We are a nation of eager consumers and we love to shop, but what drives us to make one purchase over another? And would we even know the reasons if we asked ourselves? Lucy Clark explores the intriguing world of shopper marketing.
Everyone loves a bargain. Half price, buy one get one free, two for $5 – we can’t resist them.
And if you put the words ‘shopper’ and ‘marketing’ together, surely that’s what it’s all about?
Wrong. There is a whole lot more to shopper marketing than wobblers on supermarket shelves and week-long specials.
Did you know you might have been subconsciously tricked into buying that last big bar of chocolate? And that if you find what you’re after quickly and easily, you’re more likely to pick up more things along the way?
Those are some of the tricks of shopper marketing.
We may not realise it, but there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to suggest, persuade, remind, hint, push and urge us into making purchases of all different kinds.
B&T ran a web poll through Rewards Central to find out the biggest influencers in people’s grocery shopping. A total of 22,038 members of the public responded.
‘Price’ was the factor that most people (52%) cited as the most influential on their grocery buying. ‘Special offers’ was next, with 22.5%, and ‘brand’ came in with 9.5% of people’s votes. Packaging, in-store advertising and position in shop were less of an influence, with 1.2%, 1.49% and 1.69% of the votes respectively.
So, people will tell you that price is the key factor in their purchasing decisions. But is there more to it than we, the consumer and the shopper, realise?
What is ‘shopper’?
First up, let’s clear up some of those assumptions by being clear on what shopper marketing actually is.
For a start, consumers and shoppers are not necessarily the same. Strictly speaking, consumers are potential buyers, whilst shoppers are ready to buy.
And sometimes, the consumer cannot possibly be the same person as the shopper. Shopper agency The Station Agency’s head of insights and capability, Alison Sinclair, explains: “Pets do not buy their own food and babies don’t buy their own nappies, but they are the consumers.”
Janet Bailey, CEO of STW Group’s Evocatif, provides some clarity around the shopper marketing discipline: “One of the misconceptions about shopper marketing is it’s just about in-store and that point of purchase. That’s critical, but true shopper marketing starts well beyond that – it’s a trigger that makes you want to buy something. Shopper is not just the wobbler on the shelf.”
She adds: “Some people have interpreted ‘shopper’ as ‘promotional marketing’, but that does shopper an injustice.
“There are brand activations, and then there are shopper activations. One is focused on a brand’s objective, while the other is driven by a shopper insight and is focused on retail ambition. They are both relevant for brands at different times.”
Ian Cassidy, managing partner at The Station Agency, agrees with Bailey: “Brand marketing is really about building awareness and fostering loyalty, whereas shopper marketing is about closing the sale – how do you help people navigate the category? What products are on the shelf? What level of service do you offer?
“Promotions are a tactic in shopper marketing, but not the be all and end all. The messaging along the way is crucial.”
Central to shopper marketing is understanding the journey people go on before – and right up until – they make a purchase.
Cassidy argues that there is a lack of appreciation within the advertising industry of the importance of getting to grips with the journey. He says: “Agencies that don’t understand the journey that a consumer goes on will end up pushing the same message. You need to understand the behaviour at different stages so you can tell the right message at the right time.
“Our definition of shopper marketing is about understanding how your consumers behave as shoppers. We use that insight to create strategies and ideas that meet the agendas of the brand and retailers.
“To be successful, you need to have an idea that’s going to satisfy what the retailer is looking for, and what the shopper is looking for, and what the brand is looking for.”
There is a lot of planning and strategy that goes into persuading you to buy particular products – and an effective strategy is crucial.
Georgia Bruton, managing director at Integer Australia, explains: “It’s all about strategic rigour and understanding how a shopper works. Disrupting the shopper, driving them into the retailer and encouraging them to have an ongoing relationship with the brand, versus a short-term sales uplift, is what we aim to achieve.”
But, despite all this strategy and effort to understand shoppers’ journeys, shopper marketing as a discipline is nothing new.
Gaye Steel, marketing director at in-store retail agency Guihen Jones, outlines: “Shopper marketing is not a new discipline, it’s an evolution of the shopper and retail functions that already exist. It’s complex and strategic, and it has to see the alignment of sales, marketing and retail objectives.
“The key thing about shopper marketing is connecting with people at those key purchase consideration moments. Identify touch points and how you can achieve and engage your messaging strategy to increase sales.”
