The author read "The Attention Economy" a few years ago, a book that suggested that the time people spend giving attention to certain things was a valuable commodity that carried monetary value. Then, witnessing a mobile application that offered financial incentives ("points" that could be redeemed with a host of retailers) for non-buying behavior (walking into a store, posting a remark, or whatnot) - essentially playing out what the book had predicted. She has since begun to consider shopper behavior as a market subject to the principles of economics.
Her career in marketing, going back to the pre-digital age, was largely focused on understanding and predicting shoppers' behavior. Attempts to influence this behavior, change it to increase the likelihood of buying, were imprecise and slow. And while there has been a lot of talk about the potential of the "digital age" few marketers have seen any practical benefit from technology: they are still doing the same things with different tools.
On the other hand, technology in the hands of shoppers has had quite a profound effect: when they have the power and convenience of being able to compare products and prices before making a decision, the traditional marketing models break down, and it becomes evident that the general assumption that shoppers are on the path to purchase is a mistake - and more to the point, an entirely different approach is necessary to move shoppers closer to the sale.
It's at this point the author recognized shopper behavior as a currency, which can be traded for "scrip" (points, miles, badges, or whatnot). Seen in this manner, each behavior has its own value (making a remark on Facebook requires less effort, and is less valuable, than logging in at a physical store on Foursquare). Part of the failure of merchants to succeed in social media is in their lack of understanding of the exchange rate.
To that end, there are four primary behaviors that are used for exchange: attention, participation, advocacy, and loyalty. Each of these behaviors is a form of currency, which can be traded for virtual currency that is eventually redeemable for goods and services.
Marketers generally take conversion as their ultimate objective - and as such they want customers do everything (pay attention to their messages, participate in their programs, buy their products, advocate them to others, and repurchase habitually). This leads to a certain sloppiness and lack of focus in marketing campaigns. Effectiveness depends on focus on each task.
It's implied that the notion of buying non-purchasing behavior is wasteful, but this is mistaken. When a customer advocates your product and brings in new shoppers, the company enjoys a stream of revenue - and it seems that this advocate, much like a salesman, deserves a commission for the business he has brought in. Some firms pay for this, but only when it is successful, whereas few offer a "salary" for the effort they expect when it does not happen to result in success. As in all things, you can expect people to be motivated to do what they have been given incentive to do - and no incentive means no action.
Another problem with the traditional assumption that shoppers will become buyers is a focus on "barriers" to purchasing. The marketer sees himself as knocking down the obstacles between the shopper and the (buying) goal he is presumed to be hot in pursuit of. But when we have eliminated all barriers and the shopper still does not buy, it's clear that this approach is insufficient. If a shopper is sufficiently motivated to become a buyer, he will often overcome those obstacles on his own. The approach of marketers should be to stimulate motivation.
The same is true of each action you might wish a shopper to take, and more so because the technology already makes it as easy as possible. The shopper has all the tools he needs to browse your product selection or encourage others to purchase - but he does not have the motivation to do so.
The author wrote this book to address these topics - particularly because there does not seem to be a well-defined substance behind the cheerleading for companies to "get social" or "get mobile," which has resulted in a great deal of misguided activity undertaken for its own sake. What is needed is a framework for understanding shopper behavior, and tactics to meaningfully capitalize on it. Knowing what you want, what shoppers want, and considering methods for encouraging meaningful transactions are the keys to success in the "shopper economy."