Shopper Marketing: Focusing On What Matters

It is no coincidence that shopper marketing and digital represent two of the fastest-growing areas of marketing. Given the consumer mindshare that online, mobile and social media occupy, it is increasingly important today to understand the entire shopping ecosystem of consumers. In the not too distant past, retailers were trying to make their Web sites as good as the store. Now the challenge is to make it worthwhile for the shopper to even visit the store.

Today's shopper is savvy, sophisticated and thoughtful, and while most CMOs recognize the value of shopper marketing, many find it enigmatic and are in the early stages of understanding and developing effective, integrated programs. Shopper marketing must focus on two goals: 1) demonstrate the relevance of the retailer or product to shoppers' lives; 2) make it easier to find the right product.

Whether online, mobile, social, or within bricks-and-mortar, the goals are the same. But as a result of the changes in shoppers and the shopping ecosystem, the role of the store has changed. To maintain relevance, it must be as engaging, entertaining, and useful as the digital shopping experience.



The store is a complex environment, and while complexity itself is neither good or bad, confusion is the enemy. Humans have adapted to complex environments by developing coping mechanisms, and as a result, they are not purely rational actors. Instead, emotional, instinctual and rational factors all play roles in decision-making.

In the store, thousands of products and hundreds of messages confront the shopper, who takes on a number of roles (chief health officer, budget stretcher, friend to the planet, hero, etc.) while she or he tries to accomplish a number of purchases. The task is to make the shopping experience simple enough. Simple enough is bounded by how simple can we make it and how complex it needs to be. There are no absolute laws of simple enough -- it is relative. Simplicity is about the unexpected pleasure derived from what is likely insignificant and unnoticed. A treat rather than a nuisance. A smile for the mind.

If confusion is the enemy, then understanding is the ally and there are two elements to understanding that marketers must remain sensitive to:

  • Complexity of the task -- how complex is the task we are asking the shopper to accomplish? Buying a flat-screen TV is a complex task, with many considerations going into the decision; buying toilet paper is less complex. In both cases, communications can make the task at hand easier.
  • Sensibility to the abilities and skills shoppers possess -- marketers must be mindful of how much time and/or knowledge the shopper possesses. Increasingly, the trend is away from product features, and toward purpose.

Shopping made easier

Examples of shopping-made-easier are easy enough to illustrate. Consider:

Robitussin: The cough and cold section of the drug, grocery or mass merchandise store is complex (500+ skus on the shelf). The cacophony of brands, formulas, forms, size, and color cluttered at the shelf make it difficult to find the right product. Add that to the reality that when a shopper is shopping the category she or he is either often feeling bad or concerned about a family member, perhaps a child.

This marketer made it easier to shop the category by developing its "Robitussin Relief Finder" app Shoppers use their mobile phones to access Relief Finder, which prompts for symptoms, then shows the "right relief" on the shopper's phone. Just match the image on the app with the package on the shelf. It's that simple.

Best Buy QR Codes: When facing a wall of flat screen TVs, or trying to decide which digital picture frame is best, the shopper can use information. QR codes on the product card allow Best Buy shoppers to learn more about and compare product features, access customer reviews, and look at product availability -- all while at the store. This means that shoppers can proactively undertake the decision process at their own place and pace. It also can help streamline the shopping process by reducing the number of visits the shopper has to make to stores, Web sites, etc.

McRoskey Pillow Bar: Pillows represent one of those categories that most people purchase infrequently... a clear example of the shopper who needs to understand how to find the most suitable choice when making a purchase. The McRoskey Pillow Bar (in select stores) does just that. It simplifies choice by reducing the options from the start. How do you sleep? On your side, stomach, or back?

The Pillow Bar follows with a customized approach by offering all the ingredients for the shopper to personally create a uniquely designed, perfect, down pillow. The shopper can walk away in minutes with a custom, monogrammed, 100% cotton sateen pillow filled with pristine 650-fill power Hungarian goose down "to the perfect firmness for you, or that special someone." The focus is on what matters for getting a good night's rest -- and simplifying the decision choice.

Focus on what matters

A "what matters" approach to shopper marketing helps focus efforts on the things that matter to shoppers (demonstrate relevance and make it easier to shop). Understanding of how shoppers make decisions (emotional, instinctual, and rational) helps achieve simple enough solutions.

Simple enough can be incorporated into in-store communication and design by:

1) Creating a look and feel that is appealing, primarily to establish relevance, while attracting shoppers to the store or department, and to entice shoppers who came to the store for another reason.

2) Developing organized display and decision-support signage that makes it easier for shoppers to find the products and decide on the products they want.

3) Provide cross-merchandising to help demonstrate relevance and make it easier to shop.

Designed for the shopper in a complex world, first-class shopper marketing programs today must accentuate what matters and be simple enough to help shoppers easily make their decision.

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