Mike Anthony @ engage consultants

Mike Anthony on Shopper Marketing

Too Busy To Visit Stores? No Excuse!

with 20 comments


The store is where shopping happens, yet apparently store visits, market researchmany managers are “too busy” to visit. Yet there is so much value that can be gleaned from just a small investment in this activity, it’s worth finding ways to make it happen (and there are a few tips on this towards the end of the blog). Today a marketer who doesn’t know Facebook or Twitter intimately would be rightfully scorned – a shopper marketer who doesn’t understand stores should be too.

When I started in the consumer goods industry, working for United Biscuits in the UK, I spent the first six months or so as a field sales rep before being transferred into the head office key accounts team.

On my first day in the office I had fifteen minutes of precious time with the head of sales – three levels above me. He didn’t talk about strategy, ground rules, or even my future: He gave me one simple piece of advice: go to stores as often as possible.

“You’ll never spend too much time in stores”

That was in the pre-shopper marketing age. Two decades on, I’ve worked across three continents, led sales and marketing teams, set up a company and I still remember and quote that line.

And yet it seems the message, so obvious and true, didn’t get through to many people. Too many marketers and sales people I meet are apparently too busy to go to stores (though often not too busy to complain that they don’t have a budget for shopper research). When I start a project or coaching assignment, I take the team to a store. They typically go straight to their own category (and it is scary how many don’t know where to find it) and they ignore everything else.

The store (be it virtual or physical) is where it happens. Whatever the path to purchase, it ends up in a store. If it doesn’t happen there it doesn’t happen. Perhaps if someone had visited the Tesco store I blogged on a couple of weeks ago   something might have been done, and one company could have benefitted.

“I don’t have time to go to stores”

Not enough time? Have a team meeting in a store. Meet a key account manager in a store. Sneak off for five minutes whilst doing the family shop. Rotate responsibility across your team to go to a store once a week and share pictures and thoughts in your weekly team meeting (we do this at engage and it is awesome – everyone, including the secretaries and admin team go – and it’s amazing what different people see!).

Go to a store today. Check out one other category (not one you work in). Check out other brands. Observe shoppers. Maybe ask them a question. Data from a store visit isn’t necessarily accurate. But it’s a great place to build hypotheses, to use to explore data further.

However often you go, it’s probably not enough.


Written by Mike Anthony

April 5, 2012 at 7:15 am

20 Responses

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  1. Thanks Mike. Its always a good reality check to observe how real people shop especially in FMCG. I certainly think that as well as client service people it’s essential for creatives to realise what they can and what they cannot achieve instore. Personally I discover more insights this way than in rummaging through data; therefore looking for the evidence of the insight in the data.

    Kenan Nashat

    April 5, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    • Hi Kenan,
      Thanks for the comment – so true! I think the message should go out to everybody who is involved in consumer goods marketing – client-side, client services and creatives – to go to stores and check the reality of the situation.
      I also find many insights in stores – often using an observation in a store to create a hypothesis, then going back to the data to see if there is any evidence to support. So often we are coaching clients and they just don’t know where to start with all of the data, which is why we take them to stores, get them to observe, and ask questions about what shoppers are doing, what competitors are doing (and why) and in particular looking at other categories to understand both the manufacturers’ and the retailers’ strategies.

      Thanks again!


      Mike Anthony

      April 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm

  2. Great article, Mike. It’s a good practice for any marketer or designer to get out into the store and really see how theirs, and competitive products are merchandised and the shopping environment that they live in.


    April 7, 2012 at 1:28 am

    • Thanks very much – if everyone put aside a small amount of time each week to see what actually happens – I’m sure the solutions, designs and strategies that they create would immediately be improved!


      Mike Anthony

      April 8, 2012 at 8:49 am

    • HI,

      Thanks very much!

      All the best,


      Mike Anthony

      April 11, 2012 at 8:04 am

  3. Great points Mike, I couldn’t agree more. I started my career as a store manger, then district manager and then into marketing. The knowledge I learned in the stores was invaluable. Observing what the customer sees, what catches the eye, how packaging-merchandising-cross selling and signage attracts or repels the consumer are critical success factors to any marketing strategy. I once worked for a VP who would literally stand in front of the store (mall location), and just observe. Soak in the store front, is it inviting? Are the signs asking me to come inside? Is the sales staff engaging the customer?

    One-on-one interaction with the customer is the best market research you can’t buy. Throw on a nametag and interact with the shoppers. They won’t know you are the marketing person. Ask questions and learn.

    James Brooks

    April 10, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    • Hi James,

      Thanks very much for taking the time to add our experiences. I also like your build about talking to shoppers. Even without a badge I’ve found people very happy to talk about what they are doing!

