Strategies for capturing shoppers with product-oriented behaviours, Nielsen

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 6th January 2014

When consumers head out for their everyday shopping needs, are they navigating the store on auto-pilot or are they open to new products and experiences? According to market research organisation Nielsen, the answer is anything but clear-cut.

According to Nielsen’s latest research, consumer behaviour is varied. Nielsen analysed consumer engagement date behind 50,000 purchases across 100 fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) categories in the US and found that there are ways to engage with shoppers and motivate them to make “more involved purchase decisions”.

Navigating landscape challenges and the path to purchase

Understanding the shopper’s path to purchase is vital for any marketer to ‘unlock’ category sales opportunities, according to Nielsen. But today’s shopping landscape is increasingly complicated, which heightens the challenge of reaching and connecting with consumers.

Shoppers are faced with fast-changing shopping environments, new store formats, in-store services, mobile marketing and innovative loyalty programs. Understanding across the shopper’s path to purchase is crucial in creating a “roadmap that funnels traffic” in a food manufacturer’s direction, according to Nielsen.

Pre-planned shopping versus impulse buys

According to Nielsen, consumers plan to buy 72 per cent of the category purchases that end up in their carts before they even head to the store. To what extent a purchase is planned can help marketers weigh the importance of influencing these category shoppers on a pre-store basis to ensure they “land on the shopping list”.

Alternatively, Nielsen said the remaining 28 per cent of purchases reflect ‘reminder’ categories that may not be “top-of-mind” and the highly sought impulse buys.

Planned purchase categories

Planned purchase food items included milk, eggs, fresh produce, and packaged bread. Non-food items that fall into the planned purchase category included pet food, toilet paper and both prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Unplanned purchase categories

The top five unplanned or impulse purchase food items were non-chocolate confectionery, chocolate confectionery, cookies or biscuits, frozen desserts/bakery, and frozen snacks. Non-food items that were unplanned purchases included cosmetics, air fresheners, toothbrushes, hand soap and hand and body lotion.

Shopping on “auto-pilot”

Part of the pre-planned purchase behaviour may be due to the fact that one average, nearly half of shoppers in the Nielsen study said they weren’t engaged in stores as they shop a particular category. According to Nielsen, if consumers aren’t engaged, they’re essentially navigating the store on “auto-pilot” and making habitual purchasing decisions.

Purchase-intent decisions, however, vary by category type. For example, Nielsen said the decision to buy a given food category is made in the store on 31 per cent of instances, compared with 23 per cent for non-food categories.

Shoppers plan with brands

According to Nielsen, early engagement has become essential for marketers and US shoppers claim to begin their planning with a brand in mind, well ahead of their actual trips to the store.

Product type, quantity and price are also on the mind of shoppers, but they play a more critical role while shoppers navigate the shelf. Due to this strong role of brands in the planning process, marketers must focus on engaging shoppers before they enter the store to convert planned purchases at the shelf.

Categories that drive trips and engage consumers

From a category perspective, nothing has more power to drive consumers to the store than milk (59 per cent of instances), closely followed by pet food (56 per cent) and baby food (52 per cent), according to Nielsen.

However, a growing variety of channels is challenging the traditional grocery store format for many of these one-off category trip drivers. Small-format retailers compete with stores in more convenient locations, while larger-format mass merchandisers and club stores attract shoppers with everyday low prices and value. Nielsen said a better understanding of trip driving categories combined with channel preferences provides for collaboration opportunities between brands and retailers to better attract these shopping trips.

Nielsen said consumers appear to be engaged with only 48 per cent of their purchase decisions. This means that consumers are making habitual purchases almost half of the time rather than engaging with products and making evaluative choices. And some of the least-engaged purcahse involve common everyday products — some of which are among the biggest shopping needs, such as milk.

In fact, consumers reported being the least engaged when they were shopping for milk (29 per cent), compared with a high level of engagement for indulgent purchases like frozen desserts (64 per cent) and infrequent purchases like toothbrushes (64 per cent). When evaluating strategies to boost engagement in the aisles, retailers will have greater success if they focus their in-store marketing efforts on departments where consumers have the freedom to choose and are engaged at the shelf, particularly in the frozen and snack aisles, according to Nielsen.

When it comes to capturing the consumers’ attention for these categories, Nielsen said retailers need to market accordingly. For categories that shoppers typically buy while navigating the store on “auto-pilot”, the key is to foster brand loyalty and leverage pre-store influencers like store flyers or coupons.

In situations where a category draws a high level of engagement, retailers and brands have a great opportunity to influence purchases at the shelf. The growing level use of mobile devices while shopping provides a new way to influence shoppers in addition to the more traditional sales promotions, merchandising displays and eye-catching packaging. In-store influencers can be particularly effective for smaller, niche brands seeking to capture unplanned, impulse purchases, according to Nielsen.

Executing a ‘winning strategy’

With the current landscape, Nielsen said a marketer’s ‘playbook’ can not be the same across all categories. Less than one-quarter of shoppers actively browse the aisle for a given category, so marketers must leverage other ways to reach these shoppers, perhaps in other areas of the store or via displays.

While promotions and merchandising can be pivotal in influencing some purchases, these efforts will have a limited impact on others, according to Nielsen. But well-crafted marketing efforts at different points along the shopper path to purchase can result in both cost savings and more effective shopper marketing programs.

Strategies for drawing shoppers into purchases, Nielsen