If you were like me as a child, you would have bought Cheetos just for the Pokémon tazos inside. Even though we had other options, we’d choose Cheetos and hoard them just for these collectables. But have you ever wondered how brands come up with such brilliant ideas? The answer to this question is Shopper Research.
Generally, there are two types of shopping behaviors – goal-oriented and impulse shopping. But, after the COVID-19-led pandemic, a new trend of ‘revenge spending’ has emerged. About 51% of shoppers reported shopping as a retaliation to the outbreak. This unpredictability can prove to be fatal for your brand. You must cover all your bases and focus on analyzing the ever-changing dynamics of shopper behavior.
You may not have Dumbledore’s Orb, but you certainly have Shopper Research to help you stay prepared. It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth the investment. Shopper Marketing Research gives you insights into these five components of the shopping cycle  - 1) shopper’s motivation, 2) shopping patterns, 3) store atmospherics and design, 4) in-store variables and 5) role of promotions.
As a brand, it is essential that you know about the shopper’s mindset so that you can influence their decision triggers. In this article, we cover it all-
What is Shopper Research?
Shopper Research is a process of gathering data and evaluating the mindset, behaviour, opinions and purchase triggers of a shopper or a non-shopper.
Deconstructing Shopper Research
Shopper Research helps brands optimise each stage of the shopper’s journey. It helps provide an immersive shopping experience both in-store and online. But it is easy to neglect it and focus more on consumer research.
A person can be both a shopper as well as a consumer. But that is not always the case. When the shopper is not the consumer, the motivation during their path to purchase differs. For example- If you buy a product for yourself, you will try to analyse if it solves a problem for you, but if you buy it for someone else, you will try to examine the product’s affordability.
This makes it essential to analyse shopper and consumer insights separately.
As you can see, focussing on only consumer insights would have made you miss the nitty-gritty of what can influence the shopper’s decision. In a highly competitive market, supplementing your consumer research with shopper research can help you gain a holistic view of your product’s performance.
A shopper may not always follow a typical shopping cycle. Shopper insights help you understand the anomalies in their path to purchase. It can reveal why shoppers are not behaving as expected and what factors influence their purchase patterns. To truly understand these factors, you need to evaluate these three focus areas-
Let’s look at how shopper research can help you at every stage of your shopper’s journey-
The primary motivation that drives shopper behavior is need. This need may arise from a problem or an impulse and differ based on purpose and occasion. The shopper’s decision may be rational or emotional but identifying this need is like hitting the Bullseye. Once you know the “WHY” behind their purchase decision, you can optimize your product or experience accordingly.
A perfect example of this is Amazon. Its recommendation engine generates 35% of its revenue. This is done by optimizing a shopper’s experience through data-driven shopper marketing.
Once the shopper knows what to purchase, they search for it. Once they find it, they are distracted by innumerable other alternatives available. Be it in-store or online, making your product noticeable and easy to access will make it stand out.
In this highly competitive market, affordability and utility play a massive role in purchase decisions. But shoppers are now moving toward aesthetic products. According to a research study, design aesthetics can attract customers and persuade them to buy it. Thereby, making tweaks in the color, shape, design etc., of your product can influence the purchase decision of your target shopper.
Initial Decision for Purchase
If a shopper finds the right product, they will consider buying it. But certain factors may influence this. For example, if a shopper does not find the product worth the quoted price, they will try to find an alternative.
Through shopper research, you can pre-test your product to find out about factors that may cause a shopper to return a product to the shelf instead of adding it to the cart.
Store or Channel Selection
The number of online shoppers has grown to 2.14 billion, around 28% of the global population. But brick-and-mortar shops are not behind. After the lockdown was lifted post the COVID-19-led pandemic, many shoppers returned to purchasing products from physical stores. The pent-up demand has accelerated rebound footfalls, causing malls' performance to surpass pre-pandemic level performance.
Shopper Research helps you understand in-depth your shopper’s preferences. Knowing the channel preferences will aid in better resource distribution. For example, Zara decided to close over 1200 fashion stores globally and focus on boosting online sales after the COVID-19-led pandemic causes sales to plummet by 44%.
Navigation & Experience
Store atmosphere and online experience play an important role in shopping decisions. The design, layout, lighting, color, fragrance etc. can influence the shopper’s behavior and imbibe positive feelings of comfort, ease, excitement etc. This was established when in the 1997 study "Store Atmosphere, Mood and Purchasing Behavior", establishments were rated differently based on atmosphere.
Shopper Research helps you analyse these behavioral responses. It gives an in-depth understanding of what will make your customers want to buy certain products and what environmental setting will aid better sales.
The final decision
The distinguishing factor could be anything- ingredients, aesthetics, brand reputation, affordability, accessibility, or some element that is not so prominent.
