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Consumer Behavior- Ethnographic Research on Victoria’s Secret and Target

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The purpose of this paper was to observe the consumers of a retail store of my choice; I chose to observe Victoria’s Secret and Targets consumers, because I myself am consumers of those stores quite often, then to analyze the behavior of the consumers of Victoria’s Secret and Target. Victoria’s Secret and Target consumers differ because of the difference in type of retail they offer and sell. Victoria’s Secret consumers know what they are going to be shopping for women and certain needs or wants they are looking to satisfy. Target consumers shop for any age and any gender, in various departments that can satisfy needs and wants. Victoria’s Secret consumers are more likely drawn to the store based on hedonic motives compared to a Target consumer who is more likely drawn to the store based on utilitarian motives. Victoria’s Secret

One retail store I chose to observe was Victoria’s Secret at the Geneva Commons, in Geneva, IL on Saturday, December 1, 2012 at 11:30 a.m. Geneva Commons is an upscale lifestyle center, located in an area of higher income families, which is expressed through the stores that are open in the Commons. My first step into Victoria’s Secret I notice Christmas decorations, product advertisements, and pictures of models, I smell Victoria’s Secret Angel perfume, and hear Christmas music playing over the speakers, small talk, and the joy of consumers Christmas shopping. A really close friend of mine, Jackie Lesnick, is an assistant manager at the Victoria’s Secret in Geneva, and I asked her what is the target market for Victoria’s Secret and she responded with “mainly women ages 15 to 60. But another way we target the market is based on size, the average customer is 5 foot 4 weighting about 155 pounds.” This targets women who are slender and are more body conscious.

Customers of Victoria’s Secret were respectful to the merchandise; I found that in Victoria’s Secret every consumer felt the need to touch every product, from bras to underwear, they wanted to feel a comfort to that item. Many pulling items out and looking over them before making a decision, for example I observed a young girl, probably around the age of 16, looking at Pink yoga pants who pulled seven pairs out, then would throw them back in the pile she pulled from. I observed how messy the Pink section of Victoria’s Secret was, many teenagers and young adults shop in this section, and it just felt they did not want to spend the time to refold the items nicely and put them where they found them. The other consumers I observed were white women around the age of 35 to 45. They were more likely to navigate towards the lingerie, sleepwear, or beauty products. These women were testing out every lotion or perfume, feeling the fabrics of robes and pajama sets. These women were more likely to fold the products correctly and put the item back in the proper spot.

During my observation I noticed many consumers that were teenagers would look at an item for a quick second and move on to the next item, I also observed how fast they navigated towards items that were glitzier. Any item that had glitter or sequins caught their eyes, and they spent more time debating on if they should purchase this item. I observed a young adult, college student, age 21, who was interested in a pair of sequined faux-fur lined boots. She looked at the price take and moved right along to the next sequined item she seen, and looked at the price tag and turned around and walked out of the store. Parts of me wishes I would of asked her why she looked at two items and left, but when I went over and looked at the prices also, I understood why she walked out. No college student can afford $70 boots or an $80 zip-up hoodie. For those consumers who were ages 35 to 45, they spent more time looking at merchandise, mainly items that they were more interested in purchasing that day. They looked over items from top shelf to bottom shelf. One consumer who was around the age of 45 spent about 15 minutes looking through body mists and perfumes, between box sets of the 60 mL mists/perfumes to the 250 mL mists/perfumes.

I found that many consumers who were with more than one person did complain about prices. They made comments about how they can get the same item at Target or Wal-Mart for a lower price. Those who were out shopping for Christmas presents I found complained more, as if they were hoping for a special deal due to the holiday. One customer I overheard stated, “she is crazy to think I am going to spend $50 on one pair of yoga pants, I’ll go to Target and get a pair for $20 instead.” I did not hear many consumers ask about prices, Victoria’s Secret tags every product with a price, so consumers are aware of the price as they browse.

I decided to tag along with Lesnick and observe what kind of questions she was asked, or how she was treated when she would approach a customer. The retail staff was very friendly, and helpful. I did observe that many consumers were annoyed of this; I witnessed one customer who was approached by six sales associates. She finally threw her hands up and said, “I really am okay, no I do not need any help picking out underwear for myself, and no I do not need a basket, and yes I have already read the signs saying Buy on bra get the other 50% off,” and she walked to the register very angry.” Lesnick was approached by several consumers who asked for fitting rooms, or asked if they had this bra size in the back, otherwise Lesnick spent her time refolding clothes and making small talk with her co-workers.

Now to make sense of what was observed, Victoria’s Secret is a retail store that brings consumers in who know what they are going to be looking for, and are not going to need much help from an associate. The consumer feels comfortable shopping on their own, and looking at items that will satisfy their want and in some cases a need. Aside from those Christmas shopping, consumers looking for themselves at Victoria’s Secret are most likely buying based on a hedonistic motive. The brand label for one is hedonistic, for we can buy these same items at a store that sells them for half the asking price. Many consumers who buy Victoria’s Secret are also willing to spend more money for products that they know are of great quality, this pleases the customer after the buy. Victoria’s Secret is also part of the consumer culture, American consumers value Individualism, and VS allows consumers to achieve that personal need in purchasing items that say something about their self that is still easy to hide from others.

