Monday, July 18, 2011

Basic Shopper Metrics Help Innovators Understand a New Product’s Place in the Retail Shopping Landscape

Anyone who has taken a new CPG product through concept testing and launch will be familiar with basic measures of new product success like Trial Rate – the percent of consumers who found the product offer appealing enough to try it and Repeat Rate – the percent of triers who were satisfied enough with the product’s performance to buy it again.

Now, with the rising importance of understanding the shopper as well as the consumer, innovators have a new set of basic shopping metrics to learn. Just as an architect needs to make a new building fit into the existing landscape of roads, buildings, and green space, innovators need to understand how their new product fits within the “landscape” of the retail shopping experience. In addition, just as the architect needs to satisfy design requirements both emotional (such as a warm and welcoming entrance) and quantitative (such as rooms with specific measurements), innovators need to understand the shopper emotions* associated with high versus low values of the new shopping metrics.

Here are three basic shopping metrics that provide valuable guidance for new product designers.

· Predetermination. This is the % of shoppers who know what category, brand, and SKU they’re going to buy before they even enter the store.

o In some categories, the purchase decision is often predetermined right down to the specific SKU and number of units bought. For example, when she buys milk, Mary always buys one gallon of Dean’s fat-free.

o In other categories, shoppers are more likely to enter the store with the general category on their list, but will select the specific brand, SKU, and quantity after examining the available assortment. For example, when visiting the cereal aisle, Sue may buy anywhere from 1 to 4 boxes, selecting from a consideration set of 10 different brands, with multiple factors impacting her choice such as sales, coupons, what varieties she bought last time, and what is still in the pantry.

The level of predetermination tells us several things about the shopper’s mindset, such as whether category shoppers are more likely to be on a finding mission or a selecting mission and also the extent to which the shopper is likely to notice and be influenced by in-store marketing.

o Mary buying milk is on a finding mission and needs only a few visual cues to navigate to the milk case, the fat-free variety, and the Dean’s brand; she is likely to block out everything else in the vicinity. Emotionally, Mary wants a sense of mastery, that she can immediately find her usual products within the complexity of the store.

Research Tip: Eye-tracking research is key to determine the specific visual cues used to find the best-selling products in the category, so that you can make sure your new product has its own unique “finding” cues.

o Sue buying cereal is on a selecting mission and is more likely to notice new products, displays, sale price signs, and at-the-shelf coupons. Emotionally, selecting can become a sport, where the shopper is looking for a win.

· Category familiarity. This is defined by the combination of two metrics: % household penetration and annual purchase frequency.

o The more widespread a product’s usage is, and the more often it is replenished (e.g., milk), the more likely shoppers are to know about all of the available options and to now shop the category on “auto-pilot,” blocking out in-store marketing. If you want to interrupt the auto-pilot, you generally need to do it outside the store.

o The less familiar the category, the more information the consumer is likely to seek, and the more assistance she needs to differentiate among options. The shopper is likely to feel insecure and seek the reassurance and safety of a well-known brand name or a trusted endorser, or, lacking that, she’s likely to choose the product with the best explanation of its features and benefits. If frustrated in determining the optimal product for her needs, she may resort to choosing on price or even delay her purchase.

· Category complexity. This is defined by four numbers, typically obtained from syndicated retail sales data: the number of unique SKUs carried in a typical store; the % of SKUs that are new each year; the absolute number of unique product attributes available, such as brands, forms, flavors, colors, scents, active ingredients, package types, sizes, and price/quality tiers; and the number of highly technical attributes which are harder to understand and compare, as in health care categories and functional foods. The more complex the category, the more time a shopper generally spends on both finding and selecting, making these categories prime targets for in-store marketing investments.

o In a category with high variety complexity -- even one with high familiarity, such as canned soup -- the shopper can easily become frustrated in even the most basic finding mission. Such categories present an opportunity to improve shop-ability (leading to higher sales) and to better satisfy the shopper’s emotional need for mastery (leading to higher brand and retailer loyalty). The Campbell’s Soup IQ Mazimizer is a success story in this regard, as is their new soup label design.

o In categories with high technical complexity and low familiarity – such as many health and personal care categories – the brand with the clearest story that most strongly taps into a shopper’s emotional needs is most likely to win. Remember that you have only seconds to tell your story at the shelf, so your package’s text and imagery are crucial.

o Categories with lower complexity are often ripe for innovation in packaging and marketing. Think about how you could tap into the shopper’s emotional needs for connection with family and friends, for playtime, for self-creation.

When you put these three metrics together, you have a good starting point for understanding the landscape of a category.



