Feature: Smart Retailers Understand Customers

Feature: Smart Retailers Understand Customers

Consumers in virtually every country today are suffering from information overload – assaulted by TV, cable, the internet and direct mail. They are also overwhelmed with constant choices of products, brands, sizes, and yes, stores. So how can a retailer be sure that his or her store simplifies life –and decision-making – for time-pressed customers? That, according to several speakers at this year’s In-Store Marketing Institute’s annual conference in Chicago, is retailing’s most important challenge. Retailers must begin to better understand why customers buy, what they buy, and especially where they buy. One of the unique things about shoppers is that they tend to buy certain items in certain types of stores, even though that product may be available in many different outlets.

It is retailing’s challenge to speed up the in-store decision-making process, to help consumers make the buying decision and to provide the decision-making information they need.

Consumer research experts today classify consumers into several categories:


  • The consumer – comes into a store knowing what is wanted, buys it and gets out. This person generally knows the brand wanted.
  • The shopper – heavily influenced by the environment and the service. This person probably knows the brand, but explores options in items and/or brands.
  • The browser buyer – a shopper who is comfortable with the store and will take some extra time to look around after finding what they want. This person will examine adjacencies, tie-in products, etc.
  • The “deal shopper” – sniffs out bargains in-store and uses coupons and store advertising for bargains.The retailer’s challenge is to encourage them all to be browsers who enjoy a visit to the store and do not consider it a challenge or a chore. In other words, one must create a “relationship” between the store and the shopper. When a retailer considers the complexity of shopping today, as consumers see it, they will be better prepared to realign their thinking, their store layout, their signage, their point-of-purchase displays, even their ranges, in order to make the shopping experience faster, more interesting – even fun – for customers.


The average American household receives more than 20 catalogues /brochures a month by mail. In the supermarket alone, there are 20,000 new products introduced annually.

A typical supermarket stocks more than 30,000 items, a hardware store some 20,000 and large home centres, 30,000 or more. How can a retailer call attention to new products without further confusing the public?

Researchers contend that this abundance of choice can actually drive purchasers away. Studies show that when faced with too many choices, fewer purchases were made in some supermarkets compared with when a smaller assortment was offered. Customers seem confused with too much choice and the decision they frequently make is not to buy at all. Could the same be true in your store?

When a retailer offers choices – by brand, by colour, by price-point, he or she needs to help the purchaser navigate a category so they can make a decision quickly and confidently. Easy to say, but certainly not always done on the sales floor. And the addition of in-house labels offered by retailers and/or wholesalers increases the decision-making complexity. A number of research studies prove that consumers are looking for “a satisfying shopping experience.” They want products to be easily found, a store to have knowledgeable staff, proper signage and in-store guidance, and self-checkouts to speed their departure.

In short, retailing’s challenge today is to simplify the customer’s decision-making process, to seed ideas and to offer solutions to problems confronting them in such a way as to stimulate buying action.

By Bob Vereen