Shopper insights: A guide to making data work for you

Shopper insights give you valuable information about shopper behavior. Find out how to gain insights, make the data actionable, and get results.

The way people shop is changing almost constantly. Here’s how your brand can keep up.

Get this: a whopping 75 percent of consumers are actively adopting new shopping tactics in response to economic pressures, stores closing down and above all, a change in their own priorities. But we’re certainly not seeing 100% of brands adapting to that. So now’s the time to get ahead – shopper insights are the way to do that. 

With so much choice available to shoppers, understanding how and why they make buying decisions is so important

Shopping isn’t what it used to be

Who would’ve ever thought we’d buy things like shampoo and toilet paper online, through our phones? Shopping is an experience that’s shapeshifting. Consumers are rapidly adapting to new technologies and apps. There’s a shift to buying more high-value products from brands people truly connect with. Wrap that in a shock to loyalty – meaning people are switching brands at pace – and you’ve got a whole different market to deal with.

On top of that, the pandemic has turned shoppers into even bigger homebodies than they used to be. Brands can’t afford to wait for things to go back to normal, or make assumptions about the way people shop. It’s time to get to the bottom of it and make the necessary changes. Luckily, there’s data to be gathered that can help your decision-making process.

Shopper insights don’t end instore – online shopping insights are a big part of the process

In this guide, we’ll walk you through what shopper insights really are (and what they’re not) and how you can use them for your own benefit.

What are shopper insights?

Shopper insights tell you about how customers experience the buying journey with your brand. They focus on the shopping environment and what influences decision-making processes.

Shopper and consumer insights aren’t the same thing

It’s important to realize that shopper and consumer insights are not the same thing. Shopper research is zooming in on a specific part of the customer journey – the one where transactions are being made. It focuses on the actual shopper, the one who pays for the product, rather than general consumers. They might not be the same person.

Shopper insights focus on the shopping trip, how it’s being planned and how it inevitably doesn’t go as planned. All these shopper insights give you a deeper understanding of shopper motivations, and how to work with them.

Of course, combining shopper and consumer insights gives you a more holistic view, yet consumer research is a much broader type of research. The difference is that it dives into human behaviour, attitudes, habits and preferences that are often more indirectly related to shopping.

A shopper insight versus consumer research: an example

For instance, a shopper insight will look into how you can get a consumer to choose the vegan option in a supermarket, and what in-store factors influence that. Consumer insights however look at how people feel about vegan foods and how it would fit in their lifestyle in a much broader way.

Consumer insights and shopper insights are related but different – both are really useful for consumer brands

Understanding Shopper Behavior 

A Harvard professor says 95% of our purchasing decisions are made subconsciously. That would mean that marketing, messaging and even price aren’t as influential as you might expect. Because if shoppers are not even sure of what they’re doing, how can a brand be? Better yet: why should they be? Isn’t it all luck anyway? The fact that most shopping decisions are made almost absent-mindedly doesn’t mean we just make rash decisions every time. It means that shopping behaviour is influenced instore and over longer periods of time, by consistent messaging and building loyalty. Having up-to-date consumer insights is a must for brands to make sure they remain relevant and successful.

So it comes down to two main factors: the shopper’s intentions, and the shopping environment, which includes everything from the store to the packaging. 

Here are some questions that give you more info on what shopper insights are all about:

  • What triggers a spontaneous, unplanned purchase?
  • What triggers a change of plans for a planned purchase?
  • What channels do specific shopper segments use for a certain product?
  • How do different demographics shop for certain products?
  • How easily can a product be found?
  • What type of exposure is a product getting instore or online compared to competing products?
  • What shopper experiences lead to purchase?
It makes sense for brands to get to the bottom of why consumers make choices

Shopper Insights Examples 

To give you an even better idea of what shopper insights are and what you can practically do with them, we’ll give you some real-life examples of how brands use Attest to gain shopper insights. 

Big Potato Games: who’s buying board games, and where?

Big Potato Games looked into where people go to buy board games and with that confirmed the importance of ecommerce for the brand (who sell in stores, as well as on Amazon and D2C through their website), but also highlighted some other opportunities. Big Potato Games Head of Marketing Becky McKinlay said: “While all segments are largely shopping online, we found out interesting extra details, like board game enthusiasts are much more likely to back something on Kickstarter and buy from certain small independent stores.”

Big Potato Games explored shopper insights to find new opportunities for their brand

DRY CRO: helping people find the NA drinks in store

Non-alcoholic drinks are booming business. Beverage brand DRY knew they had to get their head in the game when they saw how online was impacting retail during the pandemic.

‘’Pre-pandemic, we had discoveries happening online and then stocking up happening in retail. Now what we’re finding is that people are using stores for discovery and using D2C to stock up.’’

