Tony Nunan, MD of Visuality Group, the integrated research and design agency helping branded and retail clients win at point of purchase

Upon entering a supermarket, it is probably obvious to shoppers that a huge amount of work has gone into the layout of the store: the promotional display that catches your eye at the entrance is clearly not there by chance; the positioning of the products on-shelf is not a mere coincidence, and the products lined up at the checkout have not have not been placed there because of a lack of space elsewhere in the supermarket.

What, perhaps, is not quite so obvious, is the sophistication of the process that goes into achieving the optimum store: a culmination of research, experiments, and in-depth insight into customers’ shopping behaviour – on the part of both supermarkets, and brands.

The role of the subconscious
For most people, the word “research” will bring to mind the ubiquitous focus group: eight ladies gathered together in a front room on a rainy Tuesday evening, discussing ready meals or lunch boxes. Focus groups are used but, in truth, they’re of limited use when trying to understand shopper behaviour. This is because a great deal of everyday shopping is undertaken automatically, with many decisions being taken at a subconscious level. It’s repetitive, it’s not terribly interesting, and it’s something we tend to forget about almost instantly. So there’s little value in asking shoppers to describe in detail the process leading up to a purchasing decision they made last week – they simply won’t remember. Alternative methods are needed if we are to develop genuine insights into shopper behaviour– something that Visuality has been researching for many years.

If you want to understand something, start by observing it
As with research into any behaviour, the best way to understand it is to start by observing it. So, the best way to understand shopper behaviour is to spend time in-store simply watching how customers behave (something that Visuality spends a lot of time doing!).

Occasionally, it is appropriate to use CCTV cameras to record shopper actions; for example, for projects where we need to report back in minute detail and at a statistically rigorous level, or where we want to be able to understand the impact of small changes in layout or merchandising on customer activity. The resulting digital recordings are analysed and data generated on a wide range of metrics. This allows us to determine who is visiting a category and when, and to understand the extent to which different areas or elements in a display are successful in engaging customers and converting them into buyers. Crucially, by running such exercises pre and post changes to the store or category, we can understand the impact of such changes on store performance.

When shopper observation is supported by intercept interviews with shoppers at the fixture, genuinely detailed insights into the effect of the store environment on customer satisfaction and propensity to buy can be generated.

Eye Tracking
Another useful technique in understanding the subconscious processes underpinning shopper behaviour is eye tracking.

We use two different methods of eye tracking. The first involves fitting discreet goggles to a shopper at the start of the shopping trip. These goggles produce a video record of everywhere the shopper looks during the journey through the store, enabling us to assess the impact and performance of all visual communication, from packaging to POS to price ticketing. The researcher can sit down with the shopper afterwards and run through the video, discussing points of interest and exploring those items that have generated interest or, as is often the case, caused confusion.

The second method is more of a “laboratory test”. Respondents are shown images on a high definition, 24 inch colour screen. These images can be anything, from still photos to video footage. We use the kit to evaluate pack designs, POS and fixtures. Infra-red sensors within the monitor record everything the respondent looks at. If we are evaluating packs, the kit will tell us if a pack is looked at in a display, how it compares with competitors, and which specific design elements drive recognition and understanding; it will also tell us which elements of a pack design cause confusion. The lab-based test isn’t ‘real’ in the way that filming shoppers or using eye tracking goggles is; it is simply a test. However, used correctly, it can provide invaluable information about communication performance that simply can’t be achieved by other means.

If you can’t see it, you can’t buy it
In a recent experiment at a marketing trade show, Visuality challenged visitors to find the top 10 advertised products which were “hidden” amongst the top 100 advertised products – like a branded version of “Where’s Wally”. Coca-Cola, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the easiest to spot; it was found fastest, and was the only pack found every time.  Participants found many other leading brands much more difficult to find, raising genuine questions about their likely visibility on-shelf.

All these techniques, resulting in valuable insight, can contribute to the retailer’s ability to make their stores easier to shop. This, in turn, improves customer satisfaction and means we can turn an increasing proportion of shoppers into buyers.

Tony NunanTony Nunan, MD of research and design agency Visuality Group
Tony joined Visuality Group 25 years ago, after a successful career in UK and international marketing positions at Reckitt Benckiser and GSK. In the latter two roles, Tony worked on brands such as Dettol, Lemsip, Lucozade, Horlicks and Calpol across a variety of markets including Europe, The Caribbean and Africa.
Tony lives in Cheshire with his wife, three grown up kids, and a collection of guitars.

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