Nielsen study decodes supermarket shopping behavior

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Marketing Breakfast Nielsen

A new consumer survey aims to help manufacturers understand why
shoppers buy the same brand of products such as coffee, soda and
mayonnaise, but different brands of chocolate and smoothies.

Conducted by The Nielsen Company, the new study says that people adopt one of four different shopping modes in the supermarket, which is ultimately what determines which products they reach for. The different 'mind-sets' have been dubbed by the market research company as: 'auto-pilot', 'variety-seeking', 'buzz' and 'bargain hunting'. "Shoppers don't waste energy on everyday decisions. 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,"​ said Manjima Khandelwal, senior vice president, Nielsen Customized Research. According to Khandelwal, the key to reaching shoppers lies in understanding that their 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."​The new study reviewed consumers' shopping behavior across 30 different food categories, and placed each item into one of the four shopping 'modes' that it identified. The first mode - 'auto-pilot' or 'grab-and-go' - is when consumers are making everyday, habitual decisions driven by brand choices and they are usually not in the market to try anything new, said Nielsen. Items chosen in this mode include coffee, hot cereal, cheese, margarine, bottled water, mayonnaise, nuts, popcorn, sodas, and cold cuts. "The implication for marketers in auto-pilot categories is that if you are a leader, avoid radical changes to your brand message or packaging. Otherwise you may risk disrupting habitual behavior driving brand choice in your favor,"​ said Nielsen's Deepak Varma. The second shopping mode - 'variety-seeking' - sees consumers actively browsing shelves and on the lookout for new tastes as well as interesting product innovations. The category includes cookies, salad dressing, chewing gum, salty snacks, breakfast bars, frozen snacks, cold cereal, frozen desserts, candy and frozen dinners or entrees. "Consumers seem to get bored with the same choices in certain categories,"​ said Varma. "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."​ The 'buzz' mode is so named as purchasing decisions in the category tend to be 'buzz-activated', with people 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",​ according to Nielsen. Products in this group include ready-to-drink teas, smoothies and yogurt drinks, sports and energy drinks, and chocolate. The final shopping mode - 'bargain-hunting' - is driven purely by price comparison and promotions, said the study. "Consumers in this shopping mode are on a mission and the mission is savings,"​ said Varma. The category includes canned tuna, canned tomatoes, canned fruit and pasta sauce. The Nielsen Shopper Modality Study​ also revealed that some categories are often over-promoted, since manufacturers continually offer in-store deals and promotions even though some product categories are not bargain-driven. "Consumers choosing sports drinks aren't looking for a bargain. 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,"​ said Khandelwal.

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