Shopping Impulses Hit ‘Before the Store’

Discussion
Jan 19, 2011
Bernice Hurst

If The NPD Group’s Before the Store report is to be relied upon, stores may
have to adjust their expectations when it comes to the effectiveness of in-store
promotions on impulse purchases. The report found that 94 percent of U.S. households
prepare a written shopping list prior to grocery shopping, and 72 percent
never or only occasionally buy items not on the list.

For those who do succumb to impulse, the main reasons
are: “saw it on
promotion (80 percent), saw it in the store and remembered it was needed (67
percent), and looked like a good meal or snack solution (37 percent).”

Ann
Hanson, executive director of product development and author of the report,
said in a statement, “While most grocery shoppers shop for their food
items around once a week, consumers decide what to eat, drink, or serve many
times a day. It’s these daily activities, and the needs behind them,
that drive their purchase decisions.”

Ms. Hanson stressed the importance
of focusing on consumers at home, “before
they leave for the store,” as this is where purchasing decisions are
made, meals planned and shopping lists assembled.

Before the Store found that while most of those in each household contribute
to list preparation, it is generally a woman, the one responsible for preparing
the meals, who does the actual shopping. Spouses participate in compilation
in some 60 percent of households and children in “nearly 40 percent” of
family households.

NPD’s methodology included surveying its National Eating
Trends panel, described as a “nationally representative annual sample
of 2,000 households, representing approximately 5,000 individuals.” Other
information came from products and services such as DeliTrack, Lunchtime and
Dinnertime MealScape Studies.

Discussion Questions: Do you think the NPD underestimates or overestimates the actual impulse-shopping going on in food stores? How can grocers and food brands more effectively reach consumers before they shop?

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18 Comments on "Shopping Impulses Hit ‘Before the Store’"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

I’m not buying it (so to speak)…the methodology behind this survey appears to be based on self-reported instead of actual behavior. It would be interesting to observe actual in-store shopping behavior and (in particular) to compare the contents of the shopping cart to the list in the shopper’s hand when he/she reaches the checkout lanes. I do believe a high proportion of shoppers do their food shopping with a plan (or list) in mind, but I also believe that one or two unplanned items make it through the scanner. This reminds me of the surveys that panelists discussed before the holidays, which certainly pointed toward a grim season for retailers based on self-reported “intention to buy” versus actual behavior.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

During last week’s NRF show, the concept of a “zero moment of truth” came up more than once (the places shoppers go and the prep that they do prior to hitting the store). I don’t see any reason to doubt the findings and it is clear that retailers have never been more focused on the zero moment. This is one reason why retailers have begun to care how private brand packaging looks and stands out, not just on the store shelf, but in the home pantry.

It isn’t just about aesthetics; retailers want to make sure that their brands register in the home environment so that they make it back on the next list (as a brand, not just as a product).

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

I’d be surprised if anything anywhere near 94% have a list–just stand in a grocery store for an hour and count how few lists one sees. The methodology used is designed to elicit a YES answer to the question–otherwise the respondent looks incompetent. There is a correct way to get this data–in-store intercepts that count lists and count impulse items.

That said, the point about reaching shoppers at home is obvious–it’s the whole reason we have advertising agencies. Nobody disputes that much of shopping is habit and advertising has always been a key component of establishing or nurturing a habit.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 3 months ago
I am not sure if these results is new news or not. When I studied food retailing in college we determined that the market baskets of husbands and wives with no shopping list were larger than those purchased by those with a list. Generally this was due to the husband adding additional items to the cart. What the report doesn’t say is what percentage of the final market basket of the 94% of people who claim to have prepared a list (if asked would you say you go grocery shopping unprepared?) was represented by items on the list versus the in store add ons. In many case my wife (our primary grocery shopper) will leave the house with a relatively short list and then add items to create meals, pantry load promotional items, etc. Realize that falls into the category of what we refer to as “grandmother research” and is not statistically reliable. While the results might sound like bad news for retailers I would think it is good news for the media that bring… Read more »
Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 3 months ago

This just doesn’t jive with a wealth of research suggesting that a growing number of brand decisions are being made at the shelf.

I agree that most of us go to the store with a pre-disposition to certain products or brands and have a basic idea of what we want/need. However, there’s a lot of shopper marketing research out there that suggests we are increasingly open to brand switching in the store. Impulse sales are somewhat different in the sense that our current economy has kept shoppers more focused on necessities and therefore less on impulsive buys.

Paul R. Schottmiller
Guest
Paul R. Schottmiller
10 years 3 months ago

Ditto on Richard’s comments. I suspect people are under reporting impulse activity.