Through extensive shopper research, you can perform comparative analysis to decode what influenced the shopper’s final purchase decision.
Repurchase and Recommendation
On average, $6 trillion in annual global spending and 13% of all sales result from word-of-mouth. Not just that, a whopping 90% of people are more inclined to trust a recommended brand, even if it is by a stranger!
By investing in shopper research, you can provide a personalized experience to your customers. Loyal customers become brand evangelists and help drive sales and better Return-On-Investment on your marketing spends.
Impact of COVID-19 on Shopper Behavior
The COVID-19-led pandemic was a period of contagion. Governments imposed lockdowns, causing self-isolation and financial distress. The shopper’s mindset has always been highly vulnerable to the ever-changing market dynamics and external variables. But the pandemic unpredictably and abruptly changed how we work, communicate, and make purchase decisions.
Priorities shifted massively to basic needs like food, hygiene, and cleaning products, and impulse shopping took a back seat.
The shift in shopper behaviour is reflected in their consumption patterns as well. The most evident consumption patterns that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic were-
Stockpiling is a common reaction when shoppers are uncertain about the future supply of the products they need and use regularly.
Store Comes Home
Shoppers usually preferred going to brick-and-mortar shops for grocery shopping, clothes, utility items etc. But, with full and partial lockdowns being enforced worldwide, this stopped. They shifted to online applications and services that brought the store to them.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the pandemic made customers shift from their old habits and adopt new, sustainable practices.
Shoppers prefer to choose sustainable products from sustainable brands. 62% of consumers say they’re willing to change their purchasing habits to reduce environmental impact. The three Ps concept (people, planet, profit) has gained prominence but only 25% of companies incorporated sustainability in their business model .
Due to a lack of resources and people losing jobs, many purchases were postponed, and priority was given to basic needs. Brands noticed huge footfall once the lockdown was shifted, showing how important it is for brands to nurture their customers for brand recollection.
The impact of the COVID-19-led pandemic had a seismic effect across the globe, affecting not just human lives but also brands belonging to various industries.
- CPG brands experienced intense growth during the pandemic: absolute growth in 2020 than in the four years from 2016 to 2019.
- The Retail Industry saw a massive shift of value to online, and as global shopping volumes increased, the retail sector gained 35 percent.
- 300% decline in global e-commerce traffic since the start of 2022
Shopper Research Techniques
Given how shopper behavior has drastically changed since the pandemic, it is important to revamp the way shopper research is conducted. To reap the best results and maximize the ROI on your marketing spends, using the following shopper research techniques is a must-
They are a list of questions asked to a set of respondents to gather data and insights. A survey usually contains close-ended questions and is used to collect quick data to analyze and implement.
Online Qualitative Interviews
The interview is conducted online, and shoppers are asked about their perceptions and experience. These usually contain open-ended questions and are used for an in-depth analysis.
This technology is used to analyze the subconscious behavior of the shopper. It maps the movement of the facial muscles and gives an understanding of what the shopper truly feels throughout their journey.
This is used to evaluate which element grabs the shopper’s attention and encourages engagement. This technology maps the eye’s movement and helps monitor what the shopper chooses to look at; the directional path followed and the frequency.
Virtual Store Layout
This technique uses images, videos, or customizable planograms to give the look and feel of being in an actual store. Virtual shelf testing and store-layout testing are great ways to optimize the atmospherics and design of the store, evaluate the findability of your product and analyze shopper purchase behavior.
Comparative and Competitive Analysis
To stay ahead of the curve, it is important to test your product’s packaging, shelf placement, size, price, and other elements against your own prototypes and the existing products in the market.
Other methods are brainwave mapping, galvanic skin response, decision trees etc.
Shopper research may seem tedious and a time and resource-rich exercise, but there is no shortcut to gaining and retaining customers in the ever-evolving, highly competitive market. You may feel like you have covered all bases with consumer research, but it is essential to remember that a shopper may not always be the consumer. Combining consumer insights with shopper insights will give you a more holistic view of purchase patterns. Moreover, understanding your shopper’s behavior is essential if you want to leave a mark and create an impact. Catering to the shopper’s needs and being open to listening to their feelings and grievances will give you a competitive edge. With the change in shopper behaviour and their purchase pattern due to COVID-19, it is essential to use research methods to help you reap the most out of your investments in digital transformation, hybrid shopping experiences and sustainable products.
 Shankar, Venkatesh. Shopper marketing. Massachussets, USA: Marketing Science Institute, 2011.
Sheth J. Impact of Covid-19 on consumer behavior: Will the old habits return or die? J Bus Res. 2020 Sep;117:280-283. doi: 10.1016/j.jbusres.2020.05.059. Epub 2020 Jun 4. PMID: 32536735; PMCID: PMC7269931.