near frictionless “buying” – although they still need to work out how to get it into my fridge!

It's personal

“Shopping” is different. It has emotion in it. We shop for things that aren’t commoditised, that are personalised, that say something about us. When we are “shopping” we want to be confirmed in our choice. It’s emotional. Personal. We don’t want to make a mistake. We are invested.

Where “buying” is all about efficiency and lack of friction, “shopping” is about lingering, enjoying the environment and the service. It’s about who we are and how it makes us feel.

Tiffany’s understand this. So does Holly, who says: “If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany’s, then … I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name.”


1Tiffany is a trademark registered by Tiffany and Company, Amazon and Amazon Prime is a trademark registered by Amazon Technologies, Inc. in the US and other countries.

2Givenchy is a trademark registered by Givenchy in France and other countries.

Head of Retail

Jerry is the Retail lead in the Commonwealth Bank’s Business and Private Banking division where he harnesses and develops the bank’s resources for the benefit of its retail clients. He is well-known for delivering thought-leadership, insights and analysis that help retailers succeed.

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