It’s Time to Stop Talking About 'Shoppers'
A recent Wall Street Journal article by Jaewon Kang points out the unintended brand switching and trial created by out-of-stocks related to the pandemic, and continuing due to the myriad supply chain issues. Basically, the increased incidence of a person buying brand X instead of their usual brand Y is because brand Y is out of stock.
And similar to most industry commentary, the topic of “consumer” and “shopper” behavior is pondered in some depth. Here’s the problem: not every “shopper” is the same. Next time you’re in a store, look around at your fellow shoppers and see how you feel about being considered as completely homogeneous with everyone else there.
And yet, in the effort to understand, diagnose and predict behavior, we marketing and insights types try to assess “people” in the aggregate. This dynamic is being made worse by inflationary pressures; questions such as “How will consumers react as prices climb?” are common even at the highest levels of brand and retailer leadership. And yet, even the junior-most marketer knows that one consumer’s reaction bears little relevance to that of another.
Good news, though: from a neuroscience perspective, clarity emerges. There is, of course, plenty of nuance to consider, but in the effort to bust through this “shopper” oversimplification, it breaks out like this … There are basically two shopper mindsets: mission shoppers and ambient shoppers.
Some Shoppers Are on a Mission
One shopper profile uses a list, populated with selections made well ahead of the actual store/site visit. They make their choices early in the journey, and shopping becomes merely an act by which to execute upon them.
In many cases, this shopper type favors brick-and-mortar stores, and navigates the shopping experience noticing words and numbers more so than flashy promotions or imagery. It’s all business.
Brands with functional propositions, more technical claims, and more conventional price-driven promotions are more salient to this shopper mindset, and should communicate (e.g., via digital) earlier in the "decision funnel," as this is when selections are made in shoppers’ minds.
When it comes to out-of-stocks, these shoppers are particularly frustrated, as this hinders their ability to efficiently "complete the mission." Because of this, brand switching is uncomfortable and generally not a good thing in their hearts and minds.
Some Shoppers Are Following Their Noses
The other shopper profile shops without a list and follows website taxonomy or the store planogram to "follow their sense" and let themselves be naturally reminded of what they need as they shop. They decide on brand at shelf/on-page, and enjoy the experience of exploring a bit and making new discoveries.
This mindset tends towards e-commerce, as this shopping medium brings the world of discoveries right to their screen. This also lays bare a key opportunity for most grocery e-commerce experiences. Simply, while most e-commerce sites are awash with search boxes, drop-down menus, and verbal descriptions of product categories, these shoppers are much more compelled by visuals, video and sensorial exploration to help them navigate and choose.
Brands with more experiential propositions and unique sensory elements (e.g., flavors, scents, limited-time-offers, etc.) should concentrate here, and focus investments late in the decision funnel. These shoppers are influenced all the way through checkout, and pay much less attention to content prior to the shopping experience itself.
For these shoppers, out-of-stocks are kind of exciting and the need to try something different feels like a positive little adventure. What’s more, promotions can add to the experience by elevating beyond mere price-driven strategies — things like access to an exclusive online event or game, for example.
Human behavior is actually pretty predictable, and even this crazy period of supply chain pressure and inflationary pricing creates rich opportunities — as long as brand leaders know where to look.
Hunter Thurman is president of Alpha-Diver, the market research firm that applies neuroscience to more deeply understand marketplace behavior. The firm’s neuroscientists and strategists work with leading brands, retailers and the Wall Street analyst community to explain, measure, and predict consumer behavior. Clients include: Coca-Cola, Nestle, McDonald’s, and Kellogg’s, among dozens more.