Shopping is habitual. This doesn’t mean shoppers always buy the same brands, but it does mean they use heuristics (personal rules of thumb) to make quick and low cognitive thought, purchase decisions. Shoppers have repertoires or sets of brands they typically purchase from - they form their own shopper habits.
The current restrictions brought on by Covid-19 are causing a lot of us to rethink the way we shop. Some people I know habitually bought Clover spread. But when forced to find an alternative, they plumped for Lurpak. They now say it tastes better! Perhaps their shopper habits and purchase behaviour will have changed forever when we come out on the other side of Covid-19.
In another example, this time for lager, guys who bought Kronenbourg 1664 from Sainsbury’s were suddenly faced with a gap on the fixture, where Kronenbourg used to reside, but a plentiful stock of San Miguel. As a result, they switched, and reportedly prefer San Miguel. Again, perhaps their shopper habits have been altered forever!
I spoke to some shoppers about their purchasing activity and almost all of them said they had changed some items that they would normally buy - their shopper habits had been broken by the scarcity of stock. No matter how much puppy-like attraction your brand of toilet roll has, if it isn’t available on shelf, shoppers will switch to another product.
One of the most habitual of repeat purchases is the daily pack of 20 cigarettes bought by the typical smoker. In my experience, the sure-fire way to persuade a smoker to try another brand is to simply remove the availability of their current choice. Although cigarettes may seem somewhat of an extreme category to focus on, the behaviours witnessed when analysing cigarette shoppers are being repeated in many, many categories throughout the supermarket.
The stock level vs. conversion correlation
In numerous previous research projects, we have compared the amount of product available on shelf with the conversion of visitors to the category that buy something: Literally photographing the fixture hourly and then counting visitors and purchasers over a period of days and stores. In just about every example, there is a direct correlation: The more stock on shelf, the higher the percentage of visitors that buy.
The point I’m making is that there are times when sales data can be looked at without a full understanding of the context. And now is a perfect case in point. Furthermore, out of stocks can damage entire categories and shopper marketing activations. In one example, we were studying a promotional gondola end that contained both ham and fresh orange juice. The more the stocks of Juice went down the fewer visitors to the ham that purchased.
Going forwards to when we emerge from this current situation, shopper habits will have changed, brand loyalties will have been tested and historical sales data may well come into question. In summary, our approach to shopper marketing may also need to change in order to cater for altered shopper habits.
I firmly believe that the brands that will excel going forwards are those who can use shopper marketing to become integral parts of new shopper habits. How do they do this? One way is to become the easiest brand to buy. By easiest I’m referring to cognitive fluency. This aspect of psychology can be defined as: “The ease with which we process information to generate an understanding of what that information means.”
Cognitive fluency is important because of its power and influence over how we think about things. Fluency guides our thinking in situations where we have no idea that it is at work, and it affects us in any situation where we consider information and make decisions. The full force of its power comes from the fact that we often misattribute the sensation of ease or difficulty in thinking about something to the thing itself.
If you are currently working from home, musing about how your brand might perform, post the Covid-19 crisis, may I suggest you consider how to use shopper marketing to help your brand become a hard-wired repeat purchase. For example:
1. How familiar will shoppers be with your brand?
The more shoppers have been exposed to your brand during the lock-down, the more they are likely to prefer it.
Robert Zajonc conducted a series of experiments in which he found that the more people were exposed to certain words, patterns, or images of faces, the more they liked them. Zajonc’s experiments uncovered what we now know as the Mere Exposure Effect; the more times people are exposed to certain stimuli positively influences their preferences for those stimuli.
In short, because familiarity enables easy mental processing, it feels fluent. So, people often equate the feeling of fluency with familiarity, thus forming shopper habits.
2. Clear communications
If you want shoppers to adopt new shopper habits that involve buying your brand, it’s important to consider how the information about it appears within your shopper marketing. Researchers asked participants to read instructions on how to do an exercise routine. They presented the instructions in two different fonts, one that was easy to read and one that was more difficult.
When they asked participants to estimate how long it would take to actually perform the exercise routine, people anticipated that it would take almost twice as long to do the exercise when reading instructions in the font that was difficult to read.
3. The right-hand rule
Around 90% of shoppers are right-handed. This means that they find it easier to process visual stimuli that are oriented towards their right hands. If you have a plate or bowl on your packaging, then any utensil should be on the right-hand side as you look at it (regardless of which ad you’d normally use the utensil with).
When it comes to picking up your product, is it as easy as possible for right-handers to select you? Any handles should face to the right.
In summary, cognitive fluency is at work any time we are in a situation where we weigh up information. Its impact on choice, decision making and shopper habits is just as influential as that of other, more tangible aspects of a decision-making. Since fluency, by itself, has just as much influence on choice behaviour, it is a critical aspect of shopper marketing and shopping habit formation.
Thank you in anticipation of you considering shopper psychology as part of your brand measurement metrics.