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Four Shopper ‘mind-sets’ in the supermarket

Nielsen study identifies four Shopper ‘mind-sets’ that determine what consumers buy in the supermarket


June 27, 2007, Auckland: According to a new Shopper study from The Nielsen Company, consumers experience up to four different shopping ‘modes’ during grocery shopping – and knowing how these change between supermarket aisles will help FMCG companies and marketers achieve greater leverage from their point-of-purchase marketing through packaging, pricing, promotions, and merchandising as well as through pre-store activation such as advertising and buzz generation.

“Our Shopping Modality study uniquely integrated retail sales data with advanced consumer insights and found that shopping dynamics varied significantly across thirty grocery categories surveyed, with shoppers adopting one of four different ‘shopping modes’ as they went about their shopping,” said Steve Mitchell, managing director, Nielsen New Zealand. “Furthermore, when promotional activity and product launch information was analysed against survey results, we could tell which categories/products were being over-promoted (and therefore a waste of money), and which new products successfully engaged consumers’ minds – and market share - across different categories.”

Depending on what kind of item or category they are purchasing, shoppers might be in auto-pilot mode (grab and go), seeking variety mode, (seeking new tastes and formats), highly susceptible to ‘buzz’ mode (and open to engaging advertising) or are simply on the hunt for a bargain (on the lookout for price discounts and promotions).

“Shoppers don’t waste energy on everyday decisions. To simplify their lives, they often shop in grab-and-go mode, reaching for the brands they usually buy without reading the label or checking the price. At these times, they are on auto-pilot, brand choice is highly habitual and shoppers are not in the market to try anything new. Marketers need to tailor their strategies to reach them,” said Mitchell. Items such as coffee, cereal, cheese, margarine and mayonnaise often fall within a shoppers’ ‘auto-pilot’ mode.

According to the Nielsen study, the key to breaking through to shoppers on auto-pilot lies in knowing when and how auto-pilot can be disrupted by external stimuli. When this happens, shoppers re-evaluate their decisions; they look at alternatives and consider new offers. Nielsen calls these disruptions Delta Moments and it is in these moments that marketers have a brief window of opportunity.

“Certain categories are all about auto-pilot shopping behavior. People are quite particular about their coffee for example, yet our research showed that brand choice actually becomes highly habitual. Consumers are reassured they will get the same caffeine fix, the same flavor and the same coffee experience. Why mess with it by experimenting with a different brand? The implication for marketers in auto-pilot categories is that if you are a leader then avoid radical repositioning or pack changes: you may risk disrupting habitual behaviour which drives brand choice in your favour,” commented Mitchell.

However, according to the Nielsen study, the same rules don’t apply in Buzz-activated categories. Buzz-activated categories typically include energy and sports drinks, chocolate, ready-to-drink tea and yogurt drinks. “Customers aren’t on auto-pilot when they shop for these products – instead their radar is fully tuned in as they actively explore alternatives. Marketers of ‘buzz’ categories need to generate constant ‘buzz’ through exciting advertising, new introductions and innovative packaging that leaps off the shelves to grab the consumers’ interest and attention.”

And while new product beverages such as energy drinks are highly activated by buzz, driven through excitement generated in-store and pre-store - the study also found chocolate (with a high rate of brand extensions and new ‘flavours’) also resonated with the dynamics of Buzz-activated strategies.

With Variety-activated categories, auto-pilot is also often switched off when shoppers cruise frozen foods and cold cereal aisles. Consumers get bored with the same choices, or they are seeking internal affirmation as the household “chef” that they can deliver variety and surprise in their role.

“In this context, exciting and informative packaging plays a major role in purchase decision as consumers are browsing actively and on the lookout for interesting and new product innovations.” Biscuits, chewing gum and salad dressings also frequently fit into the “variety seeking” shopper mode.

On the other hand, Bargain-hunted activated categories are driven by purely price comparison and promotions. These may include canned tuna, canned tomatoes, canned fruit and even pasta sauce.

“It all comes down to marketers knowing what ‘mode’ shoppers are in when they shop for specific products or categories. The old truth about striking while the iron is hot is directly applicable. Our Nielsen insights offer the most advanced shopper understanding, by tracing the ‘body language’ of shoppers and uncovering which hot buttons to push,” said Mitchell.

The Nielsen Shopper Modality Study was conducted by the Customised Research division of The Nielsen Company, and powered by integration with Nielsen retail measurement information.

Nielsen Customised Research, operating in more than 100 countries, provides clients with survey research, analytical and consulting services, including measures of consumers’ attitudes and purchasing behaviour, segmentation, brand equity, pricing, packaging, advertising effectiveness, customer satisfaction & loyalty and other marketing issues.

About The Nielsen Company

The Nielsen Company is a global information and media company with leading market positions and recognised brands in marketing information (ACNielsen), media information (Nielsen Media Research), business publications (Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, Adweek), trade shows and the newspaper sector (Scarborough Research). The privately held company has more than 42,000 employees and is active in more than 100 countries, with headquarters in Haarlem, the Netherlands, and New York, USA. For more information, please visit,


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