Knowledge Bank Blog, Finding New Ideas

We’re Not Typical

Do you see what the average shopper sees?

Behavioural Economists have identified a number of biases that influence the way we think and make decisions.  One of these is something called ‘confirmation bias’.  It is the tendency to search for, remember and interpret information in a way that confirms our preconceptions.

The simplest form of this is ‘selective memory’ – recalling only the things we want to recall.  However, there are many other forms.  For instance, take the current EU referendum debate in the UK.  The chances are that if you are in the ‘remain’ camp, you will read a lot more articles that make the case for ‘remain’ than make the case for ‘leave’.  And vice versa if you are in the ‘leave’ camp.

Confirmation bias can significantly influence two people’s interpretation of exactly the same factual information.  Some of you will have watched the recent ‘People vs OJ Simpson’ series on TV or remember the trial itself.  One of the key pieces of evidence was the presence of the victim’s’ blood in Simpsons’ white bronco.  Compelling evidence for a conviction?

Well, the defence team developed a narrative that Simpson was being framed by a racist LAPD officer.  They managed to lodge this narrative in the heads of enough members of the jury.  Suddenly, the blood in the bronco wasn’t evidence of Simpson’s guilt, it became evidence of LAPD framing.  The defence team couldn’t change the evidence, but they could change how it was interpreted.  And we know how the trial ended.

So, why is this important?  Most of the people reading this work in the FMCG or Retail industry.  There are certain things that we, in the industry, think about a store, category or brand that are a result of our own ‘biases’.  These are not deliberate – we don’t set out to see things in a certain way.  They are just an inevitable consequence of who we are (demographic profile) and our experience (we spend a lot of time thinking about our particular part of the industry).

For many of us, our job is to get shoppers to behave in a certain way.  To get them to buy the things we want them to buy.  In order to do this effectively, we need to put ourselves in the shopper’s shoes.  To do this, we need to remember that we’re not typical.  We don’t see things in the same way that the average shopper sees things.

So, what are the things that we need to watch out for?

Designing for people like us.  The average person working in an FMCG or Retail company is, on average, younger, more affluent, with less time than the typical shopper.  This means we have a natural tendency to design solutions for people who reflect our profile.  Or to design for the most interesting segment of shoppers.

We saw this happen years ago in one of the supermarkets.  Some of the older town centre stores were being refreshed.  The prime target for the design was time poor, cash rich shoppers who wanted fresh food solutions for immediate consumption or for dinner that night.  Some of the concepts and execution were fantastic.  There was just one problem.  Only about 10% of the shoppers fitted the profile.

The majority of the shoppers were older, less affluent and topping up on a few staples.  So, whilst the new store concept worked brilliantly for a small group of shoppers, it worked against the majority.  The concept wasn’t rolled out.   In summary, design for the majority not the minority.

We rarely shop for the categories we work on.  How many of you actually go into store and shop for the category or categories you work on?  Many of you will have access to a staff shop where you get discounted products in an environment populated by your brands.  Or, if you’re really lucky, you don’t pay for them at all.

So, how do you know what challenges a shopper faces if you don’t go through that process yourself every now and again?  How do you know if the layout and merchandising is helping or hindering the shopper?  Or if it is easy to find your brand?  Or if there is enough information for the shopper to make a choice?  We are not saying stop using the staff shop – carry on.  But every now and again, when you are in store, go down your aisle and look at things in the way a shopper would.  You might notice something new.

We spend a lot of time in meeting rooms.  We look at price indices on a slide rather than look at what the shopper sees at the fixture.  We often judge packaging on how beautiful it looks rather than how well it stands out on shelf.  How many meetings between manufacturers and retailers take place in a meeting room or hotel vs in a store where you can go out on the shop floor?  This is why staff on the shop floor often have the best feel for what the real issues are or what things will or won’t work.   What if you ran your plans past a colleague who works in store?  They might shed a new light on things.

Confirmation bias is natural.  You are the only person in the world who sees the world in exactly the way you see it.  However, when it comes to understanding and influencing shoppers, we often need to take a step back and look at things objectively.

The blood in OJ’s car could only have meant one thing, right?

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