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Shopping CartFor consumer insights teams, shopper insights research feels foreign; it requires a different set of approaches and a totally different mindset.  Shopping is about action more than preferences.  It’s about the shopping trip rather than a single product category. Yet, shopper insights are critical for making shopper marketing work for your brand, enhancing your relationships with retail customers, and if you’re an agency, having a complete offer.

Here is my list of 10 reasons you should care about the shopper.  Please add your own reasons to the list.

#1:  50% or more of product and brand decisions are made in-store; numerous shopper insights studies agree (e.g. POPAI, Ogilvy Action). When shopping for a new car or consumer electronics, people consider multiple brands. Why isn’t brand equity enough? Why are people still deciding in-store?  What is influencing them? You need to learn how to win more than your fair share of purchases that are up for grabs.

#2: Shopper marketing offers immediacy and reach and is projected to be the fastest growing part of the media mix over the next few years.  Wal-Mart offers a bigger audience than any prime time show. Target is up there too. In the era of fragmented media audiences, delivering a huge audience, right at the “first moment of truth” should not be ignored.

#3: What people care about as shoppers is different.  As shoppers, people are in action mode.  They are making many decisions during the course of a shopping trip, filling their cart with diverse products, taking only seconds per decision.  When people are shopping they are motivated by different messages than they are as consumers (more price-related and solution-based).  Shoppers want a highly shoppable environment which is tricky because 99% of the products in the store are irrelevant to the shopper’s mission on a given trip.

#4: Shopper marketing gives you unique opportunities to be relevant. Retailers have different store formats that are geared to serve their local clientele. Some formats match the local ethnic concentration. How will your brand presentation be customized in each store format?

#5: Product marketers are getting into retail. Apple, Coach, Estee Lauder have all been successful.  Procter just bought specialty retailer chains and a number of marketers have been using pop-up stores. If you do not study shoppers, you will not see this opportunity.

#6: Shopper insights are currency for building strong customer relationships.  Retailers are battling for shoppers and seek manufacturer partners who bring insights about how people shop that translate into ideas that increase traffic, category and aisle sales.  Manufacturers must master shopper insights or they will not be chosen as “category captain”.  That means that a competitor of yours will work directly with the merchant to determine your place on the shelf…if any.

#7: Advertising agencies must master shopper marketing to have a complete offering: those who do not offer shopper marketing services will be viewed as incomplete in their messaging and media planning approaches.

#8: Shopper insights and consumer insights are different things. Consumer insights study the relationship and expectations a person has regarding brand alternatives.  Shopper insights study how people put preferences into action in the context of replenishment needs, search for solutions, promotional offers, and the retail environment.  The research tools, questionnaires, and mental models are all different.

#9:  Studying the path to purchase offers a new approach to media planning.  Some product categories are characterized by brands being decided on before entering the store (e.g. cigarettes, soft drinks, iPhones).  For them, shopper marketing is less important and off-premise is more important.  Other brands are chosen in-store mostly (store brands, lower priced alternatives, impulse items) and shopper marketing is a must.

#10: The recession is leading to big changes that are SHOPPER-centered. For example, how people plan their shopping trips, their increasing purchase of store brands, retailers de-SKUing all reflect economic pressures.

If you’re still not sure how important shopper insights are, consider what was just reported in Ad Age:  “Walmart has launched an aggressive push to have marketers divert their consumer media and marketing budgets into the giant retailer’s growing ad budget and in-store marketing programs, using a simultaneous push to clear underperforming brands off its shelves as extra leverage.”

Shopper marketing is real and the need for shopper insights is acute.

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5 Responses to “Ten reasons you should care about the shopper”

  1. great post, joel!

    it prompted some questions for me — is there a clear point at which a person becomes a shopper? is it when they’re in a store? or when they’ve decided to buy something? or ??

    it would seem browsers and shoppers may exhibit the same behavior — wandering the aisles or the store floor, looking at products/packaging — but certainly we’d want to market to them differently, right?

    would love to hear your thoughts — thanks!

    • Joel Rubinson

      Hi Denise–The ARF shopper insights council leadership agrees that shopping begins well before someone enters the store. Whenever a person begins a process intended to end in purchase, they have started down the path to purchase and are shoppers. I’d be happy to talk with you–just e-mail me at

  2. Hi Joel,

    My point is essentially the same as that of Denise above. While I understand the need to be semantically precise as to the difference between consumers and shoppers, I think in practical terms, most practitioners find the distinction somewhat blurred.

    I am not sure of the practical value of the distinction – however this is a minor point. In my experience most practitioners recognize the need for different tactics depending on where the shopper is on their path to purchase.

    I agree with the rest of your points, and I would add that most research companies have neglected understanding actual shopper behaviour in store, as opposed to self-reported behaviour.


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  4. Hey Joel, great post.

    My team manages the in-store digital program at WFM and we are consistently seeing budgets shifting to in-store – especially for a new programs that incorporate digital signage. Our contention is that “the store as a medium” rationale should be consider that measurability is not only from sales, but from audience viewership and analytics so brands can fully comprehend metrics from the in-store environment similar to any other medium where media is bought. We have invested in this concept and believe this it is a key part to our success – and perhaps will even be the main driver for future business.