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Are Grocery Shoppers Tuning Out In-Store Media?

January 9, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Mark Heckman Consulting blog.

Digital signs, video screens, mobile applications, electronic shelf tags, coupon machines, banners, danglers, shelf tags, and floor graphics scream at shoppers each and every trip into today's retailer supermarket.

But what many of the proponents and pundits of in-store media fail to recognize is the mindset of their target audience, the shopper.

These mission-driven individuals are not in the store long enough (13 minute average supermarket trip length, according to the 2012 Video Mining Mega Study) to absorb and interact with the plethora of messages, signs, shelf tags, kiosks, and sampling stations that frequently populate the aisles of many stores. In fact, only 18 percent of those 13 minutes are spent in the supermarket's center store. Shoppers are there to shop, period.

To have any chance of engaging a shopper, media must be intrusive, concise and help the shopper make a purchase decision. Simply stated, the media and the content must convey the name and benefits of the product, the price the shopper pays and the amount the shopper is saving, if discounted.

An in-store media plan must also be in place. Layering programs on to other programs for the purpose of receiving revenue-sharing checks from third-party media providers does not lend itself to success. Too many signs or messages dilute the impact of the entire effort.

It is also important to think like a shopper. What is the most effective in-store media to help shoppers make quicker and better decisions? There is no benefit — none — of attempting to keep the shopper in the store longer than they want to be. It's all about "spending productivity" — the pace at which they are making purchase decisions and placing items in their cart or hand basket.

Discussion Questions:

What is the key to sorting out the best options and making in-store media work in retail environments? Which in-store media technologies do you see working and not working in grocery stores?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Which of the following in-store media options has the greatest potential to enhance the purchasing process for shoppers in grocery stores?


While in-store media sounds appealing, nothing drives purchasing like sampling stations. There's a big emotional component to grocery shopping (ever shopped while hungry?) and the best grocery retailers (think: Whole Foods) exploit this to perfection.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

A good start is having the lowest absolute prices on groceries. Then have very personable and approachable employees. After that, your in-store media technology will work perfectly fine. As will every other program.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research


It's about the path of least resistance. At-shelf success for marketers and retailers is related to how well the environment directs shoppers to products/brands and influences purchase. Research has shown that much of in-store media (including signage) is overlooked or ignored. Creating noise is not impact. It's a barrier that is easily overcome. I've seen firsthand how consumers can be up close and personal with carefully crafted messages that they don't realize are right there in front of them. And when asked (during an interview) to take the time to read and process, the shoppers often don't understand the message or what it's supposed to do for them. It is irrelevant to their shopping behavior.

Consumers don't go into a store wanting to be educated. They're on a mission and anything that gets in the way is a barrier, not merely a distraction. If marketers were to invest in understanding the purchase decision process in their category they would be in a better position to develop and use in store media and content that facilitates that path for shoppers. Instead, the emphasis has been on "disruption" as though that is what is needed to create impact and influence decisions.

What this article so artfully points out is that in a 13 minute sprint to get in and to get out, no one wants disruptions and therefore the shopper keeps his eye on the prize...the product, the brand, the price. That other stuff, if seen at all, is mostly clutter.

Yesterday we talked about opting in for smart phone apps that convey best value opportunities. And we agreed they will only work if consumers want it, sign up and see it as valuable. In contrast there's no opt in button for in store media.

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Joan Treistman, President, The Treistman Group LLC

Interesting that we don't list Google Glass, which is testing a new app that brings up information as they focus in on a product (see today's Atlanta Journal Constitution for a syndicated article on this). I'm with Mark - I don't see shoppers exploring in the grocery store - more interested in getting what they need and getting out.

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

We are bombarding consumers with messages in every conceivable form. The best media for a retailer is usage of shopping card data to communicate with customers on a regular basis and offer them items that will trigger purchases based on the data. Mobile communications can reach the customer anytime and is much more targeted than all of the messages that are playing out in-store.

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J. Peter Deeb, Managing Partner, Deeb MacDonald & Associates, L.L.C.

In-store media will increasingly be digital, personal and aisle-driven. Look at iBeacon, Google Glass, and even Safeway's JustForU platform. While these are nascent, they aren't going away. They are only getting more sophisticated and prevalent.

So the successful program will be a compelling opt-in message, which entices rather than intrudes on the shopper.