Package fronts need to address the questions a shopper needs answered in order to make her purchase decision. For example, when buying cold medicine, the symptoms treated and the number of days of relief in the package are critical facts to the shopper. When buying family meal components, the shopper really wants to know the number of servings in the package and perhaps the prep time. How do you figure out which features are driving purchase decisions? In-store shopper observation and interviewing is the place to start, because you need to see how much time the shopper spends reading package information, what parts of the package they look at, and then capture their thoughts immediately. You get the most realistic results by talking to real shoppers in real stores. Then, to test specific executions, try one of the virtual reality shopping systems offered by vendors such as Vision Critical, Red Dot Square, Fifth Dimension, and Decision Insight. For a review of the process Campbell’s Soup used to come up with their new label design, click here. (If this link doesn’t allow you to see the full article, just Google “emotional soup shopping.”)


* Credit to shopper marketing agency SaatchiX for defining mastery, security/safety, sport/competition, and connection as the most important shopper emotional needs in 2009. Less important but still in play are dreaming, self-creation, sanctuary, and playtime.

Can Something as Amorphous as “Shopper Engagement” and “Shopper Inspiration” Really Be Measured?

Researchers say, “yes!”

Picture in your mind your most recent shopping trip. What did you see when you first entered the store? How did that make you feel about the store? (I remember being at one grocery store and seeing a tall stack of cases of pop with no signage over it, just sitting there next to the lines of shopping carts, and thinking how empty and boring the store looked.) Now think about the rest of the store. Was there any product or display or signage that captured your interest, anything that inspired an unplanned purchase on that trip? (I remember being at a second supermarket and seeing little signs over each stack of apples describing the unique flavor of each variety. I liked that, because I want to eat more fruit but am hesitant about trying new things. I ended up buying several new varieties to try.)

Now consider these questions:

  • Was there anything in the store that caught your attention and thus INFORMED you of a particular product’s existence and/or some feature/benefit of the product? That’s Shopper Marketing 1.0.
  • Was there anything that ENGAGED you emotionally? That’s Shopper Marketing 2.0.
  • Was there anything that INSPIRED you to act, i.e., to make a specific purchase? That’s Shopper Marketing 3.0.

As an innovator, one of the ways you can help a new product succeed is to make sure that the product packaging – and the combination of messages and visuals used in any other in-store marketing efforts -- achieves the shopper marketing 3.0 level, to not only inform the shopper about the product but to engage the shopper emotionally and inspire them to purchase.

But how can you measure something as emotional and ambiguous as engagement and inspiration? Here are four rapidly evolving techniques to consider.

· Eye Tracking in Real Stores. In 2009, the research firm Sheridan Global launched a new continuous syndicated research service dubbed the Marketing At Retail Initiative (MARI), backed by a consortium of companies that includes POPAI, 7-Eleven, ampm, Ahold/Stop & Shop, Walgreen’s, PepsiCo, McKee Foods, and Hershey’s. This service aims to create a measurement standard for shopper engagement, enabling both retailers and manufacturers to evaluate the relative effectiveness of different retail lay-outs, displays, and promotional offers. In 24 participating U.S. stores, all displays and promotional offers are photographed and databased. Participating shoppers wear glasses mounted with a tiny video camera, capturing their journey around the store and what they look at and what they touch; these shoppers also complete interviews on lifestyle, trip mission, and purchases. The data is then analyzed to learn which marketing vehicles are most effective in capturing shopper eyes, interaction (e.g., reading a package or promotional sign), and conversion to purchase. This system promises to reveal the extent to which consumers engage with different offers in a real-world setting full of complexity and distractions.

· Eye Tracking in Simulated Stores. A “simulated store” can be as simple as projecting a 2D image of a 12-foot section of store shelf onto a wall, and tracking where a consumer’s eye goes as she attempts to find a particular product. Or it can be as complex as a 3D replication of an entire store on a large computer screen, with the consumer using a steering device to “walk” through the store and “handle” products. Such methods are typically used to identify the best of several design options for a package or display.

· Neuromarketing. Companies like Sands Research and NeuroFocus use EEG or fMRI technology to monitor brain wave activity (sometimes combined with eye tracking or other techniques) to pinpoint the specific messages and images that capture and hold consumer attention, engage their emotions, and embed in memory. This technology can be employed while consumers watch video ads, handle packages, or shop in a real or simulated store.

· Facial Coding. If you’ve seen the Fox TV show Lie to Me, you are familiar with this concept. In shopper research, the typical approach is to videotape the faces of research participants while they are exposed to various marketing stimuli; this is often done in combination with eye-tracking. The video files are then analyzed to determine the degree of emotional response (if any) to each marketing stimulus. Typically, seven core emotions are recorded: surprise, happiness, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, and contempt.

