Refreshing Your Shopper Insights

By Sue Nicholls

Over the past 18 months we have experienced unprecedented changes in consumer and shopper behaviour – their work and home life, their needs and their shopping behaviors have all shifted. A new shopper is emerging and at this point we are uncertain which behaviors have changed permanently and are new habits and which ones they are going to revert back to their old ways. In net, a “new normal” is evolving and transformation is necessary.  Many traditional brands are struggling today because they are not understanding the shopper – including both retailers and suppliers.  The changing shopper, technology, data and environment have outpaced many organizations.  The connection to this rapidly changing consumer and shopper is paramount for successful organizations in the future.

How do you relate your business results (sales, profit) to shopper behaviour?  There is a tendency to look at our business purely from a volumetric perspective – with share point changes, indices and growth numbers, and then we tie it to the tactics – or changes in promotion, price, assortment, shelf and shopper marketing. In shopper panel data, we can dissect sales into two very important measures – “penetration” (or % of households buying) and buying rate” (or $/household or $/buyer). Multiply these two numbers together to get total sales for your business. By looking at these two simple measures you can start to get a much better perspective on how the shopper is changing their behavior, which is ultimately driving your sales results.

How have you refreshed your understanding of your shopper this year?

In 2021, we should not go back to the “old way” of looking at our shopper nor can we assume our shopper and their behaviors are the same as pre-pandemic. Not only do our category (consumer) decision trees need to be updated, market research needs to be refreshed, and we need to analyze and track our most recent shopper data to understand their new behaviors, who they are, and reflect this new shopper into decisions and recommendations that we make.

Understand Changing Shopper Behaviour

To understand changing shopper behavior, you should drill into detailed shopper behavior data for your categories from panel data. Many consumer goods categories experienced strong numbers over the course of the pandemic – the shelves were wiped clean from pantry loading. Many categories experienced unprecedented growth or loss in penetration (or % of households buying), purchase size, purchase frequency and buying rate. And this resulted in significant gains or losses in dollar sales and profit for many organizations (remember that penetration multiplied by buying rate equals dollar sales).

These massive swings in numbers are now in our historical databases from 2020 – including the data that we track. And now that we are coming out of the pandemic, we will see (or are already seeing) some huge swings in point changes and indexes and % changes vs year ago. We need to drill into the most important behavioral data at a more granular level to include:

  1. Product groupings – drill into your category to understand most important Shopper segments or hierarchies identified from your category decision tree.
  2. Geographies – compare results to total markets, regions, formats and banners.
  3. Time periods – look at different time from a 12-week, 24-week and 52-week time period vs year ago and start understanding shifts from both a short- and long-term perspective. You should also be looking at monthly trends for penetration & buying rate and drilling into product groupings of particular interest.

Know Your Shopper

Panel data has come a long way – and there is an opportunity to know our heaviest category shoppers in a lot more detail. Who are they? What brands and subcategories have the heavy and loyal buyers? How are they shifting? 

When we drill into the demographic data, we even get more juiciness out of the data. Demographic data is important to look at from different perspectives with purpose. For example, my category or subcategory or brand may have segments that target specific generations (Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X and Boomers) – where buying behaviors are very different across these buyer groups. I can get a lot of insights into the different generations and look for demographic shifts since the pandemic, once again drilling into Geography and Product Groups for deeper insights (including competitive).  Make sure you include a combination of % of households by demographic group (to understand the size of each demographic segment), an index vs all category households, and an index vs all category dollars for a true understanding of who the shopper is. If you do not look at these three measures together you are limiting your insights.

Once you complete a deep dive to understand changing shopper behavior and knowing your shoppers and how they are changing, you can start to ask more detailed questions to your shoppers through some Shopper Research. These questions should answer the “why” in the areas of your data that you cannot explain. There are some much quicker and cost-effective ways to get these insights to understand more relevant “why” types of questions related to a specific business issue or opportunity that you identify.

Remember the Shopper in Your Work

No matter the work that you do – whether you are in a role in category management in retail or CPG, shopper insights, trade marketing, shopper marketing or sales – you need to incorporate a deeper shopper understanding into your work and your decision-making. We cannot go back to the way we used to do things. I challenge you to think about some ways to improve your approach.

Shopper insights is a common interest for retailers and suppliers as it relates to category management – and for some organizations, the primary place for collaboration and deeper understanding of shopper insights.  Our work and decisions and recommendations need to reflect the shopper, from category decision making to strategy to reducing leakage and building category sales and profit to all your analytics – you need to remember the shopper!  

How to Move Forward with a Refreshed Shopper Approach

  1. Complete a “Shopper Understanding” review for your business and share learnings internally.
  2. Uncover / invest in new insights to better understand the “why” for your most important (and well articulated) Shopper segments.
  3. Share shopper data and insights broadly across the organization.  Everyone needs to understand the shopper from the same vantage points.  NO SILOS!
  4. Track shopper behavior and insights in 2021 and stay in touch with your shoppers and their changing needs as we come out of the pandemic.


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