Pay attention to your environment so that you can see all the options
A key part of shopping effectively is to be more aware of what’s around you.
Don’t just be drawn to products between eye and waist height; there are typically three shelves outside this range, be aware of them and start considering what’s on them.
Remember that some products are promoted at such low prices that the retailers actually lose money when they sell them. These items, known as loss leaders, can be heavily advertised, but harder to find in-store because they are outside our eye lines; the aim being to give shoppers every opportunity to ‘give up the hunt’ and purchase a higher-margin item instead.
Because humankind is hard wired to look down, recognise this and look over the whole range of shelves when in-store.
Recognise marketing for what it is
Don’t just be attracted to the boldest and brightest products!
Brands and retailers leverage emotional connections in-store for their own benefits and they do this via shopper marketing. Consumer marketing has existed for decades, but now it is recognised that shopping and consuming are very different things and shopper marketing is developing in its own right. It’s now reaching the point that traditional advertising agencies are jumping on the bandwagon and proclaiming themselves as instant shopper and shopping experts.
Shopper marketing is about understanding how target consumers behave as shoppers, in different channels and formats, and using this intelligence for everyone’s benefit; for retailers, brands, shoppers and consumers. Price-led promotions, in-store tastings, free samples and in-store brand activation strategies all qualify as forms of shopper marketing.
As a smarter shopper, you have to try and recognise marketing for what it is: an attempt to make you buy one product either instead of, or in addition to, another. This means actively considering whether you really want the product that’s visually jumping off the shelves for some reason or other. By all means, investigate those eye catching deals and partake in the free tastings, but when you do, consider your options without all the paraphernalia and associated marketing hype.
Contextualise images and realise they aren't everything they seem
Visual images have been processed by human brains and their evolutionary predecessors for 10,000 times as long as language and words have been around. This means that we are naturally wired to recognise and respond quickly and more emotionally to pictures than words.
We are initially attracted by images on posters and product packaging and only after that do we start to notice and factor in any words. A picture really does say a thousand words and another benefit of image-based communication is that it lets us add our own meaning to it, by allowing it to trigger individual, specific memories and associations.
In a retail environment, around 70% of the stimuli we receive are via our sense of vision. It’s no surprise that brands and retailers invest so much in crafting just the right images for us to see. Pictures are carefully tweaked and airbrushed so that we see the perfect product. This isn’t a new practice, before Photoshop, images would be manually enhanced to optimise their appeal to shoppers and consumers.
Something else to be mindful of, particularly in relation to food items, is that as our brains were wired long before photographs and product packaging had been invented, therefore, we are naturally attracted to images that show the real products, more than mood-based imagery.
Be aware of the sounds in your environment and try blocking out external influences
We are constantly processing and analysing the sounds arriving in our brains from our ears. As with the visual sense, auditory cues prime us in readiness for situations we have yet to encounter and deal with. The brain is very advanced in the way it analyses sounds and can decode sound – where it comes from, how far away it is and the speed at which whatever is making the noise is travelling.
In a retail environment, the influence of sounds can be remarkably powerful. Several research studies have illustrated how much we respond subconsciously to music playing in-store. The tempo of the music can change our walking speed; the faster and more upbeat the music, the quicker we stride along, almost as if we are subconsciously walking in time to the music.
The genre of the music playing can also alter our perceptions of the prices and value of the products available. Evidence shows that simply changing from pop to classical music in a store can significantly increase how much the average shopper pays for their wine.
You either need to be aware of the sounds influencing how you shop or actively prime yourself in such a way to manage your own auditory input. For example, listening to your own playlist will offset any external musical influences, but be mindful of the tunes you choose - ‘Money, Money, Money’ and ‘Hey Big Spender’ might not be the best tracks to play!
Of course, music isn’t the only type of sound that can influence your behaviour; laughter can be infectious and the sound of someone crying can upset other people. Even the effectiveness of tannoy messages read by shop staff can vary depending on the regional accent and where the store is.
