Engaging the shopper’s heart as well as their head

The more shopper research that I conduct, the more and more convinced I am that your average shopper enters a supermarket with a mindset positioned somewhere between fear & loathing.

That may be a slight exaggeration for comic affect, but what is clear is that few shoppers seem to enjoy their weekly experience pushing a trolley around store for 45 minutes and that can be a big problem.

The impact of this mindest is that it informs behaviour in store. We enter with the following objectives, 1) spend approx £X and 2) get everything on the list within Y minutes. Simply put we don’t want to be there, and if that is the case, then we’re going to engage far less with all that is on offer than if we do. There are categories which require consideration, closer inspection and a conscious decision, but in truth they are in the minority. Whereas fresh produce necessitates time for the “squeeze test”, canned items are shovelled into the basket with almost indecent haste; while we linger over our selection of wine, we grab our tea bags as though our life depended on doing so in a matter of seconds.

For most items, the decision-making hierarchy that we like to investigate doesn’t really exist, instead we find an habitual shopper, heading to the same section in store and picking up their usual brand. Coming back to the impact of this behaviour, how do we attract new customers or promote a new product line, with many shoppers seemingly closed to anything other than price promotion.

However, there must be a solution to this auto-pilot apathy. Price promotion certainly disrupts, but do brands really wish to perpetuate this constant state of product switching based on nothing more than the “best bargain”? Long term, that can only damage brand equity and leave consumers with the feeling that if the brand doesn’t value itself highly then why should they.

We know that impluse purchases still happen, but what is becoming clear is that the key to increasing in store engagement isn’t only to do with price promotions, but rather creating an immediate and compelling emotional connection with the physical pack on shelf and the consumption experience at home.

People enjoy shopping in the chocolate aisle because they associate the shopping act with the enjoyable consumption experience, with the colour and the imagery of the aisle helping to convey this. Likewise buying real ale or cider can be a pleasant experience when you’re confronted with an array of visually appealing packs requiring a considered, appetite-based decision on your part. These are but two examples, but it’s not hard to imagine that areas such as Coffee should be able to move people from the mundane experience of the supermarket and towards the consumption experience of that perfect cup of coffee in your favourite armchair.

Engaging the shoppers hearts rather than their heads might just be the best way to push on in tough times.


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Sunita Bhabra
01962 842211
Article date - 22/05/2012
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