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Shopper Habits: What they say isn’t what they do


Sep 5th 2012, 15:36

I’ve found out the hard way that what shoppers say and do are usually two different things. Countless intercept interviews, focus groups and qualitative surveys have lead me down the garden path, but not along the true path to purchase. As a result I have become a quasi-empiricist as precious behavioural research is expensive, time consuming and hard to find. 

I’ve read Neale Martin’s Habit: and recently Charles Duhigg’s . I highly recommend the former. Both books have provided countless insights, ideas and new approaches to tackle, shape and modify shopper behavior. But perhaps the biggest validation is that shopper marketing should do a better job by segmenting shoppers by behavior and not by groups of people.

We have two minds, the executive and the habitual. The brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort and tries to optimise processing power by passing many decisions to the habitual mind. This is true for the shopper as well. Many of my customers and peers dispute this when we talk about repertoire brand shopping, the volume gain influence of discounting and the traction of private label, all which on the face of it, seem to engage the executive mind. My simple retort to this is that this is how we’ve trained shoppers to behave and we are continually rewarding the wrong behaviour.

A rudimentary example of the above was work that we did in a category where we were number three and at a much higher premium. The category captain and lieutenant, fierce competitors, alternated their new discount price every week trying to outdo each other, retailer by retailer. The promotional grid was simply mirrored activity paying for the volume peaks, but not necessarily sustained baseline value growth. We however tacked on some unique behaviors and occasions that delivered exponential growth year-on-year even though we were more that 250% more expensive per unit.

Then on the back of our success as the main driver delivering absolute margin category growth, a retailer lured us in with the promise of much higher volume allocations over a sustained period if we discounted the product significantly. At the time this would recruit new users. The net result was we did get those volumes, but our value and volume long-term (baseline) eroded significantly.

Why? Simple, we were the unconscious choice for specific occasions where price didn’t play a role in the purchase decision. When we engaged the shopper’s executive mind with a 30-50% discount we inevitably trained the shopper to question our premium and mostly buy on promotion.

I’ve developed extensive guidelines and critical questions that Shopper Marketer’s need to ask themselves based on mantra:

3 Types of Shopper Behaviour (behavior per category shopped on the same mission)

  • Strong Brand Preference = Bonding
  • Low Involvement = Inertia Driven
  • Experimental = Variety Seeking

Shopper Marketing Needs to Facilitate Specific Behavioral Goals based on one of these:

  • Habit Creation
  • Habit Maintenance
  • Habit Breaking

I’m of the school that I’d rather be vaguely right than precisely wrong. In most instances one does not have all the behavioural research required. So my recommendation for now is to straddle both and indicatively complement with usage and attitudinal studies. But, continually ask yourself: What are the behaviors and what habit do you want to create, maintain or break?

or #shoppahabit where I will be sharing regular excerpts and ideas from the books.

Keep Digging.

Jason Frichol ()
Cape Town, South Africa

These views and opinions are my own and not those of my employer or customers.



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