What is shopper marketing?

Shopper marketing is a term that has only become commonplace relatively recently. It refers to marketing that is aimed at people who are currently poised to make a purchase; this is usually consumers who are standing in various retailers, browsing shelves or queuing at the checkout.

Shopper marketing is not always designed to achieve the same longer-term effects as TV or radio advertising campaigns. Classic media campaigns generally hit consumers in their homes, or on their journeys to and from work or school. As these consumers are largely not in buying mode, this marketing approach aims to help them identify with the brand on a more personal level, with repetition gradually building their loyalty, so that they fully buy into what these brands stand for.

Whereas on the face of it, shopper marketing can have a relatively short-lived effect. It is designed to have an instant impact on the retail shopper, influencing their buying behaviour right now, at the very point of purchase.

Sound familiar? Yes, that shopper is the same person that retail POP and instore displays have always been targeted at. However, what has evolved is the depth of understanding that brands now have of shopper psychology and shopper marketing, as distinct from consumer psychology and traditional marketing.

Consumers and shoppers are no longer considered to be one and the same. It is recognised that consumers who are about to purchase something in a retail outlet can have a very different mindset than when they are enjoying other aspects of their lives.  

Who is classed as a shopper? 

The term ‘shopper’ doesn’t just refer to all consumers, even though all consumers will be shoppers at some point. ‘Shopper’ is a transient term that refers to consumers while in the actual act of shopping for brands.

A shopper may be someone who is walking around in brick-and-mortar retailers with money in their pocket, although these are not the only type of shoppers that exist today. Online shoppers are equally poised to purchase brands, and are therefore also persuadable – just in a way that is more suited to the e-commerce environment.

Here, we’re focusing on ways to influence the behaviour of physical shoppers in retailers.  

Shopper marketing vs consumer marketing

Brands, in general, try to understand their target consumer. This understanding helps to identify which aspects of brands that consumers relate to most strongly. This knowledge can highlight how best to tap into their positive feelings, connect these with their brands, and then reinforce them. This kind of research may also illuminate which other brands or things are also likely to appeal to (or be significant for) the target consumer. It’s almost like understanding the consumer’s personality.

Shoppers are more transient, or more fickle if you like. The same consumer, with an apparently consistent set of values and loyalties to certain brands, can potentially be persuaded in any number of different directions when it comes to actually parting with their cash. Although a consumer may fundamentally idenfity themselves with particular brands, their ‘shopper self’ may have an overriding desire. This desire, however short-lived, may be for convenience, or to save money, or for something to reduce their stress levels. Any of these immediate needs can either reinforce or conflict with their fundamental preferences.

A single shopper may cycle through a number of different mindsets depending on the time of day, their physical wellbeing, their emotional state, whether they are shopping on their own or accompanied, which retailers they visit, which brands they see, and how pressed for time they may be…just to mention a few factors. 

Tapping into shopper motivations

Understanding the complexity of a shopper’s motivations – as distinct from consumer preferences – and identifying which motivations are most likely to affect your target audience, is the key to successful shopper marketing for brands.

Let’s say you’re a solo shopper, stopping in at the supermarket on your way home from work and looking to buy what you need for a quick dinner. If the store has placed a selection of interesting pasta sauces on a display alongside different types of pasta, handily located in the fresh foods section so you can pick up some vegetables at the same time, how much more convenient and attractive would pasta be as a menu option for this evening? If you want a more relaxing evening, a multi-buy promotion that includes wine might just clinch it.

However, shopper marketing doesn’t have to be about complex promotions or cross-category/cross-manufacturer offers. Retailers have long been aware that something as simple as a reminder of forgotten favourite brands, placed right in front of a shopper’s trolley, can prompt an instant purchase in a way that high-spend television advertising often struggles to match. What’s more, brands often don’t even have to be discounted if they tap into the right shopper motivation, which is to pick up a forgotten favourite on impulse.