No - this shouldn't take more of the shopper's time. I agree, that productivity during the shop is the goal (not persuading shoppers to spend even more time).

Shoppers will be opting into brand messaging and certain kinds of retailer messaging in-store, prior to the shop. This is where the compelling nature of the program needs to be communicated. There is a selling phase for getting shoppers to opt into a mobile or augmented communication; this is like opting into an email campaign. These usually promise discounts and timely news. Except, this in-store personal communication needs to be worthwhile and brief (every time) or the shopper will opt out.

It's one thing to be value-add, it's another to be spam. These are the kinds of challenges marketers face.

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Liz Crawford, SVP, Strategy & Insights, Head of ShopLab, Match Drive

As usual, Mark Heckman hits the mark. Consumers are overwhelmed with over 5,000 marketing messages a day, and throwing more at them won't change consumer behavior. We all have learned how to tune it all out.

So how do you get noticed in store?

I like to say that the right whisper is more powerful than the wrong shout. Each marketing message should be personalized based on everything you know about the shopper: where they are, what they like to buy, what's on their shopping list, etc. The promise of mobile and digital is that we may someday see *fewer* marketing messages, but each one will actually be relevant to our wants and needs.

Ben Sprecher, Business Development, Google

Mr. Heckman raises an excellent issue on how to make for more effective in-store media. Yet, with the advances in technology getting into stores, have business processes changed to leverage the new capabilities?

Does a coupon machine really drive the purchase decision or is it a 'gimme' if you're going to buy that specific product anyways (or maybe it's treated as a loyalty defender)?

Too much of anything gets lost in the noise: what good are danglers when every six inches you have them screaming at you?

Digital signage can't add value if they're used the same way as their paper-based predecessors.

The point is that tying "in-store media" and communications to consumers is the wrong starting point. Shopping (even in grocery) doesn't always start once you step into a store. Once retailers (and several do!) broaden and redefine their processes to accommodate the changes in consumer behavior, you will find customer engagement media (pre-in-post purchase) taken not in piecemeal fashion but as a total integrated package of communicating value to consumers.

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Mohamed Amer, Global Head of Strategic Communications, Consumer Industries, SAP

I only voted for the mobile apps because MANY shoppers today are glued to their phone and shopping one handed. The challenge is how to provide a value they will seek. As others have pointed out, the difference between value and spam is the hard part.

In-store media, IMHO, only works if it is clean, disciplined (policed and executed at store) and ties in with other consumer messaging.


Joan's response has the components of what I would address (though, she and I disagree and her own comments contain the heart of the matter to me - a contradiction):

She writes:

Consumers don't go into a store wanting to be educated. They're on a mission and anything that gets in the way is a barrier, not merely a distraction. If marketers were to invest in understanding the purchase decision process in their category they would be in a better position to develop and use in store media and content that facilitates that path for shoppers. Instead, the emphasis has been on "disruption" as though that is what is needed to create impact and influence decisions.

I do NOT agree with her first sentence (shoppers go into stores, and only some of the time are they also the consumer, but leaving that alone) - I DO think the store has the potential to be a place of education, making progress for the shopper, and a place to be validated in selections. The fact that the stores do not do it well does not mean it is not a need or an opportunity.

As for the "on a mission" comment - some of the time, they know what they want, other times - they seek new ideas, insights, variety, etc. The 13 minutes is an AVERAGE - which means there are trips that are longer than that. Not on every trip will messaging be sought or needed. However, there are trips where it will be valued.

I COMPLETELY agree with Joan's comment about understanding the purchase decision process - and believe the store has a HUGE (currently unfulfilled) role to play in assisting the shopper to make an informed, competent, appropriate selection.

The focus on disruption for disruption's sake is accurate as well. However, if the store did a better job of aiding the shopper on the journey - I do believe the value would be recognized.

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David Zahn, Owner, ZAHN Consulting, LLC

Interesting that in comments Cathy Hotka gives Whole Foods as an example of the right approach while David Livingston tells us the way to succeed is by offering the "lowest absolute prices"... so there are some differences in opinions here.

Anyway, I believe that customer retention and increased share of wallet spending will be achieved by solving the Value Equation of each customer. That probably will involve some form of personal media that helps each customer get in and out of the store more quickly while still introducing them to new/additional products that meet their individual needs and desires. (And not another mass in-store media solution trying to fight through the clutter.)

