Tinder culture has taken over and now it’s killing retail

Women going shopping

Tinder culture has changed how we date, and now it’s changing how we shop.

The dating app encourages browsing over emotional investment by presenting users with an endless array of potential mates to consider while requiring very little up-front work or commitment to establish a “match.”

Just a swipe right (a sign of interest) or a swipe left (a rejection) will do.

Even when you swipe right, another new face immediately appears on your screen — providing a sense that there is always potential for an equal-or-better dating option within the next couple swipes.

Likewise, the highly promotional environment in retail today has given shoppers a sense that there’s always going to be another — and possibly better — deal down the road. This has led to a sharp decline in brand loyalty, which is a nightmare for retailers.

It has also diminished the significance of traditional shopping holidays like “Black Friday.” Why save purchases for Black Friday when retailers are offering “Black Friday in July” and other steep discounts year-round?

Ian McCaig, cofounder and chief marketing officer of consulting firm Qubit, calls this concept the “Tinderization of retail.” It’s something he spends a lot of time discussing with clients.

Shopper shopping harrods shoes
Shoppers queue ahead of the opening of the annual Harrods Summer Sale at Harrods on June 28, 2014 in London, England. John Phillips/Getty

Like potential suitors on Tinder, “In this world, retailers really are a click away from a competitor,” said McCaig, who was formerly the director of marketing for Google UK.

Customers’ attention spans are diminishing and if retailers don’t hook them right away, they are going to lose them — possibly forever, he says.

“Most customers now have the attention span of about 8 seconds. Making sure you deliver them the right content in those first couple seconds is critical,” he said. “Otherwise, chances are they are going to get bored, distracted, and leave. That’s where that ‘swipe-right, swipe-left mentality’ where really comes into play.”

It doesn’t help that the US is “over-stored and over-merchandised,” which overwhelms shoppers and can discourage them from making a purchase, says Shelley E. Kohan, vice president of retail consulting at RetailNext.

“The ‘buy now’ event mentality of the consumer has been changing over the past two years, and they are less driven by the constraints of event timelines and more inclined to purchase at either time of need or when they find differentiated products or experiences being offered,” she said.

Retaining new customers — or getting them to return to your store or website — is a whole separate challenge.

Shopping mall

“Loyalty is a huge issue” in the age of Tinder, McCaig said.

Today’s promotional environment has made shoppers highly promiscuous.

To retain shoppers, McCaig advises his clients to feed them specialised content as soon as they land on their website based on prior purchasing behaviour.

For example, the website Net-A-Porter welcomes back returning users by name and gives them access to an “Extremely Important Person” program that delivers them specialised offers and content. That way, returning users get rewarded for coming back, he said.

The stakes are high for companies that don’t adapt to the new “Tinderization of retail,” according to McCaig.

“The runway for retailers to get this right is shrinking and the next one to two years, there’s going to be a big gap between the retailers that get this right and the ones that get it wrong,” he said. “By 2018, you could see a lot of the retailers that get it wrong go out of business. Shoppers will either vote with their feet or click away. It’s a scary place as a retailer.”

NOW WATCH: You can win a pair of Nike’s iconic ‘Back to the Future’ self-lacing shoes for only $10