BrainTrust Query: The Shopper’s Trophy, Part 1 – Creating an Opportunistic Purchase

Discussion
Aug 30, 2011

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from The Shopper Revolution, powered by MARS Advertising.

Nearly every routine shopping trip has a "trophy." The shopper’s trophy on everyday trip missions is the item that is bragged about once the shopper returns home. The trophy is announced like this, "Hey honey — you’ll never guess what I got today!"

For routine shopping trips — like grocery — shoppers have an internal mental calculator that they use to regulate their purchases. So it would follow that the shopper’s trophy is a planned purchase. But this isn’t true. On the contrary, the trophy is an impulse buy. In today’s environment, how can shoppers afford an impulsive trophy? The answer is that about 25 percent of the shopper’s total budget is subconsciously set aside for opportunistic buys.

According to a 2010 study exploring grocery shopping by Dr. Kirk Wakefield at Baylor University, shoppers don’t deviate much from their budgets, but they still make plenty of impulse buys — things that are not on their list in the pre-shop. This subconscious portion of their budget is called the slack budget.

So how does an item at a grocer become perceived as an opportunistic purchase? An opportunistic purchase is a well-timed chance to gain unexpected — yet desired — benefits. It could include a surprise sale such as a deal on paper towels or a novel solution to a problem, such as a specially-packed gift basket for an Oscar’s party. These examples can meet the criteria for opportunistic, slack-budget purchase: surprise, timeliness and value.

Part of timeliness is to present the offer early enough in the shopping trip so that the buyer still has an unspent slack budget. Additionally, the timeliness of the offer may be seasonal or occasion-based, like the Oscar parties’ gift basket or a spring cleaning bundle. Urgency can drive this perception too. Absent an occasion, the offer might be positioned as something that must be seized now — "Buy while supplies last" or "24-hour Sale."

An opportunistic item must be seen as worth the slack budget allocation. This is value that can be intrinsic to the product, or even something that other people want.

Perhaps most important is selling speed. The product needs to be easy to select. It must be a no-brainer. For every shopper-second beyond x, the chance of getting into the basket radically diminishes. Therefore, elements that slow shoppers down must be eliminated.

In a study cited in The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, by Barry Schwartz, researchers set up a display featuring a line of exotic, high-quality jams. Customers could taste samples and receive a coupon for a dollar off if they bought a jar. In one condition of the study, six varieties of the jam were available for tasting. In another, 24 varieties were available. The result: The large array of jams attracted more people to the table than the small array. But, when it came to buying, 30 percent of the participants exposed to the small array of jams actually bought a jar; only three percent of those exposed to the large array of jams made a purchase.

To help facilitate a quick, effective sell, limit the choices. Avoid version confusion. Questions about complex usage routines, the relevancy of consumption occasions, and price-value equations have no place in this transaction. Issues that take too many shopper-seconds to resolve will detract from the perception of opportunism and result in a lost sale.

Discussion Questions: What makes an item become perceived as an opportunistic purchase, particularly in a grocery store setting? How would you rank issues such as timeliness, choices and value as drivers of opportunistic purchases?

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15 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: The Shopper’s Trophy, Part 1 – Creating an Opportunistic Purchase"

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Joel Rubinson
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Nice concept, has the ring of truth. For me (I do all the grocery shopping) the trophy at Waldbaums is almost always some great sale I discovered as I shopped. For the boutique-y smaller supermarket near me, it’s an interesting spread or cheese, often tried at a tasting station first.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
6 years 3 months ago

In the grocery retail setting, there are 2 factors that can drive opportunistic purchases: How shiny it is and where it’s located. Grocery has an advantage as there are many different categories that flow well with opportunistic purchases. I can’t wait to see the latest web-enabled smart spatula with built in MP3 player located in the baking section of my local Loblaws. Grocers, don’t forget about the front and cash area! That’s the best place to put all the shiny stuff.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
6 years 3 months ago

A gallon of skimmed milk at $1.79 is easily perceived as an opportunistic purchase, particularly if it isn’t advertised. That kind of in-store surprise injects fun into the rather mundane grocery shopping trip.

Grocery shoppers are used to “trip sameness” as well as rising prices which, in turn, increases their cost of living. There no joy in Mudville from that bummer. But when shoppers are pleasantly surprised by an obviously reduced price on a demand brand or item, or given some preferential service or gift, or when there is some new innovative animation that brighten up the store, they are especially pleased.

Retailing is a public stage. Creative retailers perfom on it and give shoppers a Sense of Theater. And therein is Opportunity.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
6 years 3 months ago

In grocery, I think the two drivers for opportunistic purchase are value and scarcity/unexpectedness. For example, a great deal on a beach umbrella at a grocery store in mid-August when all the other stores are sold out of summer items would be an opportunistic “trophy.”

Peter Fader
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

I disagree with the basic premise here: Most routine shopping trips do not have any kind of “trophy” associated with them. Most trips are so mindless that they merit no subsequent discussion at all. Yes, impulse purchases occur frequently, but most are still pretty mindless. Remembering to buy ketchup at the last minute counts as an impulse purchase but is rarely a bragged-about “trophy.”

