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Adapting to the Deliberate Shopper

The  lifeblood of retail has historically been the voracious appetite of consumers that viewed the shopping experience as an adventure into the realm of new, exciting and satisfying discovery.  Shop until you drop has been the traditional mantra of many consumers. 


In fact, the shopping trip,  defined as the process of searching, trial and discovery in many instances, was more fulfilling than the actual acquisition of goods and services.   In response physical store retailers expanded their store counts, their store’s footprints as well as the number of items they offered.


In recent years, with the improvement of band width and logistics, online shopping (well before the onset of COVID-19) was making sizeable gains in the percent of shopper’s requirements.   Since the inception of the pandemic, those trends have rapidly accelerated as social-safety concerns cast a whole new shadow on the shopping experience that often includes joining a crowd of shoppers in a store. 


While many have attempted to prognosticate the extent of “lasting effects”  the pandemic mindset once the virus is in our rearview mirror, many (if not most) believe, that bricks retailers should not continue to assume that past successful merchandising and store layout approaches will satisfy shoppers going forward.


Changing with the Shopper


Research, both observational and attitudinal indicate that shoppers have changed their approach in a variety of ways, all indicating more deliberate approach from shoppers;


  1. In-store shoppers shop from lists more so than in the past and in general are putting more effort into planning their shopping excursions.
  2. Shoppers are less likely to have companion shoppers along for the trip, to help locate planned or impulse items.
  3. Shoppers are aware of the other shoppers around them, avoiding close contact or even avoiding overly crowded areas of the store where personal spacing is more difficult.
  4. The amount of time shoppers spend in the physical store is now more top of mind, given it is associated with potential exposure to the virus.
  5. Larger stores that attract larger crowds are at a disadvantage to smaller format stores where quicker trips with fewer fellow shoppers are possible.
  6. Categories that lend themselves to scheduled consumption and panty loading, are being acquired on-line and no longer on the shopper’s list when they enter a physical store.
  7. Shopper expectations of efficiently locating items on their list in store are changing due to the experiences when on-line shopping.


While these behaviors are not universal, they are pronounced.  Many of them are likely to extend after the pandemic fears have passed, particularly expectations of efficiency.   Well before the pandemic, with the advent of efficient on-line alternatives, in-store shopping trips were becoming increasingly pre-planned, therefore less time consuming, and spread across a variety of stores, each providing a specific portion of the shopper’s requirements.  These trends are all about efficiency, that is knowing what is needed and being more deliberate about going to the best physical store outlet that allows the most proficient procurement.


Looking Forward.


Physical stores will not become obsolete…anytime soon.  Designed and merchandised efficiently, bricks and mortar retail provide the immediate gratification and visceral experience that shoppers will still covet, provided they feel safe and have a sense of shopper centricity about the stores they shop.  This is particularly true in retail channels such as food, drug and mass merchandise stores, where immediate daily needs are often met.


To ensure that bricks stores stay relevant and healthy, post pandemic there are a number of considerations retailers should consider.


  1. Give the shopper more room to shop with wider aisles and more open spaces when possible.
  2. Reduce visual clutter, too many signs, shelf tags and messages often slows down purchase time and increases shopper angst.
  3. Help shoppers find what they are looking for faster through technology and sightline signage.
  4. Keep “Sightlines” open  enabling shoppers to see “what’s next” during the shopping trip.
  5. Identify the items that shoppers buy the most and showcase them, enabling quicker purchases and engagement.
  6. Measure shopper trip length and calculate the dollars per minute your merchandising efforts are yielding.
  7. Re-think the depth of in-store variety each category should optimally offer in-store and provide electronic (kiosk) means to extend those offerings by in-store ordering for delivery or pick up.


While technology and data-driven intelligence will play a key role in better serving deliberate shoppers, many of the aforementioned recommendations represent a shift of thinking in our approach to merchandising and store layouts.   Retailers must become more deliberate in their approach to a more deliberate, safety-minded shopper. 


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