Knowledge Bank Blog, Range & Portfolio

Winning at Shelf : The Decision Tree Myth

How simple and intuitive is your shelf layout?

We humans are not the rational creatures that we like to think we are.  We typically make very simple, quick decisions about things.  If we thought about every single thing before we did it, we would never actually do anything.  Simple, quick decision making is dialled up in grocery outlets, as shoppers navigate through the complexity of 30,000 products across 100+ categories.

Despite this, many of the things that our industry does, are overly rationalised.  We attempt to deconstruct consumer behaviour, so that we can understand and then target it better.  However, sometimes we do this so much that we are in danger of losing sight of reality.

An example is shelf layouts and decision trees.

How many of you have sat in meetings trying to decide the order of decisions a shopper makes in a category?  Is it brand or product format first?  Then do they think about price tier or product type?   3 hours later and you’re probably none the wiser.  If shoppers went through this decision making process every time they stood in front of a shelf, they would be making 250 decisions on a shopping trip.  Yet, most people decided years ago whether they drink the diet version or the fruit juice with bits.

Because we place so much focus on the ‘decision’ inputs we often lose sight of the output.  The shelf layout itself and the most important thing it has to do – be simple and intuitive.  Could a shopper stand in front of your category and immediately get how it is laid out?  If they can’t, you’ve got a problem.

So, how do you make it as simple and intuitive as possible…?

Minimise the need for thought.  Take Herbs & Spices.  No shopper walks down the aisle with the alphabet running through their head deciding which letter they want their spice to begin with.  However, merchandising by alphabet just makes intuitive sense.  No thinking, easy for the shopper to find what they are looking for and, more flow to the shelf, which makes it easier to browse options.

Clearly differentiate sub segments.  Many categories are spread across a few metres.  Often products look the same – e.g. bottles of wine, household cleaners, butter and margarine.  Clear, visual signage allows shoppers to filter choice quickly and get to the most relevant part of the shelf.  This minimises search time (bad time) and maximises browse time (good time).  It also helps direct them to the products you most want them to buy – for instance, new product formats.

Give shoppers a simple means of making a choice when they get to the relevant part of the shelf.  OK, I’ve got to tomatoes, which of the 10 varieties do I want?  Morrisons have been doing this well in produce, with simple, visual guides to help shoppers make a choice.  It also increases the chances that shoppers buy more than one – different products for different needs and occasions.  Could other food, particularly fresh, categories learn from this?

So, spend less time worrying about your category decision trees and reinvest that time in making the shelf layout as simple and intuitive as possible.  After all, shoppers shop aisles and fixtures not powerpoint slides with flow charts on them.

Have a good weekend and speak to you next week.