Understand that what you physically touch can also affect you emotionally
The tactile nature of products, store fixtures and fittings can and will alter your perception of product quality. The thickness of paper and the softness of material are both influential factors in determining our opinion and likeliness to buy a product.
We have touch sensors over every part of our body, so it isn’t just our hands that touch and sense things. Our feet subconsciously respond to underfoot sensations, and we’ve all felt the heat of the sun when it shines directly onto our faces.
We are constantly receiving kinaesthetically (touch) related stimuli. Our brain actively makes judgements about these stimuli depending on how they physically feel. When you shake hands with someone, you can’t stop your brain making a judgement about the other person, just from the way they shook hands.
The weight of many portable electronic devices is often associated with quality; too light and the gadget must be poorer quality, and yet they are designed to be portable, aren’t they? A favourite example relates to shoppers associating the quality of products in a catalogue, in part by how the catalogue feels. Shopper perceptions of a leading European retailer improved and became more positive after they increased the thickness of the cover on their Christmas catalogues.
It’s important to be aware both of what you are touching, and what is touching you. For example, if you suddenly find yourself walking on a softer, carpeted floor, expect to pay more in that part of the store. Conversely, if you catch yourself turning your nose up at the poor tactile quality of that box of chocolates, consider who you are buying them for; if they are a gift for a valued friend, then you are right to turn your nose up (as they probably will, subconsciously, when they receive them). But if they are for you, remember you will probably eat the chocolates without paying any more attention to the box.
What you touch physically can very often touch you emotionally. We all find it difficult to avoid making judgements about things by the way they feel. When smart shopping, use your sense of touch, but use it cognitively as well as subconsciously.
Realise that scent can be a powerful motivator
The human sense of smell is processed by the brain in a different way to the other four senses; it doesn’t pass through any form of mental filter and so can slip ‘under the radar’.
Research strongly suggests that the presence of chemicals in the air can cause changes in subconscious behaviour, for example, the scents that females produce that attract males, such as copulins, or chemicals that affect the menstrual cycle. It is generally accepted that what we smell influences how we react, perceive and behave. It is no surprise that retail and brand marketers often target us by way of our sense of smell.
In high-street stores, the most well-known is probably that of circulating the scent of a luxury perfume. Not only does smell pleasant but it also heightens our perception of that store's quality, making us more inclined to spend our money.
In a supermarket environment, you'll find the aroma of freshly baked bread; the purpose being to make us hungry in a place that sells food.
There are also other, more subtle, smell-related influences in stores. Often, the retailers aren’t even aware of them and don’t actively utilise them. For example, there is a definite smell in the laundry detergent aisle that can cause us to become subconsciously nostalgic, thinking of our childhood and the smell of freshly laundered clothes.
Distance yourself from the thought of consuming freebies
Don’t let your taste buds be tricked, or your wallets!
Our taste buds can be ‘tickled’ without any morsel of food passing our lips. In other words, the thought of food can create internal chemical changes as we shop and alter our behaviour in-store at fixture.
If I were to describe a large chocolate cake, covered with chocolate icing and stuffed with fresh cream, you may start to fancy a slice. What if I went on to describe how you carried the cake across a room and got some chocolate icing and freshly whipped cream on your fingers, which you then had to lick off? I suspect that you are salivating right now. I’ve managed to alter the chemical management of your body using a few words. Imagine if I were to drop you into a large warehouse full of 50,000 different products, mostly edible and many mouth-wateringly irresistible. How much could you be influenced then?
Of course the scenario I have illustrated is that of the typical supermarket and yes, your taste buds are tickled every time you go there. But we experience similar delights in high-streets chocolateries and dessert bars.
On a similar level, we get drawn in with free test-tube size samples of perfumes in department stores and free miniatures of make-up products.
To be a really good smarter shopper, you need to distance yourself from the end uses of a product; those promises made by the pictures on the pack, and remain focussed on shopping for commodities.