      All the best,


      Mike Anthony

      April 11, 2012 at 8:00 am

  4. Excellent Mike. This should be a primary KPI for shopper and retail marketers. I’ve decided that we’re going to hire a van monthly for our customers and staff and take them on shopper tours. What do you think about sponsoring an employees weekly or fortnightly shop (as long as they’re visiting a new channel/banner) and then they have to share their experience with the team?


    April 10, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    • Hi Jason,


      Interesting you talk about it being a KPI – we’re having that debate with a client right now as we are designing roles, responsibilities, KPIs etc. for their entire sales and marketing team! They are not keen – mainly because none of the senior managers we are talking to are doing it!

      In terms of sponsoring a shopping trip – I guess that is one way. As I mention in our business we’ve just asked everyone to do it periodically – and everyone so far has been happy to take part and share their findings. What is really interesting is that people see completely different things – we’ve asked everyone in our business to do it – including admin staff – and it is really interesting to see what they see in a store.

      All the best,


      Mike Anthony

      April 11, 2012 at 8:04 am

  5. Great comments!

    I fully support the fact that any marketing battle ends in the stores, so getting customers’ feedback or observing consumers’ shopping patterns is critical.
    I remember when of my previous managers asked the entire head office including finance, IT, etc… to go in the field for at least one day and support a new product launch.
    Everybody was so excited, and that experience gave them a better understanding of the marketing and selling processes.

    Best regards,



    April 11, 2012 at 9:20 am

    • Hi Catalin,

      Thanks for reading, and thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      big applause to your previous boss for asking EVERYONE in the office to go and see what is happening in the field. It helps build an understanding in two ways – we get to see what others notice in the store (rather than what us marketing and sales types see); but also everyone in the business gets to see what is actually going on – numbers and words on a spreadsheet become products and brands and stores.

      Thanks and all the best,


      Mike Anthony

      April 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm

  6. Nice comments Mike, you appear to have hit a sweet spot!
    One little addition. When you go to store to “visit the kids” take the plan of what the environment is supposed to look like. You put a great deal of thought into packaging, position, adjacency, shelf location, facings and the like. Comparing actual to plan is a new phenomenon, and done …almost never.

    We have found that just range and facings compare to plan at -50% compliance in the biggest retailers in the U.S., U.K., France and elsewhere. Less than 50%! If you don’t have the time to do the comparison take a picture, send it to me along with the plan and we will let Shelfsnap do the hard (and boring) work.

    Mike Spindler

    April 16, 2012 at 6:44 am

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and to comment – much appreciated!

      It is clear from the response to this blog that there is a huge gap here – whether this is between intentions and reality, or between two groups with differing opinions (and I think it is likely to be the former!) – and it does appear to carry some emotion and import for people (possibly because we see it all the time, and possibly because many of us also feel guilty because we don’t always prioritize it!).

      Your point on compliance is a good one (don’t get me started!) – do you have any more data you’d be prepared to share? Your suggestion of taking a copy of the plan is a simple addition – thanks – though I suspect that many may be embarrassed as they don’t actually have one! I think the whole issue of compliance is one which everyone chooses to ignore, yet I agree that it is an enormous problem. I’d hate to see ShelfSnap replace going to stores, but it sounds as though you have a pretty impressive technology there, which could be an important weapon in any company’s armory!

      All the best,


      Mike Anthony

      April 16, 2012 at 9:21 am

  7. Mike, I completely agree. Too little time is spent at the POS. On the other hand, this offer a great differential to any FMCG professional who spends time at retailers and talks to shopper. I started following your blog and I also would like to invite you to visit mine on shopper marketing: http://shoppernews.wordpress.com/


    April 18, 2012 at 6:20 am

    • Hi,

      Thanks for the support and thanks for following – I’ll keep an eye on your blog for sure – looks interesting!

      All the best,


      Mike Anthony

      April 18, 2012 at 8:20 am

  8. […] many evaluation tools – whether or not the activity was executed as planned. In a response to a previous blog  on going to the store, one poster quoted some statistics from his analysis (in the US and Europe) […]

  9. Yet Again Mike, the nail on the head. I kindly ask if i could circulate this to my team. Interesting how stores are visited during campaigns or when competition have an activity (We are carrying out a competitor analysis) Its the age that everyone is so sophisticated and rarely wants to stick to the basics.
    We want to think like the shopper but do not want to walk in their shoes. This is a great post. Now to drill it into the team and push for the regular store visits.. so much to learn from your forums.


    John Mwangi

    July 16, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    • Hi John,

      Please please feel free to share with anyone and everyone!

      Glad that I can help!

      All the best and keep in touch!


      Mike Anthony

      July 16, 2012 at 4:21 pm

  10. […] – According to a previous comment on this blog left by Mike Spindler of Shelfsnap   and other surveys conducted, compliance can be […]

  11. […] engage, we regularly go out and visit stores (as Mike Anthony says in his blog “Too Busy To Visit Stores? No Excuse!” – there is no excuse) – we go in groups and meet up to discuss afterwards – we share our […]

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