And the touch points that marketers can – and should – employ to get consumer buy-in are far reaching, as Cassidy explains: “Touch points for shopper can be anything from a DM that goes home to a mum who is thinking about buying something and receives a sample, to when a consumer is online researching and gets triggered into thinking ‘this is why I should buy that product’, to when they are driving to the store and see outdoor media that triggers them to buy something.”
Tricks of the trade
You might think you are heading to the shops with a clear knowledge of what you want to buy. You might even have a list you’re determined to stick to.
But, it could be argued, those in the shopper marketing profession perhaps know you better than you know yourself – and chances are you will digress from your list.
There are dozens of tricks employed, from the obvious to the much less so.
Number one: make it easy. The easier it is, the more enjoyable it is and the more likely people are to pick things up that are offered to them.
There are lots of more specific tricks too. For example, did you know that everything in your local supermarket is strategically laid out? The confectionary aisle is a prime contender for amongst the most cunning. Sugar-free lollies go at one end, mints and gum at the other, and the fun-sized stuff in the middle, “so you ease people’s guilt and funnel them in to where the higher turnover products are”, reveals The Station Agency’s Sinclair.
Another, perhaps more obvious, trick is to use attention-grabbing calls to action such as ‘take home’, ‘grab’ or ‘pick up’. “The trigger the subconscious motivations in people’s minds,” says Sinclair.
And laying out a store so that it provides a logical and guided journey is also important, with big brands and categories employed to help with navigation.
Sinclair explains: “We use beacon brands and beacon categories to signpost around the store, as shoppers look for shapes, colours and logos they are familiar with.”
And presentation is obviously important too.
“Coles and Woolworths are working hard to optimise their stores for shoppers,” says Bailey. “That’s why we now have beautiful areas for fruit and vegetables, and the bakery. They are recognising that they can rearrange their stores to make shopping there a more enjoyable experience, and they are doing that.”
Understanding and anticipating the ways in which people think – getting into the shopper psyche – is a big part of shopper marketing.
Sinclair: “More and more clients are keen to understand the neuro side of things, and understand the emotional highs and lows for consumers and shoppers.”
And then, catching customers moments before they arrive at a store intending to reach for their wallets is also crucial, and is something that Val Morgan Outdoor specialises in.
The company has a network of more than 1,000 digital screens in about 250 shopping centres around Australia.
Paul Butler, director of sales at Val Morgan Outdoor, says: “Reaching shoppers is all about location and proximity to the cash register. We aim to locate our panels close to major retailers or in food courts where there is longer dwell time, so we can reach people who are in a purchasing mindset.
“We see digital as being the future because of the opportunity for advertisers to serve content at different times of the day in different environments.”
Marketing director, also called Paul Butler, adds: “It’s that last chance to influence people as they are about to buy. We are reaching shoppers as they are minutes away from purchase.”
The online challenge – how does bricks and mortar compete?
It’s easy to assume that the explosion of mobile, online shopping and the trend for ‘showrooming’ is causing the bricks and mortar stores to suffer. That’s the assumption that many retailers are also making – but is not necessarily correct.
The key is to embrace, not resist, the change.
Adam Grunewald, product marketing manager at Google Mobile Ads, explains: “While many businesses might assume that smartphone use in-store drives shoppers to seek better prices elsewhere and order online, we found that the opposite was true.
“We compared the in-store purchases of moderate and frequent smartphone users and found that basket sizes of frequent mobile shoppers were 25-50% higher. Marketers shouldn’t shy away from the showrooming challenge, and should instead, meet it head on.”
Evocatif’s Bailey (right) adds: “Yes there are more people shopping online, but that means the role of retail will change – it doesn’t mean that retail will die. Hence the trend in the US for showrooming, where the retail environment is an experience. Those retailers who embrace digital and integrate it into their environments will prosper the best.”
And Steel agrees: “Quite often, retailers don’t embrace showrooming or using mobile phones in store – they get nervous.
“But if retailers understood it and embraced it, it would open up new opportunities. When consumers can have price comparison and reviews at their fingertips, and pricing is consistent online and in-store, it makes it easier for them. And making it easy for consumers at the shelf can complement online shopping.
“It comes down to understanding your shopper and building trust. The whole seamless experience to bricks and mortar and online is all about trust and value – and value is not price.”
Grunewald outlines some of the ways in which retailers and brands are embracing technology. He says: “Understanding and embracing this new retail behavior can open up new opportunities for brands to connect with customers in key consideration moments.