Shopper marketing is also the reason why the checkout zone is so highly prized by impulse-driven brands, such as chewing gum. It might not be written on your shopping list, even if you’re a habitual gum consumer – but it’s likely that these brands go straight to the top of your mental shopping list when you spy it within arm’s reach as you queue to pay. 

Retailers as shoppers

It’s worth remembering that shopper marketing principles apply to all shoppers, even when the shoppers are retailers themselves. Thousands of independent retailers buy weekly or even daily at cash & carry and wholesale outlets, and during that time these retailers are also shoppers.

Retailer shoppers may have a different mindset when buying for their store than when they are buying for themselves, but their purchasing behaviour is still influenceable while they are in depot. This understanding has led to a noticeable increase in the quality amount of thought behind wholesaler and cash & carry visual merchandising and sampling campaigns.

Shopper marketing campaigns target independent retailers in subtly different ways. Brands may employ competition mechanics that could benefit retailers personally, such as winning a trip abroad, or benefit their business, for example winning a new van. Retailer shopper marketing could focus on explaining why a new product launch will be relevant to their consumers and how it might fit in with their existing range in store. Brands may simply choose to remind retailers of their number 1 bestselling product with a high rate of sale that will generate significant profit for them. If a brand is running a consumer competition that will drive sales, then highlighting this to retailer shoppers can also drive distribution through independents.

Sampling campaigns can cross these retailer/shopper marketing boundaries by getting retailers to think like consumers, sample a new product and associate this product with increasing their sales in store.

Effective shopper marketing can reassure, encourage, disrupt and attract retailer shoppers to buy something new or buy in greater quantities, using the same principles that savvy retailers will apply to their own stores.  

Measuring shopper marketing impact

Understanding and tapping into shopper motivations accurately is the key to successful shopper marketing. Don’t believe it? Just consider the level of sales uplift that successful shopper marketing campaigns, from POP displays to sampling activities (or a combination), can achieve.

The impact of successful shopper marketing is direct and immediate, and can usually be measured with the most obvious scale - sales. This makes it simple to assess the effectiveness of your shopper marketing strategy. For example, if you run a sampling campaign in store and sales are up 35%, with no other changes or price promotion, you know your shopper marketing approach is working. If sales stay flat, chances are your instore investment is not tapping into the right shopper mindset.  

Shopper marketing objectives

Of course, shopper marketing objectives are not always about sales alone. It might also be important to leverage or support a brand-building marketing activity or TV campaign by reminding shoppers of that campaign or their connection to the brand whilst they are in a retail store. Sometimes the objective might be to create a consistent brand experience at every point on the consumer journey, including in store. Ultimately the success or failure of a brand is measured in simple terms, through sales and market share, so these make good results to focus on.

Shopper marketing may not be focused on a single product or brand – a retailer might intend to grow an entire category with a broader approach, develop a new section by driving increased footfall to that part of the store, or increase overall spend in store by focusing on the store environment and improving the overall shopper experience. The approach and the success factors remain the same – understand your shopper’s mindset and deliver against their specific needs at that moment in that location.  

The importance of visual merchandising

Sampling campaigns and other ‘experiences’ can be investment-heavy and involve a considerable amount of brand ambassadors and product training to implement effectively. How does the shopper marketing manager ensure that a brand or product gets to the forefront of shoppers’ minds as they navigate through the store to the checkout?

The solution could be as simple as highlighting the most distinctive properties of a brand or product, such as shape and/or colour, to catch shoppers’ eyes in a way that only it can. This works particularly well for well-known, long-established brands with a strong identity or highly distinctively shaped products.

It could involve giving a current advertising campaign creative prominence on a new product launch display, to help shoppers make the connection between what they’ve seen in other media (and may be planning to buy or trial), and what they see in front of them now (available to buy now).

Visual merchandising can also help to ensure that a celebrity endorsement is clearly communicated, as this type of endorsement can be a powerful way to attract shoppers and convert them to new users.

Above all, if visual merchandising can disrupt shoppers and get noticed in store, whether overtly or subliminally, and succeeds in reflecting the shopper’s mindset and meeting their needs, then commercial success will follow.