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.
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.