The Shopper Revolution

Posted on Posted in Shopper Marketing

All of a sudden (or so it seems to me) the big buzz phrase in Australian retail is “Shopper Marketing”. But what is it? Is it an empty term or an emerging science that could have a major positive impact on retail? The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Shopper Marketing is predicated upon the notion that there is a fundamental difference between “consumers” and “shoppers”. Consumers are the end users of a product or service. Shoppers purchase a product or service in the first place. Shoppers are the guys that count, because they’re the ones with the wallets. Of course consumers and shoppers can be one and the same, but often they’re not. The oft-cited example is pet food. Dogs and cats don’t carry cash or credit cards, their human shopper owners do.

The skill in Shopper Marketing is in understanding how shoppers behave and how to influence that behaviour. Shopper Marketing is most critical in store of course, but it can equally apply online, and in the “pre-shopping” phase, when the “switch is flicked” between passive brand awareness and active purchase consideration. Shopper Marketers talk about plotting out the entire “path to purchase” and trying to guide shoppers at each point.

Shopper Marketing emerged from the world of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), with companies like Procter & Gamble and Unilever (the same firms who originally codified and perfected consumer marketing). I imagine that its development was accelerated by the power shift that has occurred over the past two decades from manufacturers to retailers. Once upon a time, FMCG marketers could release a new product, put a glossy television commercial to air, and virtually guarantee prime placement in store. Job done. But no longer. Retailers call the shots. So as a manufacturer, if you’re lucky enough to force your way into a retail environment, you’d better be damn sure you move some product. And any marketer worth his or her salt can quote the statistics that up to 70% of brand selections are made in store, and 68% of buying decisions are unplanned.

And so billions of dollars are being thrown at Shopper Marketing every year. Procter & Gamble alone spend at least US$500 million annually on Shopper Marketing. Where is the money going? In the first instance, companies spend a small fortune on research to generate “shopper insights”. These nuggets of wisdom can be gained from focus groups, or by accompanied shopping trips or by “heat mapping” stores via cameras and computers to reveal what customers are actually doing. Paco Underhill, who wrote “Why We Buy – The Science Of Shopping” has built an entire career on “observation research” in stores. His revelations famously include the “butt brush” factor, where he noted that women won’t buy in a narrow or crowded shopping aisle, if their “butts” are brushed by clothes on a rack for instance.

Once the insights are gleaned, Shopper Marketing moves into execution. It may result in a category being positioned or laid out differently to help shoppers through the purchase process, or a promotion that encourages an added sale. The insight may lead to better shelf information, digital signage, floor graphics, aisle “interrupters”, product sampling in store, or even a “pop up” store being constructed to put real focus on a new product or service. The FitPrint system in Athlete’s Foot is a good example of truly innovative Shopper Marketing.

We will hear a lot more about Shopper Marketing in the next few years. As media continues to fragment and competition increases, retailers will invest in their own Shopper Marketing programs. Adding a little more science to the art of retailing can only be a good thing.

Note: if you’re interested in Shopper Marketing resources, check out: Torch Media’s Retail Speak (, the POPAI/ShopAbility Shopper Marketing Benchmark Survey ( and the brand new website “Shopper Revolution” from shopper marketing agency Mars (

And if you’re really, really interested, IdeaWorks has just launched a new Shopper Marketing division! Email .


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