Knowledge Bank Blog, Behaviour Change, Pricing & Promotions

The Natural Number to Buy

Can you get shoppers to buy slightly more?

At this year’s US Masters Golf tournament, Ernie Els walked up to the first green on the first hole of his round. He had just chipped his ball to about 3 feet from the hole. He was left with a simple short putt for a par.

Els took his putt. He missed and the ball rolled about 3 feet past the hole. He putted again and missed. Then missed again. Then again. Then again. Finally, with his 6th putt, he holed out. He left the green having scored a 9 – the highest score ever recorded at that hole.

Els suffered a classic case of “the yips” – you overthink, get nervous, miss the putt. However, it is not just a golf thing. It can kick in any time you start thinking about something that you normally do automatically. The more you think, the harder something can become. This is why many top performers are described as ‘naturals’. It is not because they are actually naturals, but because their methods are so hardwired that they don’t have to think about what they do. They look natural.

So, why is this relevant to us? Well, shoppers make a lot of decisions – which store to go to, where in store to go, what to buy. One simple, but very important decision, is how many of a product to buy. This decision can have big implications for category growth.

Many categories are expandable – the more you have at home, the more you use. If you are running low on something, you will use less. If you’ve run out, you can’t use at all. Just getting shoppers to buy one or two more products a year in a category can be worth a lot of money.

We think an important way of doing this is to influence the number of products a shopper buys each time, by establishing and then hardwiring a “natural“ number which is more than they buy currently.

So, how can you do this?

Promotional Strategy. We are not talking about temporary price cuts, but longer term promotional activities. Muller have been doing variations of this for years – if you want to buy single yoghurts, the natural number to buy is 6 in order to get a discount. Porridge Pots have been doing this with 5 for 4 or 5 for £4 (depending on the retailer). This also links to the consumption habit you are trying to install – weekday breakfast habit.

This can also be done across ranges. For instance, Boots have established 3 for 2 as the dominant promotional mechanic in their stores. Shoppers who might have gone into store looking to buy one product are now trained to be prepared to buy 3. Even if the third product is free, the second isn’t.

Pack Size & Format. In many categories there are more pack size options than a shopper needs. For instance, if you have small / medium / large / extra large options, could you remove the small option? Would most shoppers move into the medium size? Could it be worth quite a bit of money? The right pack size hierarchy, merchandised in the right way, can have a big influence on which size the shopper buys.

Pack format can also influence the natural number to buy. Many categories used to have 1 main format – the roll pack of biscuits, the block of cheese. Now, many categories have different pack formats for different occasions. A take home and an on-the-go pack means the natural number to buy goes from 1 to 2.

Combination Selling. The classic example of this is the lunchtime meal deal. The range of options in the meal deal has increased over time, but shoppers have been trained to buy 3. Retailers have taken this into meal for tonight – main, side, dessert, bottle of wine = 4. Sneak a starter in there = 5. There is no reason why this principle can’t be applied elsewhere. Many people go into a convenience store to buy a soft drink – can you attach another product to it? From 1 product to 2, often doubling the size of the transaction.

There are a lot of things for shoppers to think about. If we can make them think about one less thing – how many to buy – it could be worth a lot of money. Particularly over time. As habits become hardwired.

And if your team’s match goes to penalties in Euro 2016, just hope the players aren’t thinking too much as they walk up to take one.

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