Shopper insights in focus – not a needle in a haystack

Topics: Insights, Shopper

What are the major shopper insights bases to cover, so even if you’re a small company with a small insights budget you can still make a difference with retailers and shoppers? ShopAbility puts the magnifying glass to the world of shopper insights. For Retail World Magazine.

You don’t have to be a retail chain or top tier global manufacturer to gather and apply shopper insights (although it helps). You just need to know what you’re looking for, and what things can be used for what.  Here’s a bit of a rundown.





We typically look at shopper insights through the lens of what we call the 5Ws and 5Hs: who, what, when, where, why, how, how much, how many, how often, how long. See Figure 1.


Different data sources focus on different things:

  • Data such as scan will give you whats, wheres, and whens
  • Homescan/Shopperview will give you how much (spend), how many (AWOP), how often (frequency/IPI)
  • Retailer loyalty programs will get you similar data to scan (lots of whats, whens, wheres) overlaid with some whos
  • Trackers will typically give you behavioural data (what they did, how they did it) with a little bit of attitudinal data
  • Bespoke and custom shopper research tends to focus on the whys and the whos behind the hows – as much attitudinal and motivational as behavioural.


No single methodology will do everything, you actually need a mix of sources and methodologies to cover most of your bases – soft and hard measures, claimed vs actual behaviours, attitudinal vs behavioural influences.





So, data such as scan and homescan will give you a lot of whats, wheres, and whens. But in the past few years running shopper research projects for both retailers and manufacturers, we find what they really want to know is who, why, and how. The table at Figure 1 is a list of the most common shopper research questions (or strategic questions that research will provide guidance with, if not direct answers) and objectives we see when receiving a shopper research brief. Often the retailers and the manufacturers want to understand the same things, it’s just that the lens is different.




Retailers want to understand …



Manufacturers want to understand …

How should I lay out the category at shelf? What’s easiest to navigate, and what’s confusing? How can we influence the shelf layout?
How important is price really? How can we mitigate the role of price? Is it important for everybody?
How can we get shoppers to buy/spend more? How and where in the path to purchase can we influence shoppers and get them to buy our brands?
How planned are shoppers in the category? How big are the impulse opportunities? How can we interrupt or influence shoppers once they’re instore?
What do shoppers expect of this category – how can we provide them what they need? How can my brand overdeliver against shopper needs instore to shore up the sale?
What is the right range to carry? What are our range, product and pack opportunities, for whom?
What is the role of the category to my store? (eg traffic, destination) How can we leverage different shopping trip types?
Why are shoppers buying the category? What occasions can we leverage?
Who is shopping the category, and how do we target the right people? How do we tailor our offers to meet the needs of different shoppers? Who is worth the most to us?

Figure 2: common retailer and manufacturer shopper research questions. © ShopAbility 2012



Interestingly, when we conduct shopper research we often see a difference in what shoppers tell us they want when shopping a category (which tend to be more emotional, and tend to align to Dr AK Pradeep’s 7 Shopper Experience Dimensions such as interaction, entertainment, education, information) versus what retailers generally want research to focus on (typically the more rational point of purchase drivers such as range, space, price, promotion – ‘RSVP3’).




Scandata and homescan/shopperview data are the basic insight building blocks.

We also consider RSVP3 to be the basics, but more important is the need to know why – what sits behind the needs for certain ranges and layouts, because this is how you understand what the hot buttons are to push.


Once you get into trackers and bespoke research, the questions you ask may have either short term/tactical, or long term/strategic ramifications. Figure 2 below illustrates elements of this.

So what is core and what is optional rather depends on whether you are taking a tactical or a strategic viewpoint.

Typically we find that the whos, hows and whys are strategic, and the whats, whens and wheres (and some of the hows) are tactical.

And commonly the Hs (how many, how often, how long etc) are the objectives or metrics you want to move or outcomes you want to achieve, eg you want to increase frequency, AWOP, spend, traffic, penetration.


We reckon the ‘must knows’ are who is doing what, why (occasions, trip types, what they value or place importance on), and how behaviour changes according to the who (purchase hierarchies, navigation, path to purchase touchpoints).  This then gives you the context for some of the ‘should knows’ (dwell times, traffic/browse/buy conversions etc).


There are lots of different methodologies to arrive at shopper insights, combining exploratory (qualitative, smaller numbers, ‘why’ focussed) and evaluatory (quantitative, larger numbers, ‘how many do/think what’ focused). These can be both instore (such as accompanied shops, observations, instore interviews) and out of store (online surveys, in home diaries, focus groups, social media). I’ll cover these in a separate article. As we mentioned, no one methodology fits all … employing one single methodology will give you a snapshot, or lens to look through.




So now you’ve got yourself some shopper data, what do you do with it?

Data is just information. It’s how you interrogate it and interpret it that the actual insights – the ‘what’s really going on here’ – start to become apparent. The key question here is ‘why’? And the more you bounce it around the more you’ll see.

In the data you have, look for commonalities – where does the data keep telling the same story? What are the common themes? Where is it different? Build hypotheses and implications – ‘this means that …’. Note that grouped themes often form the basis of category drivers.

Share your hypotheses and findings internally with sales, marketing, operations, merchants to build more theories, insights (the whys) and implications (this means that…) and then once you’ve got it to a place you’re happy with then share it externally – along with actions such as store trials – with your retailers and/or manufacturers.




Why go to all this effort?

Because by understanding your shoppers’ motivations in your category, you’ll understand how to improve their shopping experience in your category. And that will improve sales.

It helps retailers and manufacturers talk in a common language – that of the shopper.

And it helps provide guidance with principles for consistent store merchandising.


And lastly, not only is it useful, it’s both interesting and fun.