Shopper Communication, Knowledge Bank Blog, Behaviour Change


Are you getting shoppers to buy without thinking?

Humans are often called creatures of habit.  We like to do the same things, at the same times, in the same way.  When you say it like that, it sounds a bit boring.  But, habits are important – without them life would be incredibly complicated.

Just think about all the decisions you would have to make if we weren’t driven by habit.  What time am I going to get up tomorrow morning?  What will I have for breakfast?  Do I have a cup of tea or coffee?  Do I brush my teeth before or after I have a shower?  And that is just in the first half an hour of your day. We need habits to make our lives easier.

The habits we’ve all formed have been developed over time.  We don’t wake up one day and decide ‘right, I’m going to choose these habits’ and then immediately follow them.  Establishing habits is a process not an event.  Think about any habit you have started (e.g. going to the gym regularly) or tried to stop (e.g. smoking).  You have to force yourself to start.  For a period it’s hard, you often want to give up.  You hang in there and it starts becoming easier.  Then, eventually, you are doing it without thinking.

Once you are doing it without thinking it becomes hardwired.  It leads to automaticity.  Automaticity means that it has become easier to do it than not to do it.

So, apart from reminding you that there is a habit you really should change, why are we talking about this?  Well, often we think of buying as an event – a specific point in time when the shopper is in front of the shelf or their laptop, deciding what to buy (or where to shop in the first place).

If you think of it as an event, you do everything to win at that particular event.  And that can be hard.  Lots of money spent on promotions is all about winning an individual event – that purchase.

However, if we think of buying as a process, we might start thinking about influencing shoppers in a different way.  Move our attention from one-off activities to activities that influence shoppers on an on-going basis.  Activities that build the habit of buying, and make the easiest thing for a shopper to do, to come to your store or buy your brand each time.  To drive automaticity amongst shoppers.

So, how can you do this?

Think about future purchases not just this immediate purchase.  There has been a huge focus in our industry on driving penetration – saying that the key to success is the size of your buyer base.  Now, penetration is clearly important.  No buyers = no business.  However, if you only focus on penetration you are not focusing on a lot of spend in the market.

Most shoppers of a retailer spend more money with other retailers than they do with you.  Most buyers of a brand spend more money on other brands in your category than on your brand.

You need buyers.  But for real success you need them to buy you again (and again…).  It is no surprise that in FMCG, Amazon have been leading the way on this – think Subscribe & Save, Dash Buttons, 1 click purchasing.  Everything Amazon do is about making it as easy as possible to repeat buy from them.  Creating automaticity.

Hardwiring a link to key occasions.  This could be linking to an already established occasion or building a new occasion.  A classic example of this in recent years has been Cobra & Curry.  For many people, when they are asked what they would like to drink in an Indian restaurant, the automatic response is ‘Cobra’.

Often we are afraid of being specific.  If I link to occasion X, will I miss out on all the times my product could be consumed or used?  The problem is that without a lead occasion, your product might not be used in the first place.  And without that, you miss all the other occasions anyway.  The more you can signal which products are for which occasions, the more likely shoppers are to buy.

The importance of Visibility.  We’ve talked a lot about this before.  Put simply, the more visible you are in key environments, the greater your chances of becoming the automatic choice.  Everything Coca Cola does in store is about this.  But it is often just as important in home.   The holy grail for any food or drink product is a permanent place in the fridge.  To be seen every time the fridge door is opened.  And it is opened a lot, much more than the food cupboard.  You know when you are running low and the natural thing to do is buy the same thing again.

Habit building takes time.  However, in our industry we often want to move on too quickly – ‘right, we’ve talked about the link to that occasion, let’s move onto something else’.  We get bored much quicker than shoppers do.  Often before habits have had the chance to properly form.

Getting shoppers to do things once is easy.  Getting them to do things repeatedly is hard.  But once they do, it becomes hardwired.  It becomes harder to break the habit than continue with it.

Being a creature of habit can be a good thing.  Just make sure those habits are working for you.

Feel free to forward.  Have a great Easter and speak to you next week.