Excessive attempts to create such purchases will often do more harm than good: annoying in-store reminders/deals/suggestions will merely be confusing clutter to most shoppers and ruin their overall in-store experience.

Retailers should let shoppers navigate their own way through the store and let serendipitous discovery happen as an organic process — not a forced one. Shoppers do much better without any “help” to drive them towards unplanned purchases.

Joel Rubinson
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Pete, I have to respectfully disagree. I believe that grocery shopping gives meaning to many people. As I shop, I closely watch other shoppers. They don’t have the look of wanting to be elsewhere. They have the look of being on a mission (especially older shoppers) and probably feel a sense of pride when they are successful (finding the great sale, buying what they intended to buy). Whenever there is the possibility for failure, there is also the possibility for victory. People can feel good when they are victorious shoppers. A trophy is a proof and a story to be told.

Anne Howe
Guest
6 years 3 months ago
I think the trophy purchase is much more prone to happen outside the grocery channel of trade. Just ask any regular TJMaxx shopper: we use the “honey, look at the deal I got” phrase quite consistently. But I do NOT include specialty food stores and farmers’ markets in my definition of grocery. Like Peter, I think the average grocery trip is mundane, boring and I just want to get it done without too much fuss. The bore of old-school grocery and the desire for interesting experiences explains why so many shoppers have evolved to three or more types of food store trips per week. They’ve defined where they get personal pleasure from, exploring ways to spend the slack budget, and they’ve done so because smaller, more personal merchants are tuning in and responding to their desires. Shoppers don’t seem to mind the constant disruption at specialty markets and even Whole Foods. At these markets, there are plenty of qualified associates that will converse and advise and even recommend alternative options! But if Kroger took that… Read more »
Bill Hanifin
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

“Hey Honey, you’ll never guess what I bought today” is not too far away from “you’ll never guess how much I saved today,” both of which are expressions of rationalization for incremental purchases that may have been unplanned.

I’m not an expert in this area but would think that of the factors mentioned — timeliness, choices, value as drivers of opportunistic purchase — that timeliness and value would be at the top of the list.

An aspect of timeliness is the physical placement of the product in the store. Office Depot does this with paper or some other “special” item piled up near the entrance.

Grab mind share earlier and you have a better chance to capture that incremental spend.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Retailers are in the business of pleasing customers. Understanding their customers’ referenced “internal mental calculator” is an imperative. Ultimately, you must create value. Grocers have unique opportunities due to the large of number of products they sell.

I’ll address two types of opportunistic pricing strategies: “Detours” and “Delighters.” Detours incent customers to shop your store first so that you earn the staples that are available at your competitors’ stores. The delighters are products that customers discover while shopping your store. It can be any product, but it has to be obvious and it has to be a great value.

The best grocery merchants are employing both techniques to create shopping trophies. Detour, delight or die!

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
6 years 3 months ago
From the jump I took umbrage with this statement: “Nearly every routine shopping trip has a ‘trophy.'” The supporting research for this by Stilley, Inman, and Wakefield is unavailable to me because I’m a “no account” – something I’ve been accused of before. I have no account with the Journal of Consumer Research. But, I’d still like to review the research and its design and methodology. In its absence, I clicked on the RW link to Ms. Crawford’s article and became even less convinced of her thesis. In the article, trophy purchases are referred to as “hedonic” (like Gene Hoffman’s $1.79 gallon of skimmed milk? Gene, you hedonist!); Trojan brand products are trophies (you’re smiling already, don’t get me started); and supporting quotations are sprinkled throughout such as “pictures are recognized faster than words…they elicit affect [sic] faster than abstractions, like words do.” Cool, we have verification that a picture is worth a thousand words. Ms. Crawford is widely regarded as brilliant, and I concur. However, some promotional firms specialize in cookie-cutter “research” designed for… Read more »
Peter Fader
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

I’m sticking with my negative perspectives. Attempts to “detour” or “delight” will often fail to achieve their goals, and could easily backfire. The incremental value of such efforts will generally be outweighed by the long-term costs of executing such tactics and making the shopping experience less pleasant for the customer.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
6 years 3 months ago

Good article/research, and seems especially relevant as we enter the all-important Fall/Winter holiday season, i.e., good ideas for capturing more of the shopper’s holiday/gifting budget. The findings also seem to be quite relevant for retailers outside the grocery channel.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

I’m in agreement with Pete Fader here. Although I do think there is an important function for what I call surprise/delight — or at least it is related — this article is way too focused on mostly imaginary planning.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
6 years 3 months ago

An opportunistic purchase is one that satisfies and perhaps surprises a customer. It’s possible to create these in store and online. My neighbor keeps talking about how much money she is saving on Living Social daily deals. Now that’s a trophy according to a growing number of consumers.

Tony Orlando
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

There are many ways to make customers go “WOW” inside the store. I run a ton of in-store crazy deals, as many wholesalers are always moving close coded product, and I’m more than happy to sell something 75% off, and still make a profit. A great price, plus a great new “signature” deli or bakery item, will get someone to buy almost every single time, and the way the center-store grocery business is, it is a must to survive anymore. The dollar stores can wow ’em on a hot price, but a full service supermarket can wow ’em on both, and that is the way to get more sales per customer.

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