Leaks in the centre store

What to do when shoppers stop to look but don't buy

Grocers spend a lot of time trying to get people in their stores. But they might do better to examine what happens after shoppers step through the automatic doors, according to a major new study.

Video Mining, a market research company from Pennsylvania, set up 150 cameras in major grocery stores to chart the journeys of more than two million shopping trips. The study measured “shopper leakage” a not-so- appealing term to describe what occurs when people look at a product but do not buy it.

As it turns out, shopper leakage varies greatly by category. In frozen, for instance, 16 out of every 100 shoppers stopped to look at the products and 12 of those put something into their cart. So four “leaked,” which isn’t so bad, says Video Mining president Tom Sullivan.

In high-leak categories, such as personal care, natural and organic foods, only five out of 100 looked and only one made a purchase.

After watching footage of shoppers conspicuously searching for something and then giving up, Sullivan believes better signage and organization can help.

With personal care products, for instance, it makes sense to separate products in a more functional way than by brand, he says. “How frustrating is it when you go into a grocery chain and you can’t see any shampoo for oily hair or this or that?”

Andrew Sharpe, senior brand strategist at retail marketing agency Brandspank in Vancouver, says grocers and manufacturers need to move away from the rational pitch and toward an emotional one. With natural products, talk up the purity. For nutritious items, link to vitality and success.

“Show how the product will make their life better,” Sharpe says. Marketing to smartphones, or setting up video screens for promotions, can provide the extra push shoppers need to become buyers, he adds.

Of course, before a product can be bought, it has to be seen. The Video Mining study discovered stores lose major selling opportunities in the front half of the centre-store aisles.

That’s because customers tend to stick to the back of the store and only zip in and out of the aisles, rather than making full S-shaped rounds.

Better signage and product placement strategies can aid here. “If the reason they’re coming in the aisle is Heinz Ketchup, put the Heinz halfway or two-thirds of the way from the back,” says Sullivan.

Talking to customers can also minimize shopper leakage, says Sharpe. When you see someone turning away from a category, ask what she is looking for. Video technology can do a lot, but it can’t read minds.

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