Knowledge Bank Blog, Category Strategy

Category Development : Mental Time Limits

Are you managing shopper time as well as you could be?

How many categories are there in the average supermarket?  Perhaps 100?  And how many sub categories? Perhaps 500?  Most categories will have a few sub categories. Cereal has Kids, Family, Muesli, Porridge and Cereal Bars.  Fruit Juice has ambient, chilled and freshly squeezed.

Most shoppers have a mental time limit in store.  This is roughly how long they expect the trip to take.  Say, 45 minutes for the weekly shop.  They also often have a (sub conscious) mental time limit in different categories and sub categories.  They tend to stick to these time limits.  If it is 60 seconds for a category, and they find what they need quickly, they might spend the rest of that time browsing, perhaps picking up a second item.  But if they spend that 60 seconds searching, they might not buy anything at all.  And leave the aisle, and perhaps the store, frustrated.

There are some categories that shoppers want to spend time in.  Others, where they want to spend as little time as possible.  Some where they know exactly what they want.  Others where they need help making a choice.  Yet most categories are sold in a pretty similar way.  We think that in many cases, our industry can do better.  If shopper needs, energy and time limits vary across the store, how can we make sure that the way we sell categories (and sub categories) reflects this?

Firstly, Merchandising.  In categories and sub categories that the shopper is very familiar with, our job is to make it as easy as possible to find, buy and move on.  In categories that the shopper is less familiar with, which are often higher involvement, our job is to really bring the display and product to life.

This is particularly true if we are asking shoppers to spend more in these areas.  Think Mainstream vs Premium Spirits, Black Tea vs Fruit & Herbal, Instant Coffee vs Pods.  The way we merchandise implicitly tells the shopper what to do.  Speed up or slow down.  Grab & go or engage.

Secondly, Product Information.  Across many categories we are seeing a split between the traditional part of the category (joints of meat, standard lager, roll pack biscuits) and more modern parts of the category (ready to cook meats, world beers, portion packs).

We often want shoppers to buy the more ‘modern’ products, as they are typically higher value.  However, these products are often, by definition, less familiar.  Shopper may need some help.  Why are the products different?  Are they any better?  Which one should I buy?  We need to help shoppers understand the choice and then trust the choice they make.  Without that, they will go back to what they always buy.  It is safer and easier that way.

Finally, Packaging and Pack Formats.  Most shoppers buy the first product they touch.  For familiar, lower involvement categories, the easier it is to access and pick the product up, the more likely the shopper is to buy your brand.  We’ve lost count of the times we’ve seen products, particularly in shelf ready packaging, that are difficult to access.  You might as well put up a sign saying ‘do not touch’.  Make it easy and facilitate the one-handed pick up.

In higher involvement categories, you want to draw shoppers in.  Give them a reason to touch and interact with the product.  Does it feel good?  Does it look good?  Does it draw attention?  Touching is a big step toward buying.

So, next time you are in store, take a look at how your category and sub categories are being sold.  Are you encouraging shoppers to spend time, where you want them to spend time?  If not, should you be?

Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.