CONSUMERS who plan their shopping trips with a list of what they want to buy can pose a challenge for supermarkets, which count on point-of-sale displays and other in-store features to generate impulse buying decisions. But these consumers can be prompted to buy more than they planned, observers told SN.
“These are people who pre-shop by studying ads, coupons and websites, the ones who make their decisions before they get to the store,” said Mack Hoopes, lead investigator for “Shoppers Perspective,” an annual study by Phoenix-based Henkel Consumer Packaged Goods North America. He said Henkel's categorization of “shoptimizers” parallels SN's planner/list-maker designation.
As the economy has weakened, the number of list makers has been increasing, Hoopes pointed out.
“Given all the planning they do, they usually shop more often — up to four times a week — so they provide a great opportunity for grocers to figure out what they want and then try to sell it to them.”
One of the biggest surprises in his research, Hoopes said, was finding that list makers do not fall into any single demographic. “You can't categorize them by income, age, generation, size of household or ethnic origin.
“They are people who think of shopping as a sport or a game they like to spend time playing,” he explained. “They are people that read and compare ads, in print and on the Web, and who spend a lot of time planning their shopping trips, and they may be the most savvy shoppers. Their lists may indicate when an item is on sale and what the price is, and they know what they can save with coupons or loyalty cards.”
Supermarkets who hope to attract the list makers must get them into the stores to expose them to the store's pricing or product offerings, Hoopes noted. “For example, Kroger has been able to gain not only the trust of these ‘shoptimizers’ but also to retain their business over the last year with good pricing.
“The first thing a retailer needs to know is, what categories are important to this shopper. The list maker listens to all ads, looks for all coupons, pays attention to in-store displays, and he's looking for price reductions. He has his ears and eyes open all the time.”
Bill Bishop, principal at Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill., said planners and list makers are the most rapidly growing consumer segment. “Making a shopping list is the behavior that's most universal in terms of its benefits,” he told SN. “If you are well off, it's a smart thing to do; and if you're struggling financially, it has a high return.
“But the real significance of this group for me, which is not always obvious, is that retailers have to find ways to influence decision-making before the shopping trip by moving beyond tools like print ads that they rely on heavily now. That means, to a large degree, moving to the Web — and this planning and list-making behavior plays very naturally into the spreading popularity of the Web.
“In fact, several retailers make it easy to make a shopping list, including Festival Foods in Wisconsin, whose website keeps track of previous purchases to help formulate future shopping trips, and Giant Foods of Carlisle [an Ahold division], whose website allows you to put together a personal shopping list to help you keep track of what you need.”
Jonathan Ziegler, an industry analyst with PUPS Investment Management Co., Santa Barbara, Calif., said list makers “are very organized — and very anal — and when they run out of something, they write it down on their shopping list immediately.”
“They may make a list because they're on a budget and they believe the list will help them spend no more than their budget permits, though it's doubtful that ends up being the case.”
Items are usually added to the list for one of three reasons, he said: the household runs out of an item; someone sees an ad on TV for something they want to try; or coupons for particular items fall into someone's hands.
List makers are apt to follow their lists pretty closely, Ziegler added, “but if the market is doing its job, then point-of-purchase programs — tie-in displays, in-store sampling, multiple-buy offers, promotions or other inducements — are likely to prompt even list makers to beef up their market basket and buy more than what was on their list.
“Those additional purchases round out a store's sales,” Ziegler said. Someday, he suggested, shopping lists could be delivered by consumers via cell phones to the supermarkets “so the stores will know what kinds of items to stock — because the more the supermarket knows about planned purchases, the more prepared it can be.”