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Shopper Needs Are Different to Consumer Needs

Understanding Our Shoppers

Most marketers are able to develop a pretty good understanding of their target consumers’ needs and desires. This, after all, lies at the heart of a brands consumer proposition. But when it comes to understanding shopper needs, my experience is that marketers often have a less detailed understanding of what shoppers are looking for.

Whether your shopper is themselves the consumer of your brand, or someone completely different, an understanding of the consumers’ needs isn’t enough. For sure, the shopper brings to the store an understanding of the consumer’s needs (though if the shopper and the consumer are different people this understanding may be far from complete). But once in shopping mode a whole new set of needs – shopper needs – are added to the mix. It is this mix of consumer needs and shopper needs that, in essence, form the shopper mission. Understanding shopper needs as well as consumer needs is key to getting into the heads of shoppers, and winning as they purchase.

Why is understanding shopper needs important?

Put simply, if you don’t meet the needs of the shopper, the chances of your brand being purchased are reduced. While shopping is, at its heart, a process of attempting to meet future consumption needs, all of those consumer needs get bundled in with a lot of shopper needs too. Successful brands will be the ones which understand, meet, and hopefully exceed, the needs of both shoppers and consumers.

What do shoppers need?

Clearly the needs of shoppers vary depending on who the shopper is and what is the purpose of the shopping trip, but here are a few common examples.

Shopper needs are often practical

Shopper needs and shopping missions are often a story of limitations. Shoppers often have limited time, or limited budget. A brand, the perfect fit for the consumer’s needs and desires, might be left in the store if it doesn’t fit into the (shopper’s) budget. That brand might be missed completely if finding it takes more time than the shopper is prepared or able to spend. For example, working for a soft drinks manufacturer, we found one of the biggest limitations on purchase for their category, for some shoppers, was weight. Many shoppers were traveling from the store on foot, and couldn’t carry several kilograms of beverage, no matter how strong the brand or how good the deal. We’ve worked with milk powder companies who, having convinced the shopper that the brand is worth trying, failed because the product was too expensive for the budget on that shopping trip (not too expensive per se: but the shoppers simply didn’t have the cash with them to add another product to the basket). All the branding and communication in the world might struggle to overcome some simple, and practical shopper needs.

Shopper needs aren’t always practical

But then again, that isn’t always the case. Some shoppers, on some shopping trips, are looking for something a little more, dare I say, experiential? And, no, I’m not suggesting that it’s all about bringing gratuitous technology, or singing and dancing showgirls, to the stores. But shoppers are looking for a certain experience from their shop. That experience might be about delight, it might be about excitement, it might be about surprise. It could be about inspiration, it could be about connection. On the other hand it could be about efficiency, or satisfaction, of feeling respected. Some shoppers go to pass time, some to socialize. Some go for the air conditioning! The list of experiences that shoppers might be after is almost as long as the list of experiences that life can offer!

The desired shopper experience is sometimes simple

In the world of shoppers, simplicity rules. Yes, there are some shoppers, on some shops, who love complexity. Put me in a record shop (one of those with racks and racks of vinyl) and I’m happily lost in complexity. Put me in a clothing store and I want simple. Put me in a supermarket, and I want seamless. And, silly as it might sound, I want a smile. But I’m not every shopper, and different shoppers – well – they want different things. Which is why reports which start with “shoppers do x” (as in, for example “25% of shoppers want to be able to scan product information on their smartphone while shopping”) is only meaningful if you are interested in that 25% of shoppers, and if they want product information while on the shop you want to target.

Shopper needs aren’t always about your brand or category

One of the biggest paradigms for marketers to get their heads out of is the fact that while as a consumer I may be focused on your brand or category (especially when you sit me in a focus group and that’s what we talk about!), but as a shopper, I’ve often got a lot more on my mind. The shopping trip may not be just about your brand or your category. You might be the most important coffee in my life, but that coffee is just one of many parts to my shopping mission. Thinking that your brand is the most important thing in a shopper’s mission is a very dangerous assumption.

How to build an understanding of shopper needs?

One of the challenges in all of this is that different shoppers are after different things from their shopping trip. The start of the journey of better understanding shopper needs is therefore segmentation. Note though, we are thinking about a shopper segmentation, NOT a consumer one. One segment might be homogeneous as consumers, but not as shoppers. Put another way, we need to recognize that not all your target consumers are the same as shoppers. Cutting through shoppers’ different missions requires, therefore, an effective consumer segmentation, but in addition a meaningful shopper segmentation.

Of course, at its heart, this requires a better understanding of shoppers (not consumers) which is why shopper research is important ), but there is something else. To really understand shoppers, you need to understand them as shoppers, for sure. But we also need to understand the consumption behind the shop. If all we do is focus on shopping behavior, we’re missing a big part of what lies at the heart of shopping: meeting future, or anticipated consumption needs. So to understand shoppers, we need to understand consumption too. As if it wasn’t complicated enough!

Consumer understanding and shopper understanding must be integrated. We can’t market effectively without both.

This blog found in Course 04: What is Shopper Marketing?

September 4, 2019

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