Mike Anthony @ engage consultants

Mike Anthony on Shopper Marketing

The Shopper, not the Consumer

with 5 comments

A recent article quoted Mariana Sanchez, chief strategy officer Saatchi & Saatchi X showed that up to  35% of grocery and mass-merchandise shoppers are now men (in the US). It got me thinking about how many times marketers make assumptions about who their shopper is, and how often they are wrong.

Is the consumer of your brand also the shopper? Well, I guess your answer will depend on the category you are in. If you’re in pet food – it’s a clear “no”; and the same goes for toys where parents often buy for kids – but for everyone else who has said “yes” –  Are you sure?

We sit with clients all the time who tell us that yes, the consumer is indeed the shopper. Not all clients have data that can prove it, yet it is often one of those things that has been said so often that it is just an accepted truth. This happens most when the brand is consumed by women; and the natural assumption is that the woman is the main shopper in the household, and therefore and so on…

Some clients have data. A few months ago I was shown some data that said, for a particular category, 100% of the people interviewed (as consumers) bought for themselves.  But check out the sample. All respondents, to qualify, had to be consumers who were also the primary purchase decision maker: – so we only interviewed consumers who were also shoppers… That’s kind of loading the dice, don’t you think?

Is the consumer always the shopper? Well – nearly always no. Is the consumer often the shopper? Sure. Is she always, 100% of the time? No, almost never.

So when we work with clients that don’t have data, we get the data, and sure enough, the shopper is not the consumer. Or they are “most of the time”. What does “most of the time mean?” Last week with a client it was 78% of the time. The client gave me a “told you so look”. But – hold on – 22% of the time the shopper is NOT the consumer. That’s a fair chunk of time.

22% of the time the consumer isn’t in-store to make the purchase decision. Not there for that free sample. Not there to be influenced. 22% of the money you are spending is potentially wasted, if the assumption is that the consumer is the shopper all of the time. And if it is 22% on average, then in some stores it will be higher, possibly much higher. What impact might that have on the effectiveness of the money you spend in different stores, with different retailers. If Wal-Mart stores were full of one type of shopper, but Tesco full of another, wouldn’t that make a difference?

Time and again marketers assume that the shopper is indeed the consumer. Often people use the words interchangeably, and it’s not hard to see why this confusion persists. Esteemed authorities get confused. In this blog from Nielsen, who get paid lots of money to understand shoppers, it is the shopper who is targeted by M&S, yet it is apparently the consumer who is not prepared to pay anymore.  Even Wikipedia quotes the definition of shopper marketing as  “understanding how one’s target consumers behave as shoppers, in different channels and formats, and leveraging this intelligence to the benefit of all stakeholders, defined as brands, consumers, retailers and shoppers.” Sincerely I have to disagree.

Shopper marketing is about marketing to shoppers. We see shopper marketing as….marketing  –  To a different target market. It needs to be integrated with consumer marketing efforts, but it’s not about the consumer. Even if they are the consumer (in body) they may not be, in spirit. I have different goals, different attitudes, different perspectives when I’m shopping than when I’m in consumer mode. I’m different. Any reference to me as a consumer in a store is confusing, if not dangerous.


Written by Mike Anthony

March 2, 2011 at 9:25 am

5 Responses

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  1. Cool stuff. I might not agree with the yahoo number but i do believe that often the shopper is not the consumer, and most organizations miss out the fact. Most grocery brand ads I see are targeted at women.

    Andy Fleming

    March 2, 2011 at 9:40 am

  2. agreed, as an unemployed Dad, I do all of the shopping now and for mostly my wife and kids under 7. Certainly i’m not consuming the 2 boxes of fruit snacks or 6 cases of capri sun i just bought! i am also a category manager in training and would love to hear an example of a shopper marketing tactic integrated into the marketing mix…thx for the post.


    October 12, 2011 at 1:02 am

    • Hi Doug, Thanks for the comment, and so true – yet so often marketers (of every discipline) seem happy to assume that the shopper and the consumer are the same person. As for examples, keep watching the blog, and check out our Facebook page – we often post articles and examples there.

      Mike Anthony

      October 12, 2011 at 12:56 pm

  3. […] year ago I quoted Saatchi and Saatchi X suggesting that up to 35% of grocery shoppers were men, but if you were to […]

  4. […] argued many times previously  the consumer isn’t the same as the shopper. On this basis a ‘cut and paste’ from the […]

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