how to combine shopper and consumer research for awesome results

by: Emma Ditterich

Let’s face it. People are demanding. They want brands to recognise their needs, frustrations, fears and goals (without coming across like a stalker!). They expect brands to deliver the right message at the right time with the right frequency. Not that we’re saying people are high maintenance or anything, of course!

Now more than ever, the brands that truly “get” their target market are the ones that thrive.

The starting point to all of this begins with one simple question: Do you really know who your shoppers are?


DOWNLOAD: Mind Hack Your Shopper


Understanding your shoppers.

Do you know what drives your target market and where they shop?

Do you have insight into why they buy from you, why they choose your products, or why they’d be motivated to go elsewhere?

And while we’re at it, let’s talk about your non-shoppers (AKA your potential shoppers). Do you understand who they are and any barriers that currently stop them buying from you?


Shoppers vs. Consumers.

Hint: the shopper can differ from the consumer, so it’s important that you get to know both. The “user” (consumer) and the “chooser” (shopper) might well be the same person; people usually buy ready meals for themselves (#solodate), for instance. However, in many cases, they are not the same person. For example, beer is often bought by women for men. Mums buy toys for their kids. People buy pet insurance for their dogs (although it might be tough to interview the end consumer there). 

kid playing with toysExtra complexity comes from the fact that even when the shopper and the consumer are the same person, it’s an individual operating in a very different mode. That’s why it’s critical to understand not just what people want in a product or brand but also their mindset and behaviours during the shopping process.


“When you are in the shower and using shampoo, you are a consumer. When the shampoo runs out, you go into shopping mode and become a shopper. That is when the emotional drivers of shopping kick in and you have the chance to connect with the shopper.”

- (Dina Howel, Worldwide CEO at Saatchi & Saatchi).

For example, a consumer may love a particular brand of ready meals. However, when they’re physically in-store and have a trolley full of products, they might end up going for a cheaper option that’s on a "2 for 1" offer, instead.


Different modes, different research goals.

Shopper and consumer researchers (like us!) use many of the same data sources to gather information, but they focus on very different goals because they understand the significance of the shopper versus consumer difference.


“Shopper Insights teams leverage data related to distribution, retailer dynamics, promotional activity and in-store experiences to influence their business’ sales and marketing efforts where shoppers buy… Consumer Insights teams typically work more closely with brand health and perception data, consumer preferences, category trends and other research that can influence their marketing both above and below the line."

- (Numerator).

Often brands decide to focus their efforts on consumer research. Shopper research then gets forgotten or deprioritised.

We’d like to change that.


Why shopper research matters.

Ultimately, shoppers have the “moolah” and will complete the purchase. Depending on the category and retailer, they are the ones who will travel, search, find and pay for the product. Consumers will consume, or use, the final product. As tricky as it may be, your brand needs to understand both (whether this refers to different people or different operating modes) to drive conversion.

Friends enjoying cooking

Consumer research is clever stuff. It’s able to tell us the brands that consumers love and what they need in a product. However, if we don’t understand how people shop, we are missing a key link as to how to convert this “love” in the critical purchase situation.

To make this love story more tangible, let’s use a more obvious example: If we create a new toy perfectly targeted towards kids, we are ignoring the pressures and considerations that mums have in the buying situation (anyone who's been to a toy sale will know exactly what we mean), and these might well be at odds with the children’s wants. In this case, we end up losing another purchase opportunity because we didn’t wholly understand both sides of the coin.

It used to be enough to market to consumers but today there are endless brands and channels competing for attention. We can’t simply create desire for a brand and know that people will flock straight to us and only us. Nowadays, there are far too many hurdles along the way and opportunities for competitor retailers, categories, or brands to take a slice of the (likely gluten-free) pie.


How this plays out in the real world.

Here are some examples which illustrate the importance of understanding shoppers versus consumers and some handy insights about shoppers operating with different needs in different occasions.

1. Shopper differentiation. 

Coca Cola, the original soft drink king, has shopper differentiation nailed. The company understands the difference between big stock-up shops for the family and on-the-go consumption. How do they apply this? Coca Cola stock large format products in the aisles and smaller formats at the front of the store (in fridges where people can grab and go).

coca cola bottles

2. Innovation and re-launches. 

Exciting and much anticipated, big innovations and re-launches often do very well in consumer testing and then fail to convert in the supermarket during the first few weeks. Chaos ensues for the brand and sales plummet. Why? Perhaps the company has overlooked the competitive in-store environment. Poor performance can also indicate a lack of shopper insight; perhaps the packaging doesn’t work on shelf, the product is not in a location that makes sense to their shopper or the accompanying promotion doesn't 'speak' to the target shopper.

3. Convenience. 

As convenience becomes increasingly important to people, brands must adapt to keep up. E-commerce stores make it quicker and easier for shoppers to get what they need, and whilst big retailers move this way slowly, online retailers are eating away at their share. Look at how Amazon has completely disrupted the retail industry, and startup brands such as Glam Corner, who offer a rental subscription model for high-end clothing, are using technology to target consumers. 


What this means for shopper and consumer research.

It used to be that shopper and consumer research happened in isolation. Increasingly, though, we’re seeing brands and retailers adopt a more holistic view, acknowledging that a deeper understanding of the two may improve conversions in both states.

baby in a shopping trolley

Building a comprehensive picture of shopper and consumer behaviour by understanding the end to end journey – from online communities, to pack and product testing, path-to-purchase studies, eye-tracking, focus groups and iHUT – will become increasingly common as brands realise the combined power of shopper and consumer research.

No longer the poor cousin to consumer insights, shopper research is finally getting to take its seat at the table.

Want to know more? Download our white paper.

DOWNLOAD: Mind Hack Your Shopper

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about the author

Emma Ditterich

As PLAY’s senior account director, Emma has a zest for consumer and shopper research and has worked with top blue-chip companies in Asia Pacific, Europe, the US and the UK. When she’s not unearthing the next ‘big thing’, overcoming purchase barriers or building category growth drivers, you can find her enjoying the spoils of the Mornington Peninsula with her family and having her powers of negotiation tested by her toddler.

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