Study on body language sheds light on shopping habits

by Eric Schroeder
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SCHAUMBURG, ILL. — If you’ve ever felt like you’re on auto-pilot or in the mood to seek out bargains while shopping for groceries, you’re not alone, according to a new study from The Nielsen Co. Nielsen’s study of shopper behavior shows consumers present distinct shopping modes at the supermarket that dictate what ends up in their grocery carts.

"Shoppers don’t waste energy on everyday decisions," said Manjima Khandelwal, senior vice-president, Nielsen Customized Research. "To simplify their lives, shoppers are often in grab-and-go mode, reaching for the brands they usually buy without reading the label or checking the price. The key to reaching shoppers lies in understanding that shoppers’ habitual mode can be disrupted by external stimuli such as advertising, buzz, new offers, price and promotions. Marketers can leverage this brief window of opportunity to trigger change by understanding which hot buttons to push."

As part of its study, Nielsen reviewed consumer shopping behavior across 30 food categories, determining that consumers adopt one of four different "shopping modes" as they walk the supermarket aisles. The modes are:

Auto-pilot — In auto-pilot, also known as grab-and-go mode, shoppers make everyday decisions driven by brand choices and are typically not swayed to try anything new. Items that fall into this category include coffee, cereal, cheese, margarine and mayonnaise, Nielsen said.

"The implication for marketers in auto-pilot categories is that if you are a leader, avoid radical changes to your brand message or packaging," said Deepak Varma, senior vice-president, Nielsen Customized Research. "Otherwise you may risk disrupting habitual behavior driving brand choice in your favor."

Variety-Seeking — In the variety-seeking mode, shoppers browse shelves actively and on the lookout for new tastes as well as interesting product innovations.

"Consumers seem to get bored with the same choices in certain categories," Mr. Varma said. "We found shoppers on the lookout for a change of pace when shopping in the frozen food and cold cereal aisles, as well as for biscuits, salad dressings and chewing gum. In this context, customers’ decisions to purchase products were greatly influenced by informative and exciting packaging."

• Buzz — Energy and sports drinks, chocolate, ready-to-drink teas and yogurt drinks fall in the buzz-activated category.

"Shoppers are most likely to be influenced by catchy advertising, new product introductions and the original packaging that leaps off the shelves and grabs interest and attention," Ms. Khandelwal said.

• Bargain-Hunting — In this category, consumers are driven purely be price comparison and promotions, Nielsen said. Canned tuna, canned tomatoes, cheese, canned fruit and pasta sauce are items most often purchased in the bargain-hunting mode.

"Consumers in this shopping mode are on a mission and the mission is savings," Mr. Varma said.

The research revealed that even though some product categories are not bargain-driven, manufacturers continually offer in-store deals and promotions, resulting in some categories to be over-promoted.

"Consumers choosing sports drinks aren’t looking for a bargain," Ms. Khandelwal said. "In-store deals for these products go largely unnoticed. Marketers would be better off redirecting their wasted promo dollars to investing in advertising and new product introductions."

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