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5 ways to improve shopper motivation

Human behaviour expert Philip Adcock shares his tips for better engagement with your customers.

According to media agency ZenithOptimedia, around $500bn is spent every year encouraging people to consume certain brands.

As part of this investment, the big retailers and brands spend millions of dollars researching every aspect of shopper behaviour, including lifestyles, attitudes, demographics and opinions.

For your product to succeed in this competitive marketplace, it’s important to understand the motivation behind a shopper, and it’s my belief that using some basic psychology and behavioural management can hugely improve how shoppers interact with your product. Here are five decisions you can take that will do just that.

1. Getting your message across

We’re overwhelmed by visual imagery every day, but our brains are only able to process 5% of the information sent to them by our eyes, meaning we’re forced to filter out most of what’s in front of us. The things most likely to be noticed and processed are objects that may be threats, meals or mates.

Shopper-facing communications each have what is termed a ‘media value’, which is calculated using a number of factors. First, there is ‘opportunity to see’, which refers to how many people pass by a message. The second is ‘look’, the number of passers-by who actively look at a piece of communication. The third is ‘time in view’; for how long do passers-by have the message in view to absorb its content?

Several things can influence one or more of these factors. For example, think about the position of an advert. Most shop windows are parallel to pavements, so as people pass by looking straight ahead and the windows never enter the centre of their field of vision. Instead, presenting the information as perpendicular to the route is a simple and cost-effective means of raising media value. A good example are those annoying ‘A-frame’ signs that tend to block pavements but also enable shops to present information directly in the sightlines of those approaching.

It’s your responsibility to ensure your messages stand out from all the other visible cues vying for shoppers’ attention.

2. A pretty package

Another key element of shopper communications is through product packaging, but this can sometimes be very poor at meeting shoppers’ needs. For example, why is much of the information on product packaging printed in such a frustratingly small font, making it hard to read?

There are several ways in which you can use packaging to increase your product’s visual appeal. Among the most simple is to recognise how shoppers seek out contrast in terms of shape and colour. Cadbury ‘owns’ the colour purple, and shoppers know they’ve reached the chocolate bars when they look into an aisle and see a wall of purple. By responding to how humans use contrasting colour and shape recognition to navigate, there are significant opportunities to manipulate the visibility of your product.

The use of specialist eye-tracking equipment can also be useful in capturing shoppers’ habits. A common finding is that the visibility of any particular item is partially dependent on the appearance of the items right next to it. In trials in The Netherlands, cigarettes were blocked by colour so that a particular brand was surrounded by many others packs of a different colour. Creating this ‘halo’ effect increased the sales share of the halo brand by more than 10%.

3. Watch and learn

What shoppers actually want is not being fully met, which is partly because they can’t or don’t want to verbalise their true needs. One reason for this is that a significant proportion of shopping activity is handled by the short-term memory, which means as soon as shoppers leave the shop they’ve forgotten the mechanics of how they shopped, including any minor inconveniences encountered.

To achieve deeper and more meaningful insights, a good starting point is to observe shoppers. By this I don’t just mean standing and watching, as you will miss much of what happens. Effective observation involves analysis of shopper behaviour using high-resolution CCTV cameras and advanced recording equipment. Analysts are then able to study the data frame by frame and pick up the smallest details of shoppers’ problems.

As an example, my company Shopping Behaviour Xplained filmed shoppers as they interacted with a display for a cosmetics brand that had self-closing drawers. In original research, consisting only of interviews, there were no apparent problems with the prototype, so the units went into production.

Later CCTV observation unearthed an important, but previously unforeseen, issue: most shoppers were carrying bags, so they only had one hand free. To access the products, shoppers needed to be able to open a self-closing drawer, hold it open (one hand), lift a flap inside (two hands) and finally test the products within (three or even four hands). Unfortunately, this issue was only uncovered after hundreds of the displays had been distributed throughout the UK!

4. The price isn’t right

A lot of companies think price is everything, but they’re not quite correct. In fact, much of shopper price sensitivity actually relates to how shopper want to be perceived by others, which is linked to six ‘fitness indicators’ that tend to influence the products they buy. The price paid for an item is directly related to how much general intelligence, openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and emotional stability a person believe that others will perceive they have as a direct result of buying it.

For example, a shopper will readily pay the same amount every week for the block of Cheddar cheese that their family regularly consumes. However, when friends are coming round for dinner, more consideration and mental effort goes into buying the contents of the after-dinner cheese board to influence how their friends perceive them.

From this evolutionary, psychological point of view, you could better meet the needs of the shopper by altering your marketing tone of voice. Forget the BOGOF for Cathedral City and consider more aspirational marketing; how about ’eat cool creamy Philadelphia and make a better lover’? This may be a flippant example, but on a serious note it’s intended to illustrate the difference between price-led retailing and shopper needs-based retail.

5. Value for money?

Value is about getting the maximum benefit from the resources available. Decisions about value for money are a daily reality in people’s lives; they’re constantly choosing which items or services to buy, and part of this evaluation relates to comparing quality against cost.

What you should consider is how you can add value to meet your shoppers’ fitness indicator needs more effectively. How does a particular variant of toilet cleaner help them meet their central six? If this sounds far-fetched, why do shoppers choose certain brands? They often cost more money, offer less in terms of quantity and the quality may be no better than an own-label equivalent. This is where perceived value comes in.

Shoppers can choose where to invest their time, money and attention, and have more choices than ever regarding how to do so. You will need to develop more complex and effective value-related strategies if you really want to meet their needs, both now and in the future.

Phillip Adcock is a commercial psychologist and author of Master Your Brain: Training your Mind for Success in Life. Available now on Amazon.

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