Reaching your target consumers is a challenge. Shifting consumer behavioral patterns and new shopping channels have complicated how marketers and brands approach shoppers. And while e-commerce has taken a big bite out of in-store sales and partnered with the pandemic to fuel headlines about a “retail apocalypse,” shoppers still walk, in vast numbers, into physical stores to pick up products.
Alter Agents conducted a survey to launch its Shopper Influence Research program and asked 6,000 recent purchasers who had bought in six product and service categories about the journey they took to arrive at their purchase decisions. Three of our categories — packaged coffee, household cleaning supplies, and dog treats and supplements — sit in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) sector and are often bought in stores. We wanted to know about the shopper journey for these products — how long did it take, where did shoppers get information about potential purchases, and which sources of information were the most influential.
What we found was that, though these products are sold in the same store, and sometimes even in the same aisle, shoppers turn to different in-store information sources to gather what they need to feel confident in a purchase decision. Shopper behavior is truly category-dependent.
Signage and Product Packaging Are Most Often Consulted
Though shoppers use them to varying degrees, the most often-consulted sources of information in-store were the product’s packaging and signs and displays. And while 54 percent of shoppers looking for dog treats read the product’s packaging to determine whether it met their standards for their pet, a slightly smaller 48 percent of shoppers looking for cleaning supplies did the same for what they’ll use in their home.
And while signs and displays were the top source for those shopping for packaged coffee and cleaning supplies, those looking for dog treats focused on the product packaging. For shoppers in all three categories, at-shelf reviews, end caps, and store employee recommendations were the least-consulted sources of information.
Store Employees Hold Outsized Influence
Just because a source isn’t as widely consulted doesn’t mean it can’t have an outsized influence when it does come into play. Employee recommendations were solicited by 29 percent of dog treat shoppers, 23 percent of those looking for cleaning supplies, and 22 percent of those picking up a package of coffee. But 51 percent of those who asked a store employee for their thoughts found the information to be highly influential in their final decision.
And among the most-often consulted sources, the influence held by product packaging is a mixed bag: 59 percent of packaged coffee shippers said it was influential, compared to 47 percent of those looking for cleaning supplies.
How Brands Can Move Forward
- Because usage and influence are category-specific, brands need to conduct research that directly applies to what they’re selling in order to act on solid, applicable insights. This can include a wide variety of methodologies to collect data, from qualitative focus groups and quantitative survey research all the way to more advanced techniques, like agile neuroscience. Combined, these various approaches can give a more holistic customer view.
- Consumer education is important, and store employees are in the best position to do it. This is easy if your brand owns its retail locations. If you don’t, make sure you take this point into consideration when planning your overall marketing strategy. While every product and category is different, you can consider adding educational materials for retailers, running incentivized workshops, or even visiting your retailers in person. In-store signage and shelf displays can help at the margins and likely work on impulsive shoppers, but they're not what people generally find to be useful or influential to their shopper journey.
Physical retail is still a big part of the market, so it’s not time to write off in-store marketing. Excelling in the channel means conducting solid research into consumer behavior in order to maximize sales and meet shopper needs.
Rebecca Brooks is the founder and CEO of full-service market research consultancy Alter Agents. She is co-author of the shopper marketing book, “Influencing Shopper Decisions,” published in April 2022.
Rebecca Brooks is an entrepreneur, columnist, and mother with 20 years' experience in the market research industry. As Founder and CEO of full-service market research consultancy Alter Agents, she feeds her inherent curiosity by uncovering the complicated paths today’s consumers take to help clients make better decisions every day. Rebecca’s passion for creating a rich, energized, and balanced work environment – while delivering exceptional quality and value - has created a true culture of collaboration at her company. She is co-author of the shopper marketing book, “Influencing Shopper Decisions”, published in April 2022. Rebecca holds a B.A. in Anthropology from the College of William & Mary.