Are You Getting the Most From Your Shopper Insights Data?

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How to Make the Most of Your Shopper Insights

I sat across the desk from the head of shopper insights at a major brewing company. ‘I’d love to work with you’, he said, ‘but we spent close on £0.8m on a huge shopper segmentation project last year, and to be honest, we still didn’t get any tangible outcomes yet.’

I wonder if they ever did?

This isn’t a one-off. All too often the very sensible idea that ‘we need to know more about the shopper’ becomes a mass of information but little idea about what to actually do with it.

To be brutally honest, because shopper research for most companies isn’t a familiar activity it lacks the well-worn grooves to drive actions that (for the most part) brand research has. The latter can inform advertising, packaging, formulation, NPD. We know how to do that. But what does shopper research inform?

I hate to rely on a truism, but why even do research until you know what you are going to do with it? Just knowing things doesn’t create change let alone growth.

Remember that USA advert for Wendy’s…..‘Where’s the beef’?

Not a bad analogy for shopper research. Never mind the big fluffy bun. When we think shopper – where is the beef?

Here’s my beefy shortlist:

  1. Winning the ‘moment of truth’.
  2. Improving shopper marketing efficiency.
  3. Becoming a trusted advisor to your retailer.

Beef # 1 Winning the Shopper ‘Moment of Truth’

First,  consider the last few feet of the path to purchase is when your brand is selected. The final point where all your marketing efforts convert into dollars. And don’t be fooled, most shoppers can easily be diverted at the last minute, few are as loyal as you might want.

Female shopper in the vegetable aisle of a supermarket looking at some onions
Winning shoppers is not a straightforward process. You can lose your shoppers even at the last minute


Don’t think about ‘shopper’ research as a tool to focus just on in-store processes. Of course, the process nowadays is far more complex. Multiple information sources play a part in decision making.

Your goal is to find insights that help your brands work harder at the point of purchase. They need to tap into subliminal thought processes and use all the tools available (eg pricing, location, displays, promotions) to convert the potential buyer. Insights will inform how best to use each tool.

I’ve been doing shopper research for years now. For me the most crucial things you need to understand about the decision are:

  1. When is it made, before or in the store?
  2. What are the triggers, e.g. replenishment or occasion?
  3. How loyal/autopilot is your category/brand?

Beef # 2 Improving Shopper Marketing Efficiency

The second chunk of shopper insights meat. Most companies spend a small fortune on shopper marketing, all that promotional and point of purchase execution expenditure. Of course, much of it is a necessary evil. We all know the ever-increasing requirements of the promotional pricing cycle. But working out how to spend that money even a little bit more efficiently will pay dividends.  The more you understand shoppers motivations and needs, plus the way they go about shopping,  the better you can match your message to the way they think.

Shoppers respond better to relevant messaging, presented when they are in the right mindset. Price reductions are easy to produce but expensive. Rarely do simple price promotions win new trialists. Our data shows that the best way to drive all-important growth in the base of your brand is through secondary displays linked to needs and usage.

If you know just two things, then you will be able to make your marketing work harder:

  1. Understand the shopper mission – what problem are they solving. Tap into that and you tap into the story already in their minds.
  2. Know how shoppers view price and promotion in your category – what behaviour change does this drive. Some categories/brands just cupboard load with promotion, others achieve genuine switching or growth.

Beef # 3 Become a Trusted Advisor to Your Buyer

Third burger, and by far from the least in impact, superior objective shopper insights gives you currency in the dialogue with your retail buyer. Improving category performance by meeting shopper needs more effectively is the common basis for collaboration. The retailer doesn’t care about your brand activity unless it delivers for the category, and of course the store. If you can be an advisor to your buyer based on unique knowledge and resulting ideas, you will be a valuable partner. Consequently, this will give you some advantages in proposing plans more likely to be accepted, winning a share of shelf and activity.

Each letter of TRUST on small wooden squares
Building trust with your buyer will go a long way


We are not saying that shopper insights can be traded like a currency, but more that they build trust and that trust and credibility then pays dividend in other conversations.

Put yourself in the mind of the supermarket buyer. What do they most want to know? I’d say these two things are what buyers truly care about:

  1. What does this category (and brands in it) do for the store better than the others? When I go to my team meeting what’s my USP? What’s the best argument to get more resources (space, promotion etc)? Call it Category Role if you like, but for me, it’s about Traffic, Spend and/or Conversion capability.
  2. Where are my competitors doing better than me? Ok, you can quote market share etc. But, if you can talk about how another retailer is winning the shopper’s hearts and minds then that’s catnip.

So, these are the three drivers of value, the beef,  that can be justified to invest money in understanding your shoppers. But when you get this data how do you get the most from it?

Driving Shopper Insights Into the Organisation

The trouble with shopper research, however much the beef is of interest,  is it can be hard to find an ‘owner’. Brand people when they hear ‘shopper’ think that this is about someone else’s problem. Salespeople hear the word ‘research’ and turn off. The Category team should be keen but sometimes they are just too immersed in all their Nielsen or Kantar data to think more broadly. One way to expand their view is to use shopper insights data such as Shopper Intelligence, which provides category-level data about the how and why of shopper behaviour from a retailer’s perspective (i.e. in a total store context).

Businessman analysing shopper insight data on an electronic touchscreen
Shopper Intelligence provides category-level data about the how and why of shopper behaviour from a retailer’s perspective


More than any other research project, you need to figure out the human side of getting the outcomes you want.

Moreover, if the research is going to end up in front of a buyer (we know their attention span) then you are going to have to distil it, distil it and after that, distil it some more. Be ready for the work involved.


Involve Users Early

Form a project team with a representation of the people you expect to work on the outcomes. Build an understanding of the insights early, connect the dots with current commercial problems before fieldwork begins

Be Selective in Deployment

The classic ‘big debrief’ where you gather everyone in a room and hit them with 200 Powerpoint charts is a nightmare. Deliver the data in bitesize chunks, tailored to the likely needs of different groups. Arguably there should be no ‘debrief’ even if it feels the right thing to do and management asks for it. No decisions were even taken in these meetings.

Link the Shopper Insights Into Existing Processes

Know when plans are being written. Brand plans, Category plans, Retailer plans. Show up for these. Be ready to cherry-pick the most relevant insights from your data that will impact these plans, that way they are more likely to turn into action. If your research is seen as being separate from business, as usual, it’s just adding to the workload not solving problems.

Shout About Shopper Driven Wins

Nothing succeeds like success. Be the PR manager for your research. When you get an outcome from any part of your learnings shout it from the rooftops. People will then come asking for more.

A Learning Loop Around Shopper Knowledge

Never think about insights as a one-off project. Just as no brand manager would ever say ‘Now I fully understand my consumer’ don’t expect to fix ‘shopper’ in one project. You will uncover new questions and new opportunities. ‘Shopper’ needs to be a way of working, not a research project.

In Summary

We need to find ‘the beef’. Shopper research presents more challenges than many other research options. We have discussed three ways shopper insights should deliver value for your business. With the right focus on executing these insights through the right internal processes, you should be in a better place to ‘land’ that value and not be like the guy I met looking in misery at his unused, expensive research project.

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