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How does a shopper become your customer? How do marketers gain actionable insights on purchasing decisions, and what cutting-edge tools do retailers & manufacturers have available to influence shopper decision-making? The Shopper Insights in Action 2011 conference, held in Chicago on July 11-13, sought to shed some light on the changing landscape of intelligent in-store marketing, our burgeoning understanding of shopper decision making and the positive organizational changes that can be implemented as a result.

After three fruitful and exciting days of speakers and presentations on the theme of a ‘Path to Purchase’, it is apparent that ongoing innovation in marketing research has opened the door to new ways of thinking about the shopper’s decision making processes. Our understanding and activation of the new data this effort is producing will be invaluable as the walls of the traditional shop crumble, giving way to a vastly different retail landscape.

New Shopper Strategies

Marketing strategies towards the US shopper have become increasingly multifaceted and complex. The nature of the in-store experience is constantly improving through new insights into how best to position in-store signage, provide visual cues, direct traffic flow and tailor interior design schemes.  But presenters including Phil McGee, Director of Shopper Insights at Campbell’s Soup Company, emphasized the idea that many purchase decisions are made well before the shopper enters a physical retail space. Multi-faceted research programs can identify primal, subconscious purchase drivers that set the context for each shopping trip, and must be nurtured through a holistic in-store experience.

As leading retailers and manufacturers begin to understand and explore new mediums for market research, they naturally seek new methods to leverage this understanding. Advanced virtual reality software, new eye tracking methods and EEG (ectroencephalography) or fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) brain monitoring devices were among the products featured at the conference’s Innovation Hall. Leading US retailers, including Sam’s Club, Family Dollar Stores, and Macy’s Inc, reported on big changes to organizational structure and store design that generated positive returns on investment.

The Emotional Factor

Increasingly, retailers and their research partners have also come to understand that the core of shopper decision making resides far more with emotional memory and instinct than with Socratic reason. Several presenters emphasized that, even in a recessionary economy, the value of a product is established through more than simple price considerations. Successful brand building will demand that manufacturers and retailers consider how products satisfy the primal emotional needs and urges of the shopper.

Keynote speaker Grant McKracken, a renowned cultural anthropologist, drew the audience to a notion of cultural “waves” which retailers and manufacturers either identify successfully to leverage new social movements or ignore at their peril. A deeper understanding of the shopper’s attachment to community and of the broader forces shaping popular cultural trends will be an important part of brand activation; particularly as the Millennial generation (born approximately in the previous three decades) becomes the dominant presence on the retail market.

Neuroscience, the new frontier

Accomplished keynote speakers including Dr. A.K. Pradeep of Neurofocus and neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer opened the discussion to include the science of the human brain, the core of all shopper decisions but a field which science has only recently begun to unlock, to the great benefit of consumer marketers. Shopper insights have traditionally been gleaned from the effort to solicit the subjective opinions of the consumer from focus groups and interviews. But increases in computing power and advances in neuro technology are allowing marketers to become increasingly familiar with the anatomy of brain power and mechanics of crucial shopper faculties like memory, pleasure, intuition and satisfaction. A deep and scientific understanding of dopamine input to the the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s pleasure center, provides marketers with insights into the core, anatomical foundation of how brands satisfy the consumer and trigger purchasing behavior.

Transformational power of mobile technology

Even as researchers produce new insights into shopper habits and predilections, the retail playing field is changing. Through the growth of smartphone technology, mobile commerce is expanding the boundaries of the retail space and increasing the opportunity for shopping trips to any time of day or night, and from almost any global location. Multiple presentations drew attention to the efforts of Tesco Home Plus in South Korea, where the retailer created “virtual stores” resembling the aisles of a supermarket in Seoul subway stations. Busy commuters can shop for grocery items while waiting for their train by scanning QR codes. As developed nations transition from early adoption to majority penetration of smartphone handsets, presenters also invited the conference attendees to consider the changes this will have on shopper behavior. The new, mobile shopping experience was termed by Procter & Gamble’s Consumer Market Knowledge team as the “Whenever, Wherever” consumer, and must be understood in order to better market brands in the new retail environments of developed markets.

Attendees to Shopper Insights in Action 2011 were left with plenty to consider. Retailers and manufacturers of consumer goods were reminded that they must win the shopper’s heart by understanding the shoppers head; this means seeking new insights into the emotional context of shopper behavior, neurological indicators and changing retail platforms.

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