How research can inform retail design and brand marketing
By Madeline Baumgartner
Over 88% of U.S. retail sales come from brick and mortar, according to U.S. Census data. Indeed, an Ipsos report notes that 61% of consumers prefer brands with physical locations. The in-store experience is critical to converting consumer demand into purchases. The environment must be easy to shop, provide an engaging and enjoyable shopping experience, and ultimately drive product sales.
So brands and retailers need to understand why and how customers shop a store. They need insights into the experience a shopper has before, during, and after a purchase. In-store research can provide such insight and reveal the strengths and weaknesses of a brand’s customer experience. Research can also evaluate the potential impact of proposed store designs and in-store marketing campaigns. Data should guide the retail team’s decisions about solutions and innovations for the retail environment.
The first step in a research project is to evaluate the customer journey with observational research. By watching shopper behavior, the research team can measure potential demand in terms of customer traffic and product interest, the time and effort expended shopping, and purchase outcomes. By observing shoppers within the retail environment, the research team can collect data on navigation, foot traffic, zone performance, and display effectiveness.
From the observational research, the team can identify who shops, how they shop, and what they buy. The next step is to determine what’s driving this behavior. What were the shoppers’ goals? What were they looking for? Did they find it? Were they satisfied? Will they go back to the store in the future?
This information can be collected directly from shoppers using in-store interviews or surveys, either in combination with observational research or as a separate step in the research process. By talking to shoppers, researchers can assess the strengths and weaknesses of the customer experience and identify opportunities for improvement.
Researchers differentiate between temporary goals (circumstantial ones or those that represent a deficit the shopper wants to correct) and fundamental, long-term goals (those embedded in the shopper’s brain through dedicated brain circuits). Temporary goals can be triggered by the environment, such as the smell of freshly baked bread activating the goal to eat, or by a deficiency, such as dehydration triggering the goal to drink. Numerous situations can trigger a temporary goal; sometimes marketers can activate them or present their brand/product as the best way to address them.
Fundamental goals are driven by dedicated brain circuits in the shopper’s mind, driving behavior over long periods of time, sometimes all their lives. We call these Deep Rooted Drivers of Behavior (DRDs). Gender-specific brain circuits include the tendency of women to be powerful communicators and good at reading emotions vs. the typically strong spatial skills and exploratory behavior of men. Motherhood and the aging process are also examples of DRDs.
The Shopping Mode
Consumers’ receptiveness to shopper marketing initiatives depends to a large extent on their current shopping mode — that is, the goal a consumer pursues when shopping. There are generally two modes of shopping: Going and Doing. When Going Shopping, consumers are typically enjoying the process. They are keen to explore what is available, perhaps window shop, try on new clothes, look at displays, discover new products or services, and so on. These shoppers are happy to invest time, effort and money into shopping and want to get a great experience in return.
When consumers Do the Shopping, on the other hand, they are completing a chore. The shopping must be done, but they don’t usually expect to enjoy it. This means that they want to spend as little time as possible, they don’t want to invest more effort than is necessary, and they would prefer to spend as little money as possible.
As retailers and brands embrace continuous adaptation to meet the evolving needs of customers, they must be willing to experiment with new ideas. An informed, research-based approach to decision making helps retailers and brands more successfully reinvent themselves and deliver improved experiences to their customers.
Madeline Baumgartner is director of education and research for Shop!.
To learn more about how research can inform retail design and brand marketing, download the Shop! MaRC Exam Prep Book, 2019 edition, at shopassociation.org/marc.