Why did I buy that from there?

Have you ever asked yourself the question ‘why did I buy that from there?’

Grocery shopping habits have changed dramatically in the past years and not just because of the introduction of online shopping and the ability to buy from multiple places with various electronic devices. The types of shops we use reflect our changing lifestyles and habits. Smaller households, an aging population, more urban living – these factors have increased the use of convenience stores, whilst the economic downturn has moved a generation to start to shop at discounters including the more affluent and older shoppers who have traditionally supported the big four supermarket chains (Tesco, Sainsbury, Morrison, Asda). Meanwhile Waitrose has developed a much broader appeal through the introduction of new incentives such as free coffee/newspapers and a strong focus on its Essentials range leading to an increase in its market share, whilst preserving its strong ethical positioning.

As the major multiple grocery retailers are increasingly challenged by the discounters and have adapted both their product ranges and pricing to compete, the smaller independents are also learning new ways. In addition to convenient locations, they are finding new ways to seek shopper engagement with increasingly relevant services such as free wifi, a coffee shop, deli counters and even Amazon locker services where consumers can collect their deliveries.

What about the shopper and their intentions?

We have all gone into a shop for a few items and come out with a full basket – a typical ‘top-up’ or ‘refill’ shop, or buying for an immediate need like a snack lunch or food for tonight’s dinner. In fact, it is surprising how many ‘top-up’ shops take place in large supermarkets and some stores have responded by putting a convenience section for the everyday essentials at the front of the store.

Understanding more about how and when shoppers decide what to buy and whether they plan before entering the store is very powerful for retailers and manufacturers. Knowing where a brand or category fits will enable decisions on the most appropriate shopper marketing.

Why did I buy that from there?

A global study explored the extent to which we plan in advance for different categories and the chart below shows the data for the UK. Categories in the top left hand corner are much more likely to require pre-store marketing than those in the bottom right hand corner which can be more easily stimulated in store.

So what are some of the rules for engaging shoppers?

The answer is that they are not always the things you expect. This is because so much of our shopper behaviour is non conscious. We are influenced by many aspects which we may be completely unaware of. We know we might look for bargains or promoted items, but do we realise that we are influenced by so many other areas as well? For example, the placement of products in store or on the shelf, as well as the colours, the lighting, the music, the smells, the overall ambience, and finally the friendliness of the staff as they smile or ignore you. These are some of the reasons that we choose to shop at one store over another or pick up certain brands.

For most people grocery shopping is an essential and often tedious activity. But even within the grocery shopping routine, we can find time to stop and leisurely browse a section which we find interesting and engaging. The faster we get through our mentally planned list, the more time we have to browse and spend more. Men and women approach shopping differently. Men are generally more task oriented and women spend more time browsing and comparing.

From a manufacturer perspective it is important to understand when the shopper makes their decision – before they get to the store or in store. This allows them to create the right marketing interventions at the appropriate time and adjust the message for the shopping moment. When we shop, we are often distracted and hurrying to complete our “mission”. Manufacturers need to work hard to create messages and displays that appeal to our distracted shopper selves.

Retailers and manufacturers focus on increasing our trial, purchase frequency and spending per visit. Increases require the right type of point of sale stimulation, bearing in mind that people can only absorb a few words and are attracted by pictures to stimulate the senses or remind the shopper of a relevant usage occasion. (Don’t forget the speciality cheese for the dinner party or the grated cheese for cooking tonight’s supper).

What about online shopping?

More retailers and manufacturers are creating shopping apps. With these apps, retailers are finding new places for us to pick up our goods such as Asda at London tube stations. Ocado is innovating to provide new services such as its “Fetch” specialist petstore website and Sizzle.co.uk has created a new offer for kitchenware. Online shopping innovations are often designed to attract shoppers with items not available in stores.

If we look at the growth in the Far East of the Alibaba Empire – we see a fully integrated ecosystem in which the company owns everything from the advertising agency to the payment system (Alipay) allowing consumers to be buyers and sellers. Alibaba may show us what is likely to happen in the UK in future.

For now, the majority of us will continue to buy many things we don’t really need but we just feel a sudden urge to buy when confronted by an engaging shopping environment, whether we are out and about in brick and mortar stores or shopping on tablets whilst we watch TV at home. For many of us, shopping is one of life’s little pleasures (particularly if you are a woman.)