Article after article outlines the threat e-commerce poses to offline retail. And article after article suggests that somehow a better shopper experience will be a panacea to this pain. Somehow shoppers will be persuaded to continue going to shops by a mixture of fabulous service and cool hi tech gadgets. The status quo can be maintained and all will be OK. Sorry everyone. This simply isn’t true. Yes, improving the shopper experience is going to be key, but it isn’t going to work for every retailer in every category. Not every shopper wants it. And its probably not affordable any way. Retailers will have to change. Many stores will close and many will get a lot smaller and change their ranges. And if you as a brand aren’t getting ready for this, it’s going to be really painful.
As argued earlier, e-commerce doesn’t necessarily drive category growth. Yes, some additional consumption might take place, but for many categories e-commerce simply shifts purchase from one channel to another, based on shopper preference. Am I likely to use more toothpaste if I buy online? More toilet paper? Probably not.
The challenge in developing a better shopper experience
But let’s get back to the topic in hand. Many offline retailers present a woeful shopper experience, and improving it will help. But there are two issues with this. Firstly, a better shopper experience won’t work in all situations, and secondly that the definition of a better shopper experience varies wildly by shopper, and shopper mission. The experience that shoppers want isn’t universally the same. Different shoppers want different experiences. And the same shopper wants different experiences on different shopping missions and even within different categories in the same shopping mission. All shoppers want a great shopper experience, that’s true. But the real challenge lies in working out what is that experience and whether we can nail it in this channel.
The best shopper experience is sometimes not shopping
As an example, a recent Effie award winner was a partnership between Quilted Northern, a toilet tissue brand, and Amazon. The category is really important to consumers, but they aren’t brand loyal. So this campaign promoted a subscription which locks in consumers to a brand – and a retailer too.
Smart? What is the shopping experience of buying toilet tissue in a supermarket? Poor at best. A log aisle, products which all look the same, plenty of out of stocks as he product is quite bulky, and then a big item to carry home.
What is the shopping experience desired? Nothing! Most shoppers don’t want to buy toilet paper. They need it as consumers but there is little joy for most shoppers. This campaign works because it delivers a great shopper experience! How will a supermarket compete for this? It’s going to be hard. This category will go online, and retailers will be forced to stock fewer brands.
The best shopper experience is sometimes experiential
To be clear that doesn’t mean that there isn’t space or need to improve the customer experience and reap the rewards. In some cases, a better shopper experience may well be enough to convince the shopper that online isn’t the best place to shop a category. In another Effie winning case, a brand created adult sized strollers so they could actually experience the comfort. That’s fabulous. But we’re kidding ourselves if we believe that that all shoppers can be won with a theatrical in-store experience, even if it was practical.
Whichever way you look at it, fewer products will be bought in stores, and the impact will be felt in varying ways across categories, brands and channels.
Changes in shopping behavior create challenges for the industry
The status quo of retail channels is going to be disrupted in massive ways. Some of your retailers will close. Some will dramatically change their store model: In Thailand, Tesco have drastically reduced their floor area in many of their hypermarkets and ceded masses of space to Decathlon – a sports retailer – because there simply isn’t a need for stores that big any more.
Category focus for retailers will change too. Online delivers a great shopper experience for some categories (e.g. toilet tissue), so these may lose focus in store (and may even be dropped completely). In some categories, ranges may be expanded dramatically, if retailers perceive these categories as key battleground categories to win shopper traffic. In others, ranges will be stripped back to bare necessities. This will be ‘category role’ as covered in category management, but with a ruthless edge that few in the consumer goods industry are ready for.
The response of many will be promote, promote, promote. And that might work for a while (but at what cost?) But at some point, the reality that promotions only work if there is traffic present, will dawn. At some point brands and retailers will need to break the current paradigms and think differently, and use different questions to drive shopper, channel and customer strategy.
Key steps to developing a better shopper experience
Who are your target shoppers? Remember that different shoppers may be looking for different experiences. Maybe there are some people who are looking for an engaging shopping experience when they buy toilet paper. And I’m sure there are shoppers who just want to pick a sensible stroller at a good price and have it delivered to their home. The question is, which of these shopper segments is most valuable to your brand?
What is their desired shopper experience for your category Before we assume that everyone wants digital screens in the aisle, a zillion choices, after sales service and human interaction at the point of purchase, let’s just check that this is true for our shoppers. Remember not all shoppers want the same thing.
How does your category fit into missions, what experience is desired for that mission and could this change? Always remember that many purchases of your brand are part of a bigger shopping mission. And that shoppers choose channels because of their ability to deliver against that mission, not just their needs relating to your category. So when understanding shoppers and their desired experience, we need to consider the shopping mission.
We do also need to reflect that the mission can change. Shopping trips are fragmenting – and spread across channels. (the ‘stripping off’ of toilet tissue from a larger grocery shop is an example of this). Convenience for the shopper drives many missions, especially in grocery. As the dynamics of convenience change, don’t be surprised if the composition of shopper missions does too.
Which channels are best suited to deliver the best experience for this shopper for this mission? So which channels deliver this shopper experience? Which ones could? If there are channels that could deliver this experience better in the future, what implications would that have? Is that desirable? And if so, what could be done to help deliver that shopper experience? What can brands do? What could the retailer do? How might you persuade the other party to do that?
Better shopper experience? You need better shopper insight!
Delivering the best shopper experience for your target shopper is key, but that doesn’t always mean more. It also doesn’t have to be experiential. As shopping behavior shifts, understanding shoppers and how and why they behave is key. If you’d like to know more about how to develop shopper insight, check out our free e-book. And if you want to know more about shopper marketing in general, check out Shopper Marketing Experts – it’s packed full of great insight and learning tools, and is a great place to network with other shopper marketers.
Image: David Blackwell