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By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President

Shopper Insights has proven to be an incredibly valuable construct. It moves the focus of marketing and of research much closer to the actual decision and purchase. It is real. We are not asking consumers (a rather vague and distant term in its own right) in a vacuum how an ad makes them feel about a product. We are in a store with a real shopper; we observe how a real shelf set of products impacts her decisions.

At the risk of injecting some un-reality back into the process, just who precisely is this shopper in shopper insights? Well, it's the person in the store doing the shopping. D'uh!

Not so fast.

Consider three "shoppers" in a grocery store.


  • The first is there making her weekly trip to replenish the pantry and prepare for the upcoming week. She is a bit harried. She has a list, although it might have some wiggle room in it. She may even have a few coupons. She quickly glances across the condiment section looking at the yellow mustard. What's on sale? Does her family really care what brand it is? How much should she buy?

  • Our second shopper is planning a party for the weekend. She will be serving a buffet with ham. She too is gazing at the condiment section, but much more slowly. How many kinds of mustard should she get to satisfy her guests? Which mustard look interesting? Is there mustard that will make the table more impressive?

  • Finally, we have the shopper who rushes up to the condiment section and grabs a small jar of Dijon mustard from the shelf. She wants to make a salad dressing tonight, and she has run out of an essential ingredient.



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In each case, we have a shopper looking at the same section of the grocery store, scanning the same array of products. But, each is sensitive and attentive to different cues. Each has different needs. The interplay of these needs and cues drives markedly different decisions.

Of course, these are not three different shoppers. It's the same person visiting the same store, but driven by a different set of situational considerations. But, from the perspective of the store trying to satisfy her, she is fundamentally three different people. It is the situation, not something in her tastes and character, that conditions her decision making.

For many years, our restaurant research has been shaped by this fundamental insight -- it is the occasion more than the individual that drives decision making. I may go to the same restaurant with my family that I do with a group of friends. But I do so for very different reasons with very different expectations.