Additionally the interpretation of “occasionally” buying off the list could be pretty broad and there is more activity in the grocery store than just the “about once a week” major shopping trip…fill-in activity, event activity, prepared food activity etc. While I do believe at home is important, POP is still a major influence on final purchase decisions.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

First, I believe consumers under report their impulse purchases as it may appear to be irrational to not purchase something on their list. However, I do believe that the level and type of impulse purchases are store format or environment oriented. If the store is plain vanilla with no real excitement, than the store visit is considered a task to be quickly completed, often by skipping aisles all together or making aisle u turns. On the other hand if the store has ambiance and excitement consumers will linger longer and buy beyond their list. Supermarkets need to learn from the Apple store or Yankee Candle how to make their stores fun exploration destinations.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

I have worked in a very large retail store every day for many years. Please know that impulse or add on purchases are huge dollars and included in every forecast and budget. Every attempt to respond to a customer survey that calls for a reduction or deletion of impulse marketing has always resulted in the termination of those same executives right after the first quarter sales results.

Listening to the customers is important but should not interfere with what works for the company. Impulse marketing works for the bottom line and I have found that building the display to be more attractive and informative while positioning it to be less obstructive works for everybody.

Warren Thayer
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Like others, I’m skeptical of the results, and for the same reasons. I do agree, however, that women still do most of the grocery shopping, despite that Yahoo study last week that had men self-reporting that they were the primary shoppers. I bet that same sample wouldn’t dare tell their wives that!

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 3 months ago

“72% never or only occasionally buy items not on the list” is a pretty vague stat–if the large majority of that percentage includes “occasionally” (itself a vague term) then I believe it. Humans are impulsive by nature, so impulse shopping will always be something worth trying to provoke through merchandise placement. Something as simple as placing dip in a area where people buying chips will see it should undoubtedly create unplanned purchases that otherwise wouldn’t happen. A lot of retail really boils down to basic human nature.

Raymond D. Jones
Guest
Raymond D. Jones
10 years 3 months ago

I believe NPD has greatly understated impulse buying behavior. Asking consumers directly whether they ever buy things on impulse is like asking someone if they ever waste money on things they don’t need.

It also depends on your definition of impulse. Shoppers often plan to purchase in general terms such as “fruit” or “dinner” with the specifics decided at the store. If they see chicken breasts on sale, they buy them. By their definition, this is not impulse, it was planned.

Our research with shoppers interviewed in store suggests that less than half of shoppers have an actual written list. By definition, that indicates a good deal of impulse buying.

Based on our experience with data from shopper intercepts and shopper cards, impulse represents a significant proportion of store sales. Impulse items sold at the front-end checkout alone can often represent 10% or more of a basket.

Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

There have been several instances of actual in-store research recently that defy these self-reported findings. Some of them have been discussed in this forum. Recent studies by TNS Sorensen in particular come to mind if my memory serves.

Perhaps more important to retailers than the incidence of a “list” — physical or mental — is the nature of that list. Is it “bread” or is it “Sara Lee Soft & Smooth White 16 oz.” Obviously the former is much more common, leaving the opportunity to change even predetermined purchased decisions between brands and items at the shelf.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

I don’t believe this for a second. If the NPD assertion is true, grocery retailers could pretty much stop doing price promotions. It’s much more likely that customers have an idea of what they need, then wing it as they walk around the store looking for inspiration and great sales.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

I don’t buy the numbers. As part of one of my presentations I ask a question about how many people go to the grocery store without a list some of the time and almost every hand goes up. When asked if they do it more than 20% of the time the answer is yes.

As a side note, this is not asked in a session concerning shopping patterns but in a program that is focused on how to hire better employees.

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Retailers have actually made it more difficult for shoppers to purchase unplanned items off the shopping list.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Even if it’s true that “only” 28% of households buy impulsively more than “occasionally”–an “if” many here don’t seem ready to accept–so what??? Company X knows through experience–theirs or someone else’s–that a checkout display will generate $Y in sales … who cares if it’s everyone buying a few or a few (people) buying many?

Herb Sorensen
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

As long as people asking the questions are trying to rationalize shopping, and the shoppers they are asking are trying to rationalize their behavior, it’s down the rabbit hole. Thankfully, more and more people are coming to recognize the absurdity of these reports. And the reports are written by presumed shopper experts, for other presumed shopper experts! Any data not coming directly from actual MEASUREMENT of shopper behavior, in stores, is probably BS!

May I suggest: Sell to Their “Shopping Lists” (Tell’em Which to Buy!)

Anne Howe
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Hooray for Herb for telling it like it is. Surveys are not the be all, end all. IF you were in the shopper’s pantry, you’d find the truth. I hope for the sake of our industry that some retailers and brands are still committed to inspiration at some level at the store. List or no list, I WANT TO BE INSPIRED. Talk to me about something I haven’t tried. If it’s all just the list I might as well enter it in alice.com and be done with it for the year.

I have more fun with Amazon than Kroger, at least they know how to tease me a little bit. They are up and out of the rabbit hole.

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