“Some stores promote their expanded inventory online or implement a price match guarantee to retain savings-hungry shoppers. Others are putting smartphones to use with QR codes that share more information about products, or apps with store maps and real-time inventory.
“Whatever tactics marketers choose, it’s clear that smartphones are changing the in-store experience, and that winning the key decision moments at the physical shelves means owning the digital shelves too.”
Steel believes a new way of thinking is required around technology and shopping.
“Technology is fragmenting and complicating the path to purchase,” she says. “There has to be a deeper level of thinking, as it requires us to develop clear strategies. We need to start embracing and understanding that, as people still don’t know how to embrace technology. We need to use technology to enhance the customer experience and, although everyone is testing the water, no-one is doing it brilliantly yet.”
It’s no secret that Australia is lagging behind in ecommerce world.
Integer’s Bruton (left) says: “Australia is definitely behind when it comes to ecommerce, but our uptake is huge. In the US, supermarkets’ ecommerce equates to about 12% of sales, but here it’s more like 2% at the moment. We’ve seen in the past that once we decide to embrace technology, it takes off here.”
The Aussie challenge
The unique market Down Under makes for a different set of shopper marketing challenges and opportunities.
Unlike the markets we often look to for inspiration, such as Asia, the US and the UK, Australia has just two major supermarket chains.
Bailey says: “We have a unique retail environment here in Australia, which makes it a bit more of a challenge, particularly in the grocery sector. There isn’t the competitive nature that there is in the US and Asia that pushes retailers to do things differently.
“I do think that markets such as the US and UK have more years under their belts in terms of developing these campaigns and they have a more competitive retail environment so there is more capacity to do things.”
Bruton, whose agency Integer is part of the global TBWA network, agrees: “Our retail landscape in Australia in FMCG is completely different from overseas. What we can do in the US is very different from what we can do here, just because of sheer volume.
“Here, if you put all of your eggs in one basket with one retailer, your sales decline in the other. But in the States a brand would invest what would be a whole year’s marketing budget in Australia on marketing with just one retailer.”
She adds: “Our job in Australia is a lot more complex than it is in the US because we don’t have the same sized budgets. We have to be clever – we have to do the strategy work and find the nuggets for different retailers, and we have to have unique and different creative ideas to get the Australian shoppers to notice.”
When it comes to the future of shopper marketing, as with the future of almost everything, technology is set to shape it.
Online shopping, social shopping, big data, mobile, and hidden cameras are all set to play a part in the changing face of the way we shop, and the ways in which we are persuaded to shop.
For a start, our smartphones will play a bigger role in our shopping habits, as Bailey explains: “Mobile is very important for the future. I believe mobile is one area that’s really going to change how people engage with retailers.
“Smart retailers will integrate mobile into their shopping experience. When it comes to grocery shopping, it’s dependent on how much the retailers embrace it – so there has to be wifi in store. At the moment, that’s not necessarily the case.”
Bruton expands on this, suggesting that our increased trust in what we read online will prove influential.
“Digital is going to have even more of an influence in the next year,” she says. “People are making their decisions based on either prices or recommendations or different online retailers, whereas a year ago we were all a bit more nervous about decisions based on what’s online. That nervousness has completely gone now.”
Bruton also predicts that more and more of us will be turning to Google for shopping advice at the point of purchase.
She adds: “The way in which we make purchase decisions will also change. In the US, 49% of main grocery buyers are Googling product reviews while they are in the supermarket. Our shopping environment is not quite the same, but this behaviour will grow.”
The Station Agency’s Cassidy agrees that the online and offline worlds will further converge. “A shopper does not distinguish their purchase journey by channel, so the offer needs to be seamless across on and offline,” he says.
Other predictions include in-store tablets, so that if your size or the particular product you’re after isn’t there in store, you can order it immediately via the tablet. “That converts the sale right there and then,” says Sinclair.
And social shopping is set to soar, with some retailers already dabbling in the augmented reality and social sharing opportunities. Being able to virtually ‘try on’ different outfits, change the colours and share via social media is something we are likely to see more of.
Among the challenges in getting to grips with the technology-fuelled shopping environment is the piles of big data that retailers are sitting on.
Cassidy explains: “Retailers have a plethora of information, but they need to work out how to use it to target specific shoppers with specific offers.”
Guihen Jones’ Steel adds: “I believe marketers will develop deeper knowledge of that purchase cycle, but one of the challenges is understanding and embracing that new behaviour with technology.”