I also feel that Victoria’s Secret gives women a feeling of satisfaction, knowing that they can wear the same under garments as VS models; they turn the want of the item into a benefit no matter the price. I had also found that Victoria’s Secrets marketing strategies helps bring in customers looking for those special deals; such as spend over $65 and you get a free limited edition iPhone case, or the Secret Rewards Card that includes a value of $10, $50, $100, $500, these are promotional tools to help draw consumers in. Overall, a typical consumer of Victoria’s Secret is like any other consumer, looking to fulfill some need or want, even if that need or want is a new bra or new underwear; they choose to spend the extra money on items from Victoria’s Secret because they have a personal value of the brand. Target

The second retail store I observed was Target off of Route 59 and Liberty Street in Aurora, IL on Friday November 30, 2012 at 9:30 a.m. This Target is located on a north–south state highway in northeastern Illinois that is centered in a very populated city. When I first walked into Target I smelt the popcorn from the little café located next to Targets Starbucks. The color red really pops out at me, and I noticed the Christmas decorations hanging from the ceiling. Walking through the store I heard small talk between family, friends, and co-workers, and some employees work radios. The typical customer of Target is essentially a middle aged woman, who has a family and has a high median household income. Target’s target market then would include men, consumers of the younger generation, and lower median household incomes.

As I observed the consumers of Target I found they were respectful of the merchandise, there were times where customers would take an item out of their cart and place it in a random spot because they had decided they no longer wanted to make that purchase. The consumers seemed to spend a few extra seconds looking at products they were more intrigued by, or items that caught their attention as they walked through the store, I heard multiple consumers say, “We could use this,” or “They may like this,” and then they would walk away without the product. I did not hear many complaining about prices, I think as a consumer you would know that you can save more money by going to Wal-Mart or K-Mart but the consumer chooses to shop at Target and knows they may have to spend a few dollars more for items, and they are okay with that. I know as a personal Target consumer that I choose to spend more money when I shop at Target versus going to Wal-Mart. I went shopping with one of my bosses, Rae Smith, Friday morning, while I observed other consumers I observed how she made decisions, she is a mother of two girls ages 3 and 5, she works 40 hours a week, and so does her husband.

She did not go into Target with a strict list, she was just freely consuming what she pleased this day, and I found she bought clothes for the girls, picked up a new pair of gloves for herself, picked up a few new Christmas decorations that she debated on for quite a while, and grabbed a few new books for her 5-year-old to start reading on her own. Her value of these products seemed to be based on a need or want that are hedonistic and needed approval from her primary groups to make the decision to purchase the products because, she asked for my opinion on almost everything, Smith asked, “What do you think of this shirt?

I don’t know if I like it that much, but it’s cute.” She also would ask, “Cute book, what do you think? Do you think Lauren would read this?” Smith acted as if she needed reassurance that she should purchase the products, she also would take a picture of the product and send it to her husband to get approval. After we checked out and were heading back to the car, Smith said, “Man, I really should have bought a few more Christmas decorations, I got some good deals today.” Smith left Target feeling unsatisfied that she did not purchase more, but she felt satisfied that she saved money.

Retail associates at Target are treated very nicely, as you walk through the store you see many associates working hard to re-stock and re-shelf items in all departments. They are helpful to customers looking for direction towards a specific item, or need helping getting an item that may be locked. The typical customer in Target seems to be very independent, they are browsing and taking the time to look around the whole store, but the customer I think feels satisfied that if they needed help an associate is always close by. I observed one customer who was debating on what video game to get her son, an associate approached her and asked, “Do you need any help miss,” she responded, “no just looking.” and the associate responded with, “well, if you need any assistance just let me know.” and walked away. After their conversation I approached the women, Leslee Schilb 31-years-old, and we engaged in a private conversation, I asked how she felt about associates asking if you need help every time you look interested in a product, she responded with, “it can be bothering sometimes but when they give you the option to approach them if you need help, I don’t feel rushed.”

Schilb then explained how she enjoys feeling comfortable when shopping. Target is a retail store that brings consumers in looking to fulfill needs and wants, these consumers can simply be shopping for groceries, household products, home décor, clothing, children’s toys, electronics, sporting goods, holiday decorations, etc. Some motives will be utilitarian, like purchasing groceries and household products. Many purchases made from Target can be hedonistic, consumers receive this emotional feeling about the product, it makes the consumer feel happy or that outfit makes them feel pretty, so they buy that product based off the various selections of products in the store that are emotionally satisfying. I personally as a Target shopper, have a hard time walking through Target and not falling in love with a product and end up buying that product based on the emotional satisfaction I receive.

With associates in Target not constantly approaching the consumer, consumers are then allowed to make attachments with these items without someone persuading them about the deals they have or introducing them to more products similar to the one they are interested in. From my observation of my boss, Rae Smith, I found that many consumers who were shopping with another family member or friend. They relied on their external influence from their primary group to help them make decisions when it came to the products they were purchasing. Overall, the Target consumer is independent and has a purpose for entering the store. They are most likely going to have certain items they need to purchase, but are given the opportunity to search for products they may not have originally wanted to purchased.

To conclude, the behavior of Victoria’s Secret and Target consumers are similar in the way that they are independent during their shopping experience, consumers found shopping on their own time more comfortable and felt less rushed. Consumers of Victoria’s Secret and Target are more likely to browse the store and find want in those marketing strategies that motivate the hedonic value unlike a retail store like Wal-Mart that focuses on the everyday low prices that bring in consumers who are looking for certain products for the best price. Overall, I found this project very helpful in understanding the consumer and how they make decisions and act when shopping in retail stores.


Babin, B. J. (2012). Cb4. (4th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.

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