Why Shopper Strategy Should Have Won the Season

We’ve just left behind the “most wonderful time of the year.” And the brightest. And loudest. And most insanely hectic and busy and the most emotionally intense. And marketers certainly did their part to add to the loudness, as a veritable choir of brand carolers hoping to lure out shoppers.

What boggles the mind is to see so many brands and retailers rely on strategies that didn’t consider the way people shop. Why be one more screaming voice when you could be the reason the shopping experience was actually more enjoyable and successful? I hate to break it to you, but it’s evident there’re major questions the brands aren’t asking – or, well, one question.

A better understanding of why people behave the way they do around the holidays would have allowed many brands and retailers to ditch their lookalike “screaming” strategies. Volume! Gimmicks! Larger-than-the-competition Budgets! – to get shoppers to spend their money with them.



Though most marketers generally know who buys their brand, few understand shopper behavior. As a result, almost every ad, circular and in-store display focuses on what is for sale, where can it be purchased and howmuch it is. The most important question – the Why – is neglected, and it’s where the most powerful answers can be found to drive connections and fastest conversions.

This is where shopper marketing wins… but you have to be ready to listen to what it tells you.

Today’s shopper is, pardon the buzzword, “omnichannel.” This means that pre-purchase (looking for inspiration and ideas, product research, price comparison) and actual purchases take place in physical and digital channels; for example, a pre-purchase that is initiated online can be completed in a brick-and-mortar store and vice-versa. Brands and retailers now need to focus on closing every transaction quickly, across as few touchpoints as possible. Just competing on price and convenience will mean that a shopper is likely to find a better option with little effort.

Consciously and unconsciously, shoppers constantly look for the shorthand. They seek brands and retailers that know how to effortlessly fit into their lives, elevate their experiences and become part of their routine. The more marketers demonstrate a sincere understanding of the Why that drives choice, the stronger the chance to establish a meaningful rapport.

The best defense is focusing on creative ideas, communications and offers that address the Why: people’s category considerations, alternatives, hassles and desires. Why do they select a particular store/channel? Why is the category important to them? Why is your alternative a better fit? Why do they want or need this variety?

The underlying motivations are complex. The good news is, we as marketers know how to solve this and have been doing it for years in order to develop consumer marketing in mass media channels. The same rigor that has been applied to consumer marketing research needs to consistently take place for shopper marketing research in an iterative cycle; identifying manageable segments and developing marketing communications, solutions and offers that speak to those groups uniquely. In short, you have some work to do, and here’s where you start if you haven’t:

Place the shopper center stage. The brand, the creative or the copy too often take center stage. Instead, shift focus on understanding how people shop for a specific product or category. The path leading to the purchase (e.g. the channels, media and technology used to look for information, compare, validate and share), the reasons for buying (e.g. self, others), the differences amongst shoppers (e.g. regular, lapsed, new), or the barriers (e.g. availability, service, price) to name but a few.

Reset your timing. Research can only to be conducted with actual shoppers right after the purchase occurs – days/weeks and not months – as this is when people are able to better describe and rationalize the entire shopping experience.

Determine short- and long-term commitment. For brands with sales heavily skewed toward a particular season (like Christmas, summer, back to school) two separate sets of research will be needed to determine your Why. This is important work, but needed because significant differences are likely to occur in how shoppers approach the category between the higher and lower sales peaks. Understanding external influencers like the general mood or trends, the effects of direct and indirect competitors, the length of time shoppers are able to invest to consider and compare options, or the use or not of mass media are some of the key factors that will help us identify our most valuable segments.

The reason we do not see more of these efforts today is resourcing. Many organizations are still set-up from a traditional brand marketing or retail mass marketing perspective – where segments have been defined from a consumption perspective and retail traffic defined by geographical and category mix opportunity. However, in a world of sameness, a granular understanding of key shopper segments allows brands and retailers alike to better target, significantly increase conversion rates, lower their dependency on traditional price and volume, and ultimately create deeper and more genuine shopper relationships.

The wake-up call to get moving on this now next year is our belated gift to you.

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