Consumers experience up to four different shopping 'modes' during grocery shopping, and simply knowing how these modes change between supermarket aisles could help FMCG companies and marketers improve their point-of-purchase marketing, packaging, pricing, promotions, merchandising, and advertising, according to a shopper study from The Nielsen Company.
The Shopping Modality Study combined retail sales data with consumer insights and found that shopping dynamics varied significantly across the thirty grocery categories surveyed, with shoppers adopting one of four different shopping modes as they went about their shopping.
The four mental modes
Depending on what kind of item or category they are purchasing, shoppers might be in one of four modes:
- Auto-pilot - in which they simply grab the desired product and go;
- Seeking variety - in which they are seeking new tastes and formats;
- Susceptible to Buzz - which involves being open to engaging advertising;
- Bargain hunting - in which they are simply looking for price discounts and promotions.
According to Lennart Bengtsson, president for Nielsen EEMEA, shoppers don't waste energy on everyday decisions. To simplify their lives, they often shop in grab-and-go mode, reaching for the brands they usually buy without reading the label or checking the price. At these times, they are on auto-pilot, brand choice is highly habitual, and they are not in the mood to try anything new. Items such as coffee, cereal, cheese, margarine and mayonnaise usually fall into a shopper's auto-pilot mode.
Turning off the auto-pilot
But, Nielsen suggests, the key to breaking through to shoppers on auto-pilot lies in knowing when and how the auto-pilot can be disrupted by external stimuli. When this happens, shoppers re-evaluate their decisions, look at alternatives, and consider new offers. Nielsen calls these disruptions "Delta Moments", and it is in these moments that marketers have a brief window of opportunity.
"Certain categories are all about auto-pilot shopping behaviour," Bengtsson explained. "People are quite particular about their coffee, for example, yet our research showed that brand choice actually becomes highly habitual. Consumers are reassured they will get the same caffeine fix, the same flavour and the same coffee experience. Why upset that by experimenting with a different brand? The implication for marketers in auto-pilot categories is that, if you are already a leader, you should avoid radical repositioning or packaging changes: You may risk disrupting habitual behaviour that drives brand choice in your favour."
Buzz mode decisions
However the same rules don't apply in Buzz-activated categories. Buzz-activated categories include energy and sports drinks, chocolate, ready-to-drink tea, and yoghurt drinks.
Customers aren't on auto-pilot when they shop for these products. Instead, their radar is fully turned on as they actively explore alternatives. Marketers of buzz categories need to generate buzz through exciting advertising, new introductions and innovative packaging that leaps off the shelves to grab the consumer's interest and attention.
While new product beverages such as energy drinks are highly activated by buzz, driven through excitement generated both in-store and pre-store, the study also found that chocolates (with a high rate of brand extensions and new flavours) also resonated with the dynamics of buzz-activated strategies.
A taste for variety
But with Variety-activated categories, auto-pilot is also often switched off when shoppers look for frozen foods and in the cold cereal aisles. Consumers get bored with the same choices, or they are seeking internal affirmation as the household's "head chef" that they can deliver enough variety and surprise.
In this context, exciting and informative packaging plays a major role in purchase decision as consumers are browsing actively, on the lookout for interesting and new product innovations. Biscuits, chewing gum and salad dressings also fall into the variety seeking shopper mode.
Bargain hunters and cherry pickers
On the other hand, Bargain hunt-activated categories are driven purely by price comparison and promotions. These include canned tuna, canned tomatoes, cheese, canned fruit and even pasta sauce.
According to Bengtsson, "It all comes down to marketers knowing what mode shoppers tend to be in when they shop for specific products and categories."
Interestingly, when promotional activity and product launch information was analysed against the survey's results, it became obvious to Nielsen's analysts which categories and products were being over-promoted (a waste of the marketing budget) and which new products had successfully engaged consumers (and would therefore gain market share).