“The other part of the business that truly took off for us was the adoption of Instacart or grocery delivery and I believe 100% that’s going to continue, particularly on the stock-up side as you have your carts saved. It’s been a huge driver for us, especially as an emerging category where people don’t know where to find you in store. Instacart is a great shortcut for that because you just type in the category and you can pop right up. That’s helped us improve overall brand penetration.”  

Using these shopper insights, DRY has been able to buy terms in categories that are adjacent to them. In the store, they sit in ‘specialty soda’, and they’ve been able to buy terms of ‘non-alcoholic’, ‘mixer’, ‘NA wine’ and ‘NA beer’.

They also found out how Millennials and Gen Z are very much visual buyers – something to keep in mind when designing packaging and brand experience. “We actually just updated our website earlier this year and our conversion rate has doubled just by upgrading the visual experience.”

Attest Investigates: what will it take for shoppers to buy vegan products?

At Attest we also like to delve into shopper insights. For Attest Investigates we explored the topic of vegan products, and how shoppers decide whether to buy them or not – especially those who aren’t necessarily vegans. Turns out, the vegan section is the supermarket’s least visited aisle. Does that mean that you could sell more vegan products if you mix them with the ‘regular’ products, or are people simply avoiding vegan products altogether?

Our research showed that non-vegans are more likely to buy vegan foods when the products are stocked among non-vegan foods. Of those who regularly buy vegan products, 34% are more likely to shop vegan when they’re displayed in a dedicated section – only 16% of non-vegan buyers said the same. Meanwhile, 23% of regular vegan buyers are more likely to buy when the products are next to non-vegan ones, compared to 32% of people who never buy vegan food.

We found that choices shoppers make about vegan products is affected by where in the supermarket the items are placed

How to gain shopper insights

Observation and conversation are crucial to gathering shopper insights. But you don’t necessarily have to stalk shoppers in the supermarket or wait at the checkout. Since shopping is happening online more and more, there are plenty of tools that help you monitor shopping behavior. Here are three different types of tools that will help you gather shopper insights.  

Insight Surveys

With an online survey, you can get real with customers about their shopping behaviour. Because let’s face it, nobody likes to be questioned about spontaneous off-the-list purchases on the spot. Your shopping cart is nobody’s business, and explaining in the moment why you chose one product over another is rather difficult – especially when you’re in a rush to get home.

With Attest, you can get true shopper insights but survey them in a moment that is convenient for them, meaning you’ll get more meaningful data. 

Get your shopper insights!

Surveying your market and potential buyers is a surefire way to reveal shopping habits

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For certain products it can be valuable to do an actual shop-along, which is exactly what it sounds like: you’ll accompany a pre-selected shopper who fits certain criteria while they go shopping.

You could argue over whether this is worth the time and effort for products like dishwashing soap. But there’s a case to be made for getting shopper insights this way for products of higher value, such as cars. During these shop-along sessions, you observe a customer and ask questions about their preferences in the process, and identify what matters most to them.

Online analytics

You can’t shop along with someone who’s buying online, since a lot of people do that in their pajamas on the couch while sipping a glass of red. You don’t want your shopper insights to intervene with that. But what you can do is track their website behaviour and web search patterns. Even with a simple tool such as Google Analytics you can see exactly how people are navigating through your online store. Combining this with a post-purchase survey will put those shopper insights into context even more. 

How to make shopper insights actionable 

Knowing all about the way people shop opens up a world of possibilities. Through your shopper insight, you learn about what they prefer, what possible pain points they encounter and what would help them make faster decisions. If shopper insights are collected the right way, you get actionable insights that can help you upsell, crossell, boost sales and cut costs. Here are some practical ways you can use shopper insights for your brand.

Optimize store layout and website design 

Are people not noticing your products? Do they have trouble navigating through stores, whether offline or online? Then you know it’s time to give your store or webshop a makeover. Using your new shopper insight Identify bottlenecks and make it easier for your customers to find the product they were looking for. 

Optimize packaging

What are consumers looking for when they’re browsing the aisle? What catches their eye? Knowing what really matters, like certain labels or maybe even reviews can help you create a packaging that they simply can’t resist. 

Packaging plays a huge role in how shoppers choose items to buy

Identify up- and cross-sell possibilities – and position them right

If your consumer insights teach you that people can often be seduced to buy more or different products than they originally planned, you can combine the first two action points to make cross or upsell products even more attractive.

How do your customers choose?

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Nick White

Customer Research Lead 

Nick joined Attest in 2021, with more than 10 years' experience in market research and consumer insights on both agency and brand sides. As part of the Customer Research Team team, Nick takes a hands-on role supporting customers uncover insights and opportunities for growth.

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