Doug Pruden, Principal, CustomerExperiencePartners.com

If this was an article, I'd title it: Bully-free Marketing!

The smart thing for a store to do is zig while all the others zag. Put another way...find the weakness in your competitor's strength.

If the competitor is assaulting the consumer with sell-media, digital or otherwise, then go back to simple "old-fashioned" signage - but find a creative way to position it as rescuing the consumer from marketing bullies.

For a metaphor I keep going back to milkshakes, of which I am a connoisseur. Yes a store can deliver one untouched by human hands, no decisions to be made, unidentifiable ingredients, a marvel of mechanical and chemical science, take it or leave it.

But I will pay triple and be loyal beyond measure to have a human being with chocolate stains on her/his uniform fill that old metal vessel in front of my eyes adding the extra squirt of chocolate and then jamming it up into that twirly thing. Heaven is seeing that real, overflowing, milkshake glass (not a water glass with "milkshake" in it) alongside a still half-full mixing container.

Let's face it...some things should never change. Here's what you're looking for in a place you expected it to be with an honest and clearly marked price.

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

Somebody is selling all that in-store marketing, and those somebodies don't want to hear about how ineffective their advertising is. Cherry picking results to report, and collaborating with retailers who want a cut on the "fraud" is a no-brainer.

Even though there are billions being spent on in-store media, there is no independent measurement of it, to parallel, for example, television media metrics. (The reasons for failure of the P.R.I.S.M. initiative were manifold.) And it is not likely to happen until retailers lose all proprietary control of communications within their four walls. This is creeping forward with the movement of smart phones and other observation/reporting devices carried by shoppers.

I have written an unpublished paper on "The Incredibly Shrinking (In-store) Audience." As explained in the first sentences of the paper, it is not the size of the audience that is really shrinking, it is our PERCEPTION of the size of it. My earlier paper, "Long Tail Media In-Store," provides more background in support of the views Mark is sharing.

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Herb Sorensen, Ph.D., Scientific Advisor Kantar Retail; Adjunct Ehrenberg-Bass, Shopper Scientist LLC

"Shoppers are there to shop." Yes. And most of them are in a hurry and already know what they need. This is just another reason bare bones Aldi and the dollar stores are doing so well in the grocery biz.


Thanks for the very interesting article and opening up the debate. There are some really valid comments already made.

I always believe the key to getting in-store media right is to first and foremost think like a shopper. What are they in-store for, what do they need to know, how can we attract them to a product or area that they weren't planning on considering?

Simplicity is key. Shoppers won't bother to engage with complicated media - too many words, too many images, too much jargon. Keep it simple, keep it direct. Too much complexity allows the consumer to switch on the rational part of their brain and say no.

It is also important to decide what we want the media to achieve - is it overall navigation, is it category navigation, is it to focus on new product or new benefits? Understanding the shopper means we can develop and deliver media and messages that are relevant, deliver a benefit to the shopper and are in a place that is logical to the shopper.

As has already so rightly been pointed out, these shoppers are busy - too busy to deliberately engage with media. But if that media tells them something of interest, then they will engage.
We keep hearing about the lack of shopper experience in retail. Maybe it's not as important in supermarkets as in some other retail outlets, but it still should have a place - if the shopper has an experience, a positive one in-store, if the media helps them or gives them a benefit in some way, then they will remember it and return and most likely share their experience with friends and family.

With all the Christmas sales figures being released at the moment, I don't think it is pure chance or product alone that has shown such positive results in the UK for the likes of ASDA and Aldi. The former focused very simply and directly on their product and price (value not promotion) and were very successful. Aldi very strongly focused on luxury, treat and being part of the family. They did it through higher quality temporary POS and heavier-weight brochures, strong graphics, rich colours and a repetitive (very consistent) message, and their sales predictions show a distinct reward.

Continually thinking like the shopper and digging deep to understand how to speak with them personally is a must.

Helen Davies, Director, Pink Flamingo Shopper Ltd

It would be interesting to overlay this with data on the the number of shoppers who use their mobile phone while in-store. Obviously that's much bigger for considered purchases. I remember seeing some statistic that says of those showrooming customers using their smart phones more than half check out the website of the brand or retailer that they are in at the time. I guess that says they are not finding what they need from in-store media. It seems there is still an opportunity as long as the communications are relevant and timely.

Dominique Levin, CMO, AgilOne

Once again, Mark shows his unerring perception about how our retail solutions so often fail to consider the shopper's perspective.

