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No. 1 (Spring 2010)

Shopper Insights

Food purchasing behaviour is an extremely complex and dynamic area and one to which, we believe, too few food and drink producers pay adequate attention. Our shopper insight reports aim to shed light on some of the key issues that drive store choice, shopping missions and purchasing behaviour, through a combination of primary research - qualitative (focus groups) and quantitative (shopper surveys) and the analysis of supermarket panel data. The key findings to emerge from our first study, conducted in March 2010, are as follows:

Store Choice • People choose to shop where they do for different reasons and shopping missions vary from high to low involvement, with significant implications for where people shop, how they shop, what they buy and why • Location is an important factor in determining where people shop but of secondary importance to the quality and choice of fresh food (fruit, vegetables, meat) – key destination categories that will result in some people by-passing the most convenient store (closest to home or work) on route to their preferred store. Significantly, the quality of fresh food is an area in which many shoppers perceive supermarkets to be under-performing.

‘The quality of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat are the most important determinants of store choice.’ “I shop every two days, so the Co-op is ideal because it’s on my way home, you can park outside, I decide in the morning what we are going to eat that evening.... I couldn’t shop at Tesco... far too big... trolly rage!”

Shopping Missions A third of shoppers regard food shopping as a ‘necessary evil’ and aim to minimise the time spent in the supermarket when shopping for food. However, over two thirds say they enjoy it when they are ‘not in a hurry’, ‘on their own’ or ‘shopping for a special occasion’. This gives rise to four types of supermarket shopping mission – the main shop, the top-up shop and the special occasion shop – all of which are focussed on the needs and wants of others (partners, children, guests) and the snack shop, which is focussed on the individual, when the shopper and the consumer is the same person.

“It is a pain if I have to go with the kids but I really like food shopping if I am on my own, on a Friday night, when the kids are in bed and I can have a look round” A third of supermarket shoppers agree that food shopping “is a necessary evil!”

Loyalty Loyalty to a particular store or specific products is likely to be distinctly limited in the case of top-up shops and snack shops, in which the average expenditure and level of involvement are likely to be low. The special occasion shop is also associated with a low level of expenditure, as the mission is usually associated with a particular recipe or single meal occasion, but shoppers generally exhibit higher levels of involvement and the products selected are usually higher quality and will often be associate with particular stores – shoppers will often make a special trip to a particular store when looking for ‘something special’. The main food shop is the shopping mission that accounts for the largest share of supermarket sales and is therefore the mission that attracts the greatest attention from both supermarkets and food manufacturers – the loss of a primary shopper is far more costly than the loss of a promiscuous top-up shopper. Thus, supermarkets work hard to retain them – getting the right mixture of basic products (always available and heavily promoted), innovative products (responding to the continuous demand for greater choice) and innovative merchandising (on the pack and on the shelf) to catch the eye and dampen the desire to look elsewhere.

“There might be 20 dinners that I know my family will eat, so I work out what we have had recently and what will make a change” ‘20%of supermarket shoppers write a list and stick to it’

Basket Analysis For the majority of supermarket shoppers, the main food shop comprises a combination of ‘basic’ items – staple foods – which often find their way onto a list (physical or virtual) and discretionary products that catch the eye because they are new, look appealing or are on promotion. Habitual shopper behaviour is often confused with loyalty – the person who regularly shops at a particular supermarket chain because their mother always shopped there, they know where everything is, or because it’s closest to where they live/work’ is vulnerable to attack from a competing supermarket with a more relevant offer. However, getting shoppers to switch stores requires a clear and compelling reason that is communicated effectively – just offering the same products at lower prices is rarely sufficient to break shopping habits ingrained from thousands of shopping missions, week in week out, year after year. Top 10 products most likely to be found in a supermarket shopping basket 79%










Percentages are for the customer penetration of each product over a period of 52 weeks

The same applies to food choice – regular purchasers of a particular product are not necessarily loyal and those who purchase brands purely out of habit are vulnerable to attack from competing manufacturers with a more relevant offer. In theory, getting shoppers to switch brands should be easier than getting them to switch stores – comparing products on a supermarket shelf is much easier and quicker than comparing the composite (and often complex) offers of two different supermarkets. However, habitual food purchasing behaviour is no less difficult to break if the reasons for change are unclear, not compelling or poorly communicated.

Conclusion Understanding why people choose to shop at a particular store is critical when interpreting their perceptions of and attitudes towards supermarkets and shopping therein. Store loyalty is a complex construct that has received considerable attention from researchers and retail analysts. A comprehensive (and operational) definition has yet to be found but one thing is clear –a high frequency of visit to a particular supermarket does not necessarily mean that a shopper is ‘loyal’ to that store. Loyalty implies there are points of difference that attract shoppers away from one store and towards another. Some shoppers will drive past or avoid certain stores to shop at their preferred store(s), in pursuit of the best promotions, higher quality products and/or customer service and greater choice, whilst others are indifferent, shopping at whatever store is located most conveniently – to their home or their place of work. This heterogeneity of motives for store choice is important as it will impact on the way shoppers respond to changes in merchandising (store level decision-making) and marketing (product level decision-making). For example, a Waitrose or M&S shopper who only shops there out of convenience, to replenish basic products, will have very different attitudes and preferences to those discerning shoppers who do their main food shopping at either of these up-market stores, driven by a passion for food and with a budget and lifestyle to support higher average levels of expenditure on food. This group will have similar attitudes and preferences to those who shop at Waitrose or M&S for ‘something special’ or for ‘special occasions’ but the compositions of their shopping baskets will be very different – the latter much smaller and containing few of the basic items (e.g. milk, bread, potatoes) that will be found in the shopping baskets of primary Waitrose and M&S shoppers. The shares of these shoppers are not known but awareness of their existence is important for marketing, merchandising and brand managers looking to entice more shoppers to their stores/products or higher levels of expenditure from existing shoppers.

Centre for Value Chain Research Kent Business School University of Kent Canterbury Kent CT2 7PE Tel.: (+44)1227 824766

Shopper Insights  

The first of a series of shopper insight reports from the Centre for Value Chain Research. Professor Fearne and his team aim to shed light...

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