Shopping Lists Spell End of Impulse Buying

Discussion
Sep 14, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Impulse shopping? Not so much. That’s the conclusion of
new research by NPD Group, which finds that the overwhelming majority of consumers
are going off to food stores with shopping lists and coupons in hand.

According
to NPD’s Before the Store report, 94 percent of U.S. households
prepare a written shopping list before they head out and 72 percent never or
only occasionally deviate from their planned purchases.

NPD also found that most
households have a primary person, usually but not always a woman, responsible
for handling the grocery shopping. Interestingly, the development of the shopping
list appears to include various family members. Kids, for example, contribute
to 40 percent of the lists made up by family households.

“For food and beverage manufacturers and retailers, it’s all about
getting on the list,” said Ann Hanson, executive director of product development
at NPD Group and author of the report, in a press release.

“With so many purchasing decisions being made at home where meals are
being planned and shopping lists assembled, it’s important to focus on
the consumer at home before they leave for the store,” she added.

Among
those who buy off the household shopping list, there are several explanations.
Mentioned most often is the fact that they saw it on promotion (80 percent).
Reason number two mentioned by 67 percent is that they realized they forgot
to put an item on the list. A smaller number, 37 percent, chose to buy something
that “looked
like a good meal or snack solution.”

Discussion Questions: Do you think there is more or less impulse purchasing
taking place today than in the past? How do retailers get consumers to buy
additional food and beverage products when so few are purchasing items not
on their shopping list?

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36 Comments on "Shopping Lists Spell End of Impulse Buying"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

94% make a shopping list! Who are they kidding. Just go to the grocery store for an hour and count how many people you see with a shopping list. I don’t know how they asked the question, but you can bet that it was designed to elicit the socially appropriate response that, “Yes, I always shop with a list and rarely deviate from it.”

How do we reconcile this with all the data we have that says many decisions are made at the shelf. Ignore what that actual percentage of at-shelf decisions is–it’s got to be more than 6%.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

If we’ve learned anything from people like Martin Lindstrom it’s that what people say about why they buy and reality are two different things. I’d still highlight the high-profit items and worry less about making ” the list.” Ramp up the bakery smells and put more flowers by checkout.

Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

The Great Recession turned a lot of consumer practices upside down. One of those was impulse buying. Consumers realized that they were exceeding their budgets when they did not plan before leaving for the store, so they changed behavior and now use lists…and stick to them.

Offering consumers thrifty, time-saving meal solutions is one way to get on the shopping list. A strong promotion is another.

None of this is really new. We’ve been talking about meal solutions for years and promotions for even longer. The delivery technology may change, but unless your brand is valuable to the consumer, it will remain on the shelf and not go into the cart.

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Attention all supermarket executives; if you miss the profitability you used to gain from impulse shopping, go look at yourselves in the mirror and say these words, “SKU rationalization.”

SKU rationalization has created an anti-impulse environment that no longer makes the shopping experience conducive for unplanned purchasing.

You have created a store that is just like everyone else’s store with the same SKU assortment, the same choices, and the same products in all the same places at pretty much the same price, except for when you compete by only running discounts and scan downs.

Consumers have always relied on shopping lists. That’s not new or unusual. But consumers used to buy impulse, specialty, niche, and other unplanned purchases, with or without a shopping list. Now, you have taken so many of those opportunities away that she pretty much just sticks to the list.

Joan Treistman
Guest
10 years 7 months ago
On the one hand the NPD data suggest that almost all consumers shop with a list. And on the other hand we have more than 80% of brand decisions made at the store. There does not have to be a conflict in these statements but rather the reinforcement of the importance of packaging at the point of sale. That shopping list (unless it’s being written for the infrequent shopper) is not going to identify the brand. I need butter, salad dressing, chocolate chip cookies, etc. It’s still up to the packaging to break through the competitive clutter and grab the shopper’s attention, reminding her that this is the brand she wants…or a new one worthy of consideration and purchase. Getting back to impulse purchase frequency, it’s hard to imagine that consumers who are concerned about their spending will go to the grocery store with deep pockets. Lists are an opportunity to be more disciplined and control one of the largest components of monthly expenditures. Categories of necessities will top the list. However, the treat consumers… Read more »
Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 7 months ago

Recent sales performance shows that all buying, not just impulse, is down. However, I’m with Bob on this. Anecdotally, I do all the food shopping for my house and I see very few lists being checked off. My sense is that the survey results are highly suspect.

