Skip to main content

Eight secrets of how people shop

Explorer Group's Marc Inkol reveals the hidden ways people go through stores

When people are pushing their shopping carts through a grocery store, they are actually engaged in two activities: shopping and buying.

Yes, the two are not exactly the same. After all, you have to shop before you can buy. And to understand what makes people buy, first you need to get a handle on how they walk a store.

Up to 80% of a typical grocery shopping trip is spent navigating and searching the aisles, according to Marc Inkol of Explorer Group, a Mississauga, Ont.-based shopper consulting company. Inkol spend a lot of time in grocery stores and has observed how and why shoppers buy. Here are eight of his key findings.

Grocery shopping is tiring. A shopping trip that covers all aisles of a large-format grocery store results in the shopper covering a half-mile. That’s a lot of walking. Given this, shoppers will typically not go back for missed items. All product sampling should be conducted in close proximity to a product’s permanent shelf location.

Shoppers typically don’t enjoy grocery shopping. It is a task-driven exercise, with shoppers following the same pattern on each trip. In many regards, shoppers function on autopilot. So getting them to change their shopping patterns is difficult.

Sixty per cent of grocery shopping trips are quick trips lasting less than five minutes. Usually only one to three items is typically purchased at a time.

For many, grocery shopping is similar to driving to and from work; people remember leaving home and arriving at work, but not too much about what happened along the way. Retailers will notice this behaviour most when store sections or aisles are changed. Shoppers find such changes disruptive for an extended period of time because it forces a change in their shopping “routine.”

Product categories that are more difficult to navigate or shop should never be placed in the front or back six feet of an aisle. That’s because this area is a “transition zone” where a stopped shopper is likely to get bumped by another shopper entering the aisle.

Getting people to walk down aisles isn’t easy. The average aisle penetration per trip in a grocery store is only 20% to 30%.

People like “choice” as a concept but have trouble managing it as they shop. The average family shops for only 300 different items in a grocery store annually yet many supermarkets have upwards of 45,000 SKUs. Choice and variety do not cut through the clutter. That’s why many new product introductions don’t get noticed. The solution: set up “discovery zones” to highlight and promote all new items in one place.

Shoppers are more likely to shop for impulse and indulgent items in the last one-third of their shopping trip. They don’t typically purchase these items early in their trip when they’re more concerned about restocking regular items.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds