Stopping the In-and-Out Shopper

Grabbing Shoppers Attention Is Harder Than Ever

By Jeff Doucette, founder, Field Agent Canada

Shoppers today are on a mission. Namely they are on a mission to get in and out of the grocery store as quickly as possible. Like a half marathoner that has been training for weeks and has their favorite playlist playing on their wireless earbuds at the starting line, shoppers cross the threshold of the store aiming for their “personal best” time on each shopping trip.

Recent research that Field Agent conducted in eight countries showed that Canadian shoppers are not unique in this regard. Before COVID-19, 75 per cent of shoppers would spend significant time browsing the aisles but that has dramatically shifted in the past year, with only 22 per cent of respondents saying they are spending significant time in-store nowadays. Canadian respondents showed an even bigger shift with shoppers spending a significant amount of time in-store falling from 82 per cent to 21 per cent.

Shoppers are also coming to the store less often. Prior to the pandemic 66 per cent of Canadians reported that they visited a grocery store two-four times per week. Now 71 per cent of Canadians saying that they are going to the grocery store just once per week.

So how do retailers and brands get the attention of these “dialed-in” shoppers so they can expose them to the new products and promotions that drive sales and profits in our industry?

When it comes to in-store displays, end-caps were the best at driving purchases with 28 per cent of Canadian shoppers saying they bought at least one item from an end-cap in shopping trips taken in October. This compares to 17 per cent buying from floorstands, 17 per cent buying from displays at the store entrance, 11 per cent buying from pallet displays and just eight per cent buying from checkout displays. End caps are the prime real estate as they are almost twice as effective in driving sales versus other options.

In the main section, 15 per cent of respondents said that on-shelf signage encouraged them to purchase an unplanned product, compared to five per cent for coupons and four per cent for loyalty offers.

One watch-out here is that we know from other shopper studies that shelf signage is most effective when the colors contrast and stand out from the products behind it. A yellow sign in front of a wall of Cheerios will be less effective than a pink sign in the coffee section. Resist the urge to make the signage look too much like the packaging.

Before the pandemic, the great trial driver was the in-store demo. Weekends provided shoppers with several opportunities to taste the latest soup or try the newest granola bar in a bite-sized portion. COVID-19 has changed all of that with both health regulations and consumer intent throwing major challenges the way of the traditional demo.

For many retailers, demos are a major revenue source and for brands and they can make up a large part of traditional shopper marketing budgets. The industry will need to develop other ways of getting products into the mouths of consumers to drive trial although the model will likely need to centre around getting full sized samples into the hands of their target buyers.

In order to grab the attention of today’s focused shopper we need to use the tools we have been using for years, but we need to realize that the value and effectiveness of these tools have changed.

Retailers will want to maximize revenue from the most effective real estate and brands will want to make sure they are not wasting shopper marketing spend on displays that do not get the shopper to stop and buy or signage that just blends into the wallpaper of the section. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Jeff Doucette is the founder of “Field Agent Canada” a smartphone driven audit service that is revolutionizing how retail audits and mystery shops are completed in Canada. He can be reached at



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