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The ultimate guide to shopper insights

Understand how purchase behavior is evolving in the rapidly changing retail market.

When people enter a store—whether it’s a physical shop or an online one—they have many decisions to make and plenty of options to consider. There are multiple items they could buy on display and several potential choices to make. Their behavior when shopping can tell you a lot about your products and your business and how they are fulfilling or frustrating for your potential buyers. 

But how can you decode what the actions and decisions of your prospects in a store mean? If you can manage this, you’ll gain a much deeper understanding of your customers. And that greater understanding can help you create a customer experience that meets or exceeds all their expectations. 

This is where shopper insights come in. They can help your company make smarter business decisions by understanding the motivations and meaning of your shoppers’ actions. This guide will take you through everything you need to know about using this powerful tool to build a better buying experience.

Momentive, the maker of SurveyMonkey, pairs the power of people and technology to help uncover business-critical insights about consumers, markets, and more.

Shopper insights are basically research that helps give you a glimpse into the decision-making process of consumers or people who are considering buying your products or services. Shopper insights aren’t merely observations about what people in an online or brick-and-mortar store are doing or purchasing. It’s about gaining insight into why people are taking those actions, or deciding not to take them, and what that means for your business. 

Shopper insights are a very valuable tool for retail businesses. They can help you improve your equity, increase your sales, and raise the profitability of your brand, category, or store through shopper-centric changes to the retail environment and messaging. They can also explain the motivation behind your shoppers’ actions and unravel the meaning of their decisions, essentially decoding shopper behavior. 

It’s important to note that shopper insights are not the same thing as consumer insights. We’ll go into more detail about this later in the guide, but here’s the essential distinction to understand: the shopper in your store is not always the end consumer. 

For example, parents making purchases in a grocery store may be buying lunch supplies for their children. A person purchasing pet food online is not the end consumer of those kibbles and treats. And someone browsing a high-end jewelry store may be making a purchase as a gift to a friend or partner. Shopper insights uncover what the person making the purchase thinks and does, and not necessarily the end consumer. 

The goal of shopper insights is to establish category management and your sales teams as an expert to drive your store’s retail strategy. In an increasingly competitive retail world, these insights can be the difference between success and failure. Shopper insights help you answer questions such as:  

  • Did the shopper go to several stores during the shopping trip?
  • Were they exposed to several retailers on the shopping trip?
  • How often do they buy this product? 
  • How much of it do they typically buy?
  • What else did they purchase during this shopping trip?

Shopper insights cover nearly all aspects of a shopper’s behavior and motivations, as well as a variety of demographic and psychographic information. This wealth of information is why shopper insights are so valuable to your business. A few of the most common components of shopper insights include: 

Who: The profile of the company’s target shopper.

What: The items the shopper buys, right down to the product, serving size, flavor/variety, and more.

When: The time, date, and/or seasons when the shopper buys the product (on Thursdays, at noon, during the winter holidays, etc.).

Where: The location where the shopper makes the purchase (online, in a brick-and-mortar store, etc.) all the way down to the aisle in the physical store or the online channel.

Why: Not only the reason why the shopper buys a certain product, but also why they don’t buy another similar product.

How: How the customer makes the purchase. Do they buy on impulse, plan to make the purchase, or do they decide after browsing the store?

How often: The frequency with which the shopper purchases the item (daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, annually, and so on).

How many: How many people buy the item and where they purchase it from. It also includes how many of any given items are purchased.

How Much: How much money the shopper spends at the store during a single visit or over the course of a specific time period.

How Long: How long the shopper spends inside the store generally, or in a particular aisle, section, or category. 

There’s a lot of research that goes into creating shopper insights, and it’s more than gathering data points—though statistics on shoppers are definitely the foundation. There’s a very important qualitative aspect to shopper insights needed for you to understand the motivations behind the actions as well. 

Gathering a wide variety of information to develop your insights is critical. Shoppers can often tell you directly some of the information you need, such as what they like about your product and how they currently feel about it. But they probably can’t tell you what they would prefer to see instead, or how they would feel about a potential change, because that’s outside of their own experience. 