The key is still to give the customer a good reason to shop the store. Once they are inside, the same laws of promotion and surprise still apply.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 7 months ago
When I was a food-retailing student at the University of Mass., I remember that the supermarkets thought the ideal customer was a hungry husband shopping without a shopping list. The concept was he would buy what he liked–snacks, etc., and a lot of it, and then his wife would have to return to the store and then buy what they needed. In essence that appears to still remain true but based on the NPD research is happening less often. Given all that has happened to the economy over the past few years, I expect that more and more people are doing a better job of planning their grocery purchases for a couple reasons. First, there is less money in many households to spend. People need to ensure that they get what they need for money they have to spend. Second, shopping takes time and more of the usual grocery shoppers (women) work. Not sure that too many people see grocery shopping as fun. It is likely viewed as a task and something that has to… Read more »
W. Frank Dell II
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Consumers are in a depression mentality since “The Great Recession.” They are paying down debt and increasing savings. Our largest population segment, Baby Boomers, has always been the spenders and now facing retirement on fixed income has pulled back. It has been well publicized that shopping with a list saves money, when it fact it reduces impulse purchases. The question is, will the ‘good old days’ ever come back? At this time it looks unlikely.

Retailers that create a treasure hunt and an exciting shopping experience have a chance for impulse purchases, but retailers offering the same old boring shopping experience will have limited success.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 7 months ago

We make a shopping list of things we can’t resist,
Then we go to stores and buy what our sights insist.
The idea that impulse buying has gone awry,
Is well researched but it’s not time to say goodbye.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

I’m with Bob. Let me summarize this way.

1) Shopping lists are not new. People make them so they won’t forget to buy things they need–NOT to prevent them from buying other things they want.

2) IHL did some interesting research and discovered that the use of self-checkout caused a 40+% reduction in the purchase of impulse items at checkout. Not surprising, really. It’s part of the nature of what you do on a self-checkout line (watch for the next available slot) vs. what you do on a ‘regular’ checkout line (peruse magazines, candy and POS end caps–where the impulse buys happen).

I don’t agree with the study or its conclusions. I’m surprised at NPD. The company’s work is usually quite a bit more robust.

Ben Sprecher
Guest
Ben Sprecher
10 years 7 months ago

Something no one has mentioned here is the role technology is playing and will play in shaping shopper purchase decisions. In the Boston area, I often see shoppers using Modiv Media’s handheld scanners as they shop at Stop & Shop. Interestingly, the device both encourages and discourages impulse buying. On the one hand, the targeted ads the device presents can certainly sway shoppers to make an unplanned purchase. On the other, I’ve seen shoppers scan an item, check the running basket total, frown, scan it again to cancel the purchase, and return the item to the shelf.

As additional mobile technology makes its way into the bricks-and-mortar retail experience, I only see this tension increasing. The very apps that would be most helpful for consumers in planning their shopping trips (location-aware shopping list managers with tie-ins to past purchase history) are also the ideal venue for reaching shoppers with targeted offers.

So, to answer the question, there is more *and* less impulse buying going on today…it’s just the nature of impulse buying that’s changing.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

If you don’t truly recognize what the problem is you can’t solve it. The decline in impulse purchase has nothing to do with shopping lists. It has everything to do with the economy. The impulse purchase is the one where the shoppers ask themselves if they can afford it. For 20 years that question was rarely asked. Now it is asked with every unnecessary purchase. Yes, impulse buying is an unnecessary purchase.

Mr. Retailer, you are not going to change this pattern until there is a dramatic change in the economy. Don’t focus on trying to make shoppers buy what they are not going to, focus on giving them a reason to come to your store and focus on your operational profitability. Make those necessary purchases yours rather than your competitors and make them profitable for you.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Based on my conversations with retailers, they are still obsessed with getting items crossed off shoppers’ lists rather than trying to figure out how to get shoppers to stray. This is what led to all of the conversation around shopper “missions” and ensuring that those missions are accomplished.

