Confessions of a Shopper Researcher


It starts in the parking lot. 
Always crowded. Always sprinkled with rogue grocery carts waiting to make their getaway, wheels dangerously pointing towards my car.  A defective cart with a seized wheel is always waiting for me and it’s starting to feel personal. As I walk away, I say a prayer to the patron saint of cars (yes, there is one!)

Once inside, I almost always feel like I’ve entered an airport in a foreign country.
Like most consumers, I shop at several retailers during a typical week; each with their own unique layouts, product offerings and internal logic. Every time I enter a store, even if it’s of the same banner, there is a learning curve. The aisles are like gates, I don’t speak the language and my brain’s navigation system is accessing the wrong country maps.
I look up to the ceiling, hoping for a sign from above, but I get blinded by the giant light fixtures instead.
Most of the signage is at the end of the aisles, which used to make sense when aisles weren’t the length of a football field. To add insult to injury, nothing is ever where it should be or more importantly, where one would EXPECT to find it. With all my shopper research expertise, if I can’t find what I’m looking for, what hope is there for the average consumer? In quiet desperation I invoke the patron saint of lost things –‘dear St. Anthony, please come around, something’s lost that can’t be found’…hey, it can’t hurt.

Caution, Height Challenged Shopper in Aisle 3!
As the store footprints get larger and the store shelves get taller, I suddenly feel ever smaller than my 5 ft 2 inch frame. Selecting products on shelves becomes an Olympic worthy feat. What’s a height challenged shopper to do?  Maybe someone can invent shopping carts that become hydraulic lifts at the touch of a button (note to self: I must patent this idea immediately!).

Finally, the checkout line – where the Memory Game meets The Price is Right.
I am forced to remember the price of every single item in my cart and ensure said products scan accurately. I barely remember my name by this point. And there’s no prize for getting it right.

Silver lining:  A frustrated shopper = a better shopper researcher
In the end, my personal frustrations with grocery shopping makes me a better researcher because I know what it’s like to be a ‘professional shopper’ and still feel like I’m out of my element.  But the average frustrated shopper is still just that, a frustrated shopper.

Combining my shopper expertise with my own experiences as a consumer, here’s my advice to manufacturers and retailers.

5 Ways To Improve The Shopper Experience 

  1. Shoppers have difficulty making decisions due to too much choice resulting in inertia, ‘lock out’ or ‘boomerang’ effect (stick to what you know):  With more choices than ever before,  retailers should focus on  facilitating rather than impeding the consumer’s decision process.
  2. Being out of stock is a missed opportunity. Being in stock but inaccessible is infuriating. When the planogram for a specific brand is interrupted, it causes more time to be spent searching for and potentially missing a product altogether. Make the product inaccessible and consumers will walk…right into the arms of your competitor.
  3. Don’t make your customers work so hard to find your product: Products should be organized based on how shoppers make decisions, in a way that is aligned with their logic. If the product doesn’t neatly fit into a current category, then using adjacency or cues that access similar memory pathways are critical.
  4. The mind can only process 5-7 pieces of information in-store (and about 3-5 on pack):  Shoppers want to feel smart when making decisions but retailers need to be educating consumers in a way that doesn’t add complexity. A little single-mindedness goes a long way.
  5. Ensure consistent messaging inside and outside the store:  Increasing trend for consumers to pre-shop before entering the store. Consistent brand messaging outside and in-store provides consumers with navigational and brand clarity in-store.

Until my advice is heeded, I will keep shopping – for my craft,  and for my dinner. 🙂

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About Mary Logan

Mary has been a senior member of Research & Incite Consultants since 2000 and actively involved in the market research industry for more than 26 years. Her core area of expertise is in quantitative research specializing in branding, packaging and new product development. Mary continues to be actively involved in managing research projects across a variety of sectors including CPG, beverage alcohol, gaming, retail and food services. Mary’s interested in observing and understanding consumers, how they connect and interact with brands and utilizing these learnings to address business issues. Her focus is on problem solving and developing the optimum research solution to address business issues. Her approach to reporting involves developing a compelling story which unfolds to reveal consumer truths.