Segmenting your shoppers


cupcake-pinkLast month, I wrote a story that compared the new store formats of Target and David Jones.

One thing that stood out to me was Target’s use of pink for women and blue for men to navigate the store.

This led to the question – when is shopper targeting helpful, and when is it overdone?

Shopper segmentation is useful when it aids navigation and makes departments easier to find.

This is about remembering that navigation for shoppers is as much about screening out what you don’t want as finding what you do.

Shoppers are often looking for solutions to occasions, such as a new party dress, office wear, or a demure wedding outfit.

But if you look at a small to medium apparel store, the segmentation of tops, dresses, pants, and jackets is talking to products rather than occasions.

Depending on the store size and breadth of product assortment, large category headers don’t apply to everybody.

In a sweep through a regional and a super regional shopping centre in Sydney on the weekend, virtually no apparel boutiques (or other store types for that matter) had visible header signage.

Their footprints and smaller stock ranges weren’t enough to require it.

Large category headers around walls require a store footprint big enough with enough different categories to make it a worthwhile exercise.

Otherwise, low profile headers on racks and in aisle suffice.

What does segmentation look like?

Signage is the easy bit.

Big W and regular Kmart stores have departmental signage on the walls and hanging banners in large lettering. The style and colouring doesn’t change by department, but is still relatively easy to read.

Creating departments that have their own look and feel involves not just words on signs, but flooring, paint colours, lighting, and importantly signage imagery.

Also accessories such as the white framed mirrors against the walls in the Hers section of Target.


Kmart is using merchandise and fixtures in its new format at Southlands to create departmental feels.

You could also argue that branded concessions, like those in David Jones in Malvern, create a form of navigation.


Should you segment?

It only makes sense to segment if you have a product range that varies markedly by type of shopper.

Specsavers is an interesting example. It divides its walls into women, men, and kids. The style of glasses and sunglasses are markedly different for each.

If you are a retailer already targeting a specific demographic, such as Bardot or Dotti, then sub-segmenting by shopper age (or even worse, size) may be as insulting as it is redundant. It’s better to segment by occasions, such as party dresses or officewear.

If you do choose to segment by shopper type, then be broad in the words you use and careful with imagery.

We typically find that shopping behaviour is dictated by life stage, household type, and household size more than age or income.

You might be a 50 year old man but still be in the young family life stage because you’ve got two kids in their 20s from marriage number one and now you’ve got a four year old and a toddler from marriage number two.

Avoid cliché – it’s not always mums shopping for kids (and dads are actually a softer touch and buy kids more impulse items and succumb more easily to pester power). If using stereotypes, be subtle and positive.

I don’t have an issue with the pale pink paint in Target for the Hers department. It made it easy to find, but I would find it off putting if the department signage looked frilly, hot pink, and sparkly.

All of those things cue girly, high maintenance, and retail lacking in sophistication.

In the case of instore segmenting, product types, and occasion solutions may be a better route than shopper types.

The challenge is in creating enough consistency cross category to aid navigation while creating engagement with individual categories and departments.

Perhaps the middle of the road is better on this occasion.

Norrelle Goldring is head of shopper insight and retail strategy at global research and retail datahouse, GfK. Norrelle can be contacted on 0437 335 686 or email



  1. William ( Bill) Smith posted on March 18, 2014

    It is an interesting concept. Why not just have signs saying men's wear ladies wear. Perhaps Target should hand out cup cakes as in your photo to all men who go shopping by there selves. Having been in retail management for 30 years and now as a trainer and assessor specialising in retail for the past 12 years, I find segmenting customers is degrading to men and women. Surly simple signs, good customer service along with neat and tidy stores is all we require

  2. Melanie posted on March 21, 2014

    This reminded me of a current campaign in the UK against gender-based marketing for kids' toys, called Let Toys be Toys ( They have already pushed a few UK retailers to move away from categorising their toys "Boys Toys" and "Girls Toys".

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