Once retailers quantify the impact of, say, seven out of ten items getting crossed off of a list (hundreds of millions of $$ in some cases), it’s hard to think about anything else. That’s why list-making tools from both brands and retailers have become all the rage (and they are certainly more popular than wish lists)!

Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

I never see anyone holding a grocery list, except perhaps the clueless husband who doesn’t know where the breadcrumbs might be. But purchasing is changing. The average customer has come to the realization that there are plenty of things out there that they do not NEED…and perhaps don’t even WANT. We may be looking at a fundamental shift in the way Americans consume, which could last for a long while.

Warren Thayer
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

The research methodology was missing something, but it’s clear that impulse purchases are down, especially high-ticket, treasure hunt items in club stores. Clubs and other retailers seem intent on higher in-stock rates, giving more facings to key items and leaving less room for discretionary items. SKU rat, as David Biernbaum points out so well, has also cut into impulse purchases by taking away much of the fun and excitement of shopping.

Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
10 years 7 months ago

Well, these days impulse purchases will not be on the increase but I’m not in total agreement with the negativeness of my colleagues. Temptation may not be one of the seven deadly sins but it is inherent to our DNA. And retailers do have a good handle on how to promote it, David. End aisle displays, candy racks and cold single serve beverages at the checkouts are not an accident.

If we had actual observational data I’m pretty sure that we would see shoppers buy on impulse just as much as in the past. Especially now; given the economy, it’s a little bit of guilty pleasure we can still afford.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Here’s an interesting but unscientific tidbit–my favourite supermarket chain has several sizes of shopping cart. Only the small ones include a clipboard to which a list can be attached.

alexander keenan
Guest
alexander keenan
10 years 7 months ago

Impulse buying now exists in a different form. Amazon makes suggestions when I select books. Several times I purchased these items. The new impulse is adding value at the decision point. How many items that are purchased have associated products? It is just easier for online stores to make these associations known.

John Kennard
Guest
John Kennard
10 years 7 months ago

“Survey says” shopping lists are trending up. OK, makes sense in this difficult time. However, here is an analogy: shopping lists are like New Year’s resolutions. A majority of American adults make one or more New Year’s resolutions a year. Statistics show that 30% are broken in less than a month and much fewer make it past three months.

Here is an outside the box strategy for getting your brand into the cart if it is not on the list to start. Break with convention and aim to keep your products away from the front of the store and the first aisle in the shoppers’ normal traffic pattern. After that, items that make the cart are bound to come less from the head and more from the heart.

James Tenser
Guest
10 years 7 months ago
When it comes to pre-planning the grocery trip (making lists and clipping coupons), what shoppers say they do may be quite different from what they actually do. A little more than a year ago, the folks at Henkel Consumer Goods took a deep dive into three years of shopping behavior data and concluded that detailed trip planning was practiced by about one fourth of households. This behavior pattern was shown to be quite enduring and unrelated to household income level. Since I helped write up the study report, “The Shoppers Perspective,” I have high confidence in its findings. This leaves me with a quandary, since I have generally high respect for NPD Group and its work. The results cited from its “Before the Store” study would seem to contradict the other research I know to be sound. I can only conclude that the apparent inconsistency results from response bias and very different methodologies. A final thought: What shoppers say they do is indeed important, as it reflects their collective attitude and frame of mind. These… Read more »
Ken Wyker
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

I have to agree with earlier comments that the numbers are so high as to be unreasonable. There’s hardly anything that 94% of the population does.

However, in our business we are experiencing continued growth in customer usage of shopping lists which would at least support the notion that it is increasing. Our system is built around the weekly ad, so what we’re seeing is customers creating lists (with specific brands) as a way to save on the items they want or need.

I think the real trend is that customers are placing more importance on saving money. It’s not that they won’t buy on impulse; it’s that the item that’s on sale seems much more attractive than the one that’s at full price.

Lee Peterson
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

People on a budget are more specific about what they buy, makes sense (although 94% seems pretty high), but I’d say it varies by retailer. I’ll bet Whole Foods impulse numbers are a lot higher than any traditional grocer–simply because they’re better at merchandising at the point of sale.

So, for most grocers, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy…and a double whammy to boot. Limited budgets and lousy merchandising equals less impulse buying. But I would think you could get over the “limited budget” hump by fixing the merchandising. Check WFs latest numbers for proof.