Shopper insights can help you understand those aspects before you make updates or changes, and give you confidence that you are doing what’s right for your business.

Want to understand more than your shoppers? Momentive offers solutions to help you understand your market, as well as how to build better products, services, even brands.

The benefits of shopper sights are many. For starters, different types of businesses can benefit from research on shoppers. It’s not just retail stores who can study shopper insights, but also manufacturers of consumer goods, retail marketing agencies, and more. Essentially, any type of business model where you serve retail customers can gain significant value from shopper insights. 

Shopper insights help you understand how purchase behavior is evolving. In a fast-changing retail world, both in-store and online, keeping pace with customer expectations and actions is vital. Shopper insights help you stay on top of trends as they evolve and adjust your business accordingly. 

They also help you capture what elements impact purchasing decisions the most so you know what will drive increased sales and revenue. And shopper insights can uncover how behavior varies across segments of your target market, so you understand what different groups of shoppers want and do. They provide learnings about what channels and content formats will grab the attention of those groups of your target buyers so your marketing and sales approaches are more effective. 

Shopper insights aren’t simply about making sales in the moment either—they can also help you discover the major drivers of brand and category loyalty, so you can figure out how to keep your buyers over the long term. This will allow you to grow your sales over time with your loyal shoppers and gain valuable market share. Shopper insights can lead you into learning more about the health of your brand. For example, you may uncover insights about a key competitor, which prompts you to conduct your own brand tracking study.

Shopper insights help bridge the gap between what people say they want and what they actually purchase and use. Your shoppers might say they want more healthy options in your shop, but it turns out they purchase even more candies and sodas than ever when you move them closer to the checkout line - that’s essential information to know so you can deliver an effective and profitable shopping experience. 

Retailers and manufacturers can learn more about their buyers from shopper insights, such as where else their buyers shop and why they choose those stores. Industry tracking is an effective way of tracking competitive dynamics and perception. Imagine what you can do with data that supports how shopper behavior, expectations, and loyalties vary across those various retailers and channels, including online shopping vs. in-store. 

All of these benefits add up to create a hugely valuable wealth of information for retail-focused businesses. You can’t afford to leave out shopper insights as part of your overall market research strategy. 

As aforementioned, shopper insights are often confused with consumer insights, but they have important distinctions. Shopper insights focus on a specific segment of the consumer journey, or  the path to purchase and the purchase process. It does not focus on the experience of the end user, who may or may not be the buyer. 

People purchase things for their household, family, and business that they don’t use or consume themselves all the time. Separating out these experiences will help you gain a better understanding of both shoppers and consumers. Consumer insights can explain user behavior in a well-reasoned way, but they leave out important factors like the point of sale or the store experience. 

The main difference between the two insights is the focus of the research: the person making the purchase (the shopper) vs. the person using the product (the consumer). Sometimes, there’s no difference because the shopper is also the consumer. For example, a woman who heads to an athletic clothing shop to purchase running shoes, which she’ll use to train for her next marathon is both shopper and consumer. But understanding when these two roles are separate offers additional insight into the drivers of your business’s sales and customer loyalty levels as well. 

Consumer insights focus on the needs of the person who actually consumes or uses the product which tends to be more product or brand-centric. There’s a clear overt benefit to the product and a more dramatic difference between competitors. These insights can tell you how people who use your products feel about your brand, and the strengths and weaknesses of your products. 

Consumer segmentation is an effective way to create personas. This type of research allows you to create profiles of the demographic and behavioral characteristics of ideal buyers. 

Consumer insights can also be marketing insights, helping you gain a deep understanding of why people use a product and connect to a brand. They can offer information about how different brands compete in the same category and if a new product category is the right fit for your business, or if you should stick to what you already excel at. 

Diving into consumer insights helps your business work closely with brand health and perception data, category trends, consumer preferences, and other research. This information  can influence future product development and marketing.