More signs don't make shopping better. More video doesn't make shopping better. More apps don't make shopping better. Even more deals aren't welcome much of the time, if they just ratchet up the stress and complexity of the trip.

Shopping trips are frequently (but not exclusively) mission-oriented. When we seek ways to influence the final purchase decision at the shelf, these must be sufficiently intrusive, sufficiently seamless, and sufficiently helpful to the shopper - in each moment.

It's a wild-a** guess much of the time, unless we enter the proposition with a systematic plan to study and design the messaging experiences to make things better for the shopper.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

How about a few facts to back up the herd mentality evident in many of the responses to this question....

The average retailer web site attracts approximately 7% of their weekly traffic count. Of that 7%, Mobile represents 20%, or 1.4% of total customer base. An in-store kiosk attracts 4% of customer base - the kiosk represents 100% engaged, cart in hand, ready to purchase engagement. Does in-store media work? Yes.

And, the in-store media engaged shopper pushes a bigger basket. The average shopping basket of an in-store kiosk user based on a recent retailers internal analysis was $83.31. The average basket was $38.44.

Coupon conversion in-store averages 13.7% compared to 2.8% non-engaged.

Multi-channel media delivery is essential to reach today's shopper. A small % rely on the web, a few on mobile, a few on print, a few on in-store kiosks.

The bottom line, however, is the engaged shopper pushes a much larger basket. The key is engaging with relevant content, exclusive offers, and a consistent experience. 10% of the shoppers generate 40% of sales. And the engaged shopper is in this 10% group. The numbers are small but the impact is huge.

Frank Beurskens, CEO, ShoptoCook, Inc.

I'm going to be a little tactical with this, but there are really only 3 things when it comes to being successful with in-store media:

1) Clarity of text - say one thing, not many, and say it succinctly. And don't be redundant in any way.

2) Consistency with Simplicity - make sure all your messages are boiled down to their most basic form, all of them.

3) Color - pick one . . . the biggest criminal in terms of clutter is the use of thousands of different colors in your signage and messaging.

Someone may object to this, but Walmart is a master at executing the above principles. They're the number one grocer for a lot of reasons, but clarity of message is a big one.

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Lee Peterson, EVP Brand, Strategy & Design, WD Partners

I am no expert on in-store media stats in the grocery world nor am I the main shopper in my household but, yes, I do have an opinion. You laugh!

In my household, my husband and I use an app that allows us to share the grocery list. If I discover we are out of something, I can quickly add it to the list and he is notified. Why am I telling you this? Because, we always look at this app before we enter a grocery store.

If you want to get our attention, that is the time. Show me that there is a special on a product similar to one I have placed on the list. Give me tips about go withs, etc. Tell me that an item I buy frequently is on special. Get the picture? Don't blast me with noise that just makes my shopping experience even less enjoyable. Just sayin'.

Lee Kent, Sharing Insights for Success in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

There are many consumer purposes for visiting a retail establishment, whether it is brick & mortar or e-commerce. Add to this the common practices and preferences of the various generations in play and you have an assortment of advertising needs for the retailer.

Retail establishments sorted by various product and/or service categories will have favorites among the information media selections compiled at the end of this discussion. These preferences should not thwart investigations into the positives of the rest of those media not chosen by the retailer. The addition of a choice calling for all of the above should have been considered and added if for nothing else then just for seeing how interest in all is or is not present.


The only "in-store media" that works is the price-checker scanner. Instead of putting up digital signage flashing advertisement, why not expand the price-checker scanner to do more than display a price?

Why not have the price checker display recipes? Compare scanned products verses another similiar item scanned? Show additional information such as reviews? Show Pinterest pins?

Retailers may want to look at what works right now and expand on it. And right now, the only "in-store media" I see used everyday by shoppers is the price-check scanner.

Ed Dunn, Founder, (Stealth Operation)

In-store media is spam; the kind of messaging I want relates to my trip.

If I am in a section and you auto generate the shopping list based on some kind of logic and then throw in a special, you can help me. Maybe I'll even buy that item I bought last year at the same time.

Solve the customer's problems. In-store media that only solves the brand's problems and is a source of grocer revenue - fail.

Vahe Katros, Consultant, Plan B

The answer is clear. Think like a customer, with limited time, patience, and budget.

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Jerry Gelsomino, Principal, FutureBest

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