5 Golden rules for better shopper understanding

You only need to spend an hour in-store to see that many marketers still don’t understand shoppers. The verbose pieces of communication that are used to supposedly intercept or attract shoppers are a clear indication of a consumer mentality being brought to the shopper agenda.  It has become increasingly challenging to ensure that the dialogue we share with shoppers is not only relevant but also meaningful to their shopping mission. Perhaps that is no surprise progressive shopper thinking is relatively new and traditional consumer research methodologies are often used as a surrogate for good and reliable shopper research. So here are our 5 Golden Rules to be more effective in-store”.

  1. Divorce is not always a bad thing.  Appreciate the differences between the consumer and shopper – yes, they can be one and the same person but we need to understand whether they are the same person in different modes or whether they are indeed two different people (the shopper fulfilling the shopping mission on behalf of their consumer counterpart).  If a woman is buying beer for her husband in a grocery store, the brand relationship resides with her husband (the consumer) and not the woman (the shopper).  Typically, this means that the woman knows what brand to buy, or is briefed accordingly, before visiting the store.  For her, the brand needs to facilitate ease-of-navigation, as little will influence her purchase decision.
  2. Be holistic in your thinking.  Have a greater appreciation for the different ways to extract consumer and shopper insights and how and when the two need to be seen alongside each other.  Consumer research that measures the strength of the relationship that consumers have with brands in a particular category, can tell us much about the likely behaviour to be displayed by the shopper in the category.  Some years ago, I did some work for a tomato sauce brand in a market where the psychological attachment to that brand was incredibly high; in fact more than 90% of all users of that brand were highly committed to the brand.  Consequently, I witnessed a lot of habituated shopping behaviour in the category, as shoppers sought out the 750ml SKU on the shelf, grabbed it, and were on their way without engaging with competitor packs, promotions or price tickets.  The responsibility for the brand owner was therefore simply to facilitate navigation at the shelf.  Shoppers often struggle to make sense of their behaviour in store (at least what they can recall doing) and therefore tend to post-rationalise their behaviour to an interviewer.  An actual understanding of behaviour is therefore critical to understand the shopper and how best to engage them.
  3. Be curious. If we are to be successful in communicating effectively with our shoppers, we need to witness them first-hand.  Get out of the office and into the store.  This is a really good discipline to adopt, as you would be amazed at what you experience by simply watching shoppers.  To take it a step further, initiate a conversation with the shopper if the opportunity avails.  You may find that your best day at the office will, in fact, be in the store.
  4. Know your shopper.  Refrain from developing a shopper strategy in the absence of reliable insights.  Intuition is a dangerous alternative.  If you are cut from the same cloth as Steve Jobs, then (and only then) you might feel comfortable using intuition but, for the rest of us mere mortals, nothing can replace an intimate shopper understanding.  The Tesco Homeplus subway virtual store created by Cheil in Seoul, South Korea, was borne out of an intimate understanding of the shopper in Seoul, who is time poor, yet ‘always on’.  Finding time to shop is a luxury that few can afford.  What better way to get the shopper shopping than to take the store to the time-poor shopper.


  5. Amaze your shopper.  The battle that is being waged in retail today is singlehandedly being won off the back of this ideal.  For online businesses, the ability to exceed shopper expectations is driven by a value proposition, which is closely aligned to price, range, and the speedy fulfilment of orders.  For bricks and mortar retailers, the opportunity is to inspire shoppers with a proposition that is unique, compelling and one that makes a connection with the shopper at a more deep-seated emotional level.  So while Amazon is winning shoppers with same-day delivery, Eataly, a 50,000 square foot Italian marketplace in New York’s flat iron district, is bringing an authentic Italian food experience to New York.


Peter Wilson, Retail Planning Director, Cheil Australia


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