Shopper insights offer a different kind of information on how and why people buy. If you’ve ever visited a store for one item and come out with something you didn’t plan to purchase, like impulsively picking up a magazine from the checkout line at the grocery store even though it’s not on your list, you can see how shopper behavior is influenced by many factors in the moment. 

Insights you can gain from studying shoppers instead of consumers include retailer-centric information, how shopping is planned, navigation, how relevant messaging and offers work, and what influences an impulse buy. They can also offer information about distribution, promotional activity, retailer dynamics, and in-store experiences, which can influence sales and marketing efforts in the places where shoppers actually buy: in stores or online. 

There are a variety of ways you can gather shopper insights for your business - you can use just a few techniques to collect highly specific data, or a wide selection of them to collect a breadth of useful information. 

In fact, since shopper behaviors and motivations can be highly complex, using a combination of techniques will help ensure you understand every facet of the shopper experience. The specific techniques you pick will depend on your overall research objectives, but blending behavioral, emotional, and attitudinal techniques will help better uncover the insights that drive shopper behavior.

Measuring quantitative data in your shopper insights strategy is wise. You want to have plenty of hard data and numbers behind your insights into shopper behavior. You can gather quantitative data in many ways, including: 

  • Shopper profiling
  • Segmentations
  • Shopper path to purchase
  • Communication tests
  • Shelf-set assessments
  • Virtual shopping/shelf sets
  • Decision trees

Online surveys can be a powerful source of quantitative data for your shopper insights. You can ask shoppers what led them to make a purchase, what stopped them from making one, what competitors they reviewed before deciding, what kind of research they performed, and much more. 

You can also gather quantitative data without asking shoppers about their feelings and opinions, but instead from assessing how items perform in a shop or how customers behave. That means collecting information such as demographic data on shoppers, how items perform when placed on different shelves or in a new product category online, behavioral analytics that assess online paths to purchase and the pages viewed, and much more. 

Gathering this data-based information is valuable because it offers a way to track trends clearly and observe progress and evolutions of shopper behavior over time. It offers you an understanding into what shoppers do.

Tap into your customers through Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), and find out what it takes to keep them happy.

Qualitative information, on the other hand, can offer you insight into why shoppers behave as they do. This kind of data can only be gathered by talking to your shoppers and asking for their thoughts and opinions. 

You can collect qualitative data by sending online surveys with open-ended questions asking shoppers why they made a certain decision or took (or didn’t take) an action. Shopper intercepts, where you interview shoppers in action, can be effective and insightful as well. You can also ask selected shoppers to create photo or video journals or diaries of their shopping experience, or invite them on a shop-along where you accompany them and ask questions. 

Online communities can also offer a wealth of qualitative information. You can learn what shoppers are saying on review sites, on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, in forums like Reddit, and much more. These unfiltered shopper opinions can be gleaned for insights into shopper behaviors and motivations, and uncover information your business can use to enhance the shopper and customer experience. 

Observing your shoppers as they are in the midst of browsing, researching, deciding, or making the final purchase can offer you a wealth of insights into their behavior. Since people sometimes act in ways contrary to what they profess they’re going to do or recall doing, adding in observation techniques to your shopper insight research can be very informative. 

You can use observation techniques such as motion detection technology on video cameras or unobtrusive hands-free video observation to see what shoppers are doing in the moment, such as shopper reactions and hot and cold zones in your store. These methods work well for brick-and-mortar stores. 

When observing your online shoppers, you can perform studies that use eye-tracking techniques to gain additional insights, instead of just tracking clicks. Where is the user’s eye immediately drawn? Where do they spend plenty of time looking but eventually opt not to click through? These questions will help you understand what buyers are doing in your online store, and complement your ecommerce feedback to better understand their behavior. 

Knowing exactly what the people who shop in your brick-and-mortar or online store, or purchase your products from a retailer, are thinking and doing is incredibly valuable for your business. Shopper insights can help you understand the motivation and actions of the people who purchase your products - and also the ones who opt not to.

If you’re looking to start your own shopper insights program, check out Momentive’s purpose-built shopper insights solution. It’s fast, intuitive, and data-driven to help your business understand the shopping and purchasing habits of your target buyers.

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