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SCHAUMBURG, Ill. -- A new study by The Nielsen Co. sheds light on why consumers tend to buy the same brand of coffee and mayonnaise over and over again, but often purchase different brands of cold cereal and chocolates.
The "Nielsen Shopper Modality Study," conducted by the Nielsen Customized Research division, shows that consumers present distinct shopping modes at the supermarket that dictate what ends up in their grocery bags.
"Shoppers don't waste energy on everyday decisions," said Manjima Khandelwal, s.v.p., Nielsen Customized Research. "To simplify their lives, shoppers are often in grab-and-go mode, reaching for the brands they usually buy without reading the label or checking the price. The key to reaching shoppers lies in understanding that shoppers' habitual mode can be disrupted by external stimuli such as advertising, buzz, new offers, price, and promotions. Marketers can leverage this brief window of opportunity to trigger change by understanding which hot buttons to push."
Nielsen's study, which reviewed consumer shopping behavior across 30 food categories, found that consumers adopt one of four "shopping modes" as they cruise the supermarket aisles: auto-pilot, variety-seeking, buzz, or bargain hunting.
In auto-pilot, or grab-and-go mode, shoppers are making everyday, habitual decisions driven by brand choices, and they are usually not in the market to try anything new, according to Nielsen. Items such as coffee, cereal, cheese, margarine, and mayonnaise are purchased in auto-pilot mode.
"The implication for marketers in auto-pilot categories is that if you are a leader, avoid radical changes to your brand message or packaging," said Deepak Varma, s.v.p., Nielsen
Customized Research. "Otherwise you may risk disrupting habitual behavior driving brand choice in your favor."
In the variety-seeking mode, shoppers are browsing shelves actively and on the lookout for new tastes as well as interesting product innovations or products offering "surprise" in their role as household chef.
"Consumers seem to get bored with the same choices in certain categories," said Varma. "We found shoppers on the lookout for a change of pace when shopping in the frozen food and cold cereal aisles, as well as for biscuits, salad dressings, and chewing gum. In this context, customers' decisions to purchase products were greatly influenced by informative and exciting packaging."
Energy and sports drinks, chocolate, ready-to-drink teas, and yogurt drinks fall in the buzz-activated category. "Shoppers are most likely to be influenced by catchy advertising, new product introductions and the original packaging that leaps off the shelves and grabs interest and attention," said Khandelwal.
Bargain-hunted categories are driven purely by price comparison and promotions. "Consumers in this shopping mode are on a mission and the mission is savings," said Varma. Canned tuna, canned tomatoes, cheese, canned fruit, and pasta sauce are items most often purchased in the bargain-hunting mode.
Nielsen's research revealed that even though some product categories are not bargain-driven, manufacturers continually offer in-store deals and promotions, resulting in over-promotion of some categories.
"Consumers choosing sports drinks aren't looking for a bargain," said Khandelwal. "In-store deals for these products go largely unnoticed. Marketers would be better off redirecting their wasted promo dollars to investing in advertising and new product introductions."
The Nielsen Shopper Modality Study was conducted by the Nielsen Customized Research division of The Nielsen Co., and powered by integration with Nielsen retail measurement information.
Nielsen Customized Research, operating in more than 100 countries, provides clients with survey research, analytical, and consulting services, including measures of consumers' attitudes and purchasing behavior, segmentation, brand equity, pricing, packaging, advertising effectiveness, customer satisfaction, and issues.