Most importantly, business-building results have emerged from these leading-edge research techniques, when combined with in-depth qualitative interviews to understand why consumers are reacting to certain elements of your creative (e.g., recalling emotions of past experiences). Frito-Lay, for example, used neuromarketing research to study female brains and learned they should avoid pitches related to "guilt" / “guilt-free” and instead play up "healthy" associations. Bonduelle, a European packaged salad brand, used eye-tracking research to ensure that their new packaging enabled shoppers to find the desired item and answer decision-relevant questions more quickly, resulting in a 15% increase in sales. With both manufacturers and retailers competing for differentiation and shopper attention, these are valuable insights – and ones that are unlikely to have been found via a simple survey.

Shopper Insights for Innovation?

There was a time when innovators only talked about consumer insights, but shopper insights are now considered equally important. Important enough that Procter & Gamble, who popularized the term first moment of truth, last year introduced the term store back, meaning that any innovation must succeed at the store first and work back from there to succeed in consumer usage. So, what kind of shopper insights do innovators really need, and why, and how do you get them?

Some of the most important shopper insights are found by studying the Path to Purchase. The process that leads to a purchase is critically important to understand, but is not easy to reveal and it varies significantly by product category. Every research vendor has their own way of describing the steps, but the user-shopper-buyer cycle generally goes like this:

  • Recognizing a need and deciding to look for a solution --whether that’s as simple as buying just another gallon of milk that gets poured on every morning’s cereal breakfast or as complicated as a 50-year-old studying the beauty department for ways to look younger for a special event such as wedding or job interview
  • Perhaps doing some research such as reading product reviews or checking for coupons/specials
  • Deciding where to shop
  • Finding and considering the products available in that store
  • Applying prior experience and knowledge to evaluate product claims
  • Making the final decision of which item(s) to put in the cart
  • Using the product(s), and either being satisfied with the solution or not
  • Cycling back through the process to buy more of the same or to find a new solution as needs change

Why is this important? The innovator benefits from understanding the path to purchase in several ways.

  • You understand the types of missions shoppers are trying to fulfill, which enables you to ideate ways to make it easier for shoppers to successfully complete their missions.
  • You learn about features that need to be included in the product and/or package design specifications that might be crucial to the purchase decision but which would not be revealed if you were only doing consumption-oriented research. For example, the number of pieces in a bag of candy is vitally important for a mom who has to fill 30 goodie bags, and the number of rolls in a bag is critical information to the woman who is in charge of bringing the bread for a family gathering.
  • You gain insights into the comparisons that shoppers make, which might cause you to change your competitive set and redefine the criteria you use to determine whether your innovation proposition is unique and superior enough to gain traction with consumers. More than one new product has done well in concept testing but failed in-store because shoppers felt the price was too high relative to nearby options.
  • You identify the consumer touchpoints that directly impact shopper decisions – and most importantly, which touchpoint is the last one prior to the purchase decision – which will in turn guide your launch marketing and media decisions. For example, just prior to shopping for a moisturizer, what percent of women had researched options online, read a magazine ad, or got a coupon from the Sunday paper?

How can you get these insights? To understand the path to purchase, you need to interview shoppers pre-shopping and combine that with shopper interviews conducted in-store during or immediately after they have made a category purchase decision. Traditionally the interviewing is done by ethnographers who interview shoppers both in their homes and on actual store shopping trips, but increasingly the pre- and post-shopping interviews are done online in combination with virtual reality shopping systems. Four major suppliers are providing virtual shopping services, and you can read more about their capabilities and relative merits in this white paper. Another new approach to consider is BVI Networks’ RetailNext system, which uses in-store videocameras linked to analytic software to observe and count shoppers as they walk through each category and look at, handle, and/or buy individual items.

(side bar)

INNOVATION: Mobile Marketing and Research. By mid-2011 (just 18 months from now), about 50% of U.S. adults will have smartphones with high-speed internet access. This gives researchers a new way to overcome one of the biggest challenges of shopper insights work: the need for immediacy, to capture a shopper’s thoughts at the moment of decision. Today, shopper intercept interviewing requires high-cost interviewers and technology to be placed in a limited set of pre-selected stores. In the future, imagine a pre-recruited panel of shoppers who could answer a survey while shopping anywhere, any time.

It’s partly about facts. The path to purchase is, in part, logical and fact-based, so you want to make sure your research asks about all of the variables that shoppers might consider when making a purchase decision. For example, a shopper seeking an anti-aging solution is likely to want some scientific or visual proof of an anti-aging cosmetic’s efficacy before spending $20 or more on a solution. Click here for a checklist of variables that you’ll want to capture in your path to purchase research. But one variable has often been overlooked in innovation research, causing a product that did well in concept testing to fail in-store: the manner in which a shopper compares alternative solutions in-store. Click here to see products that did well in concept testing but failed in-store

It’s mostly about emotions. One of the leading authorities on Shopper Marketing, Andy Murray of SaatchiX, stresses that the vast majority of final purchase decisions are driven by emotions, not facts. So make sure your research goes beyond the facts and also helps you understand when, where, and how that emotional spark occurs.