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Where is the Consumer Heading?

February 2, 2006 - by Robert E. Stevens, GENESIS II(The Second Beginning) E-Mail:

If you want to stay ahead of your competition, you must know more about where the consumer is going than your competitor. Just as in traffic control, observing the traffic flow in the middle of the block only gives you two directions of traffic flow. If you want to increase your information per unit of effort, conduct your observations at the intersection and not in the middle of the block. By moving to the intersection, you have doubled your information without increasing your costs.

What does traffic flow have to do with market research? I think we have a lot to learn from observing traffic flow, especially in the supermarket. To start with, consider that the Supermarket is the intersection where what the consumer is thinking meets what the consumer is doing about it. It is not only the best spot to observe what consumers are doing about their brand selection; it is also where the consumer's rationalization of the investment vs. return comes to fruition. In the early 1980s, I felt so strongly about this concept that I had note pads printed up that contained the heading, "The closer you get to the Supermarket, the closer you get to the Truth."  I still have a few that I keep as a reminder of all the learning experiences achieved through the use of in-store interviewing and observations.  That was in the 1980s & 90s.

Now today, we have one more reason to look closely at what is taking place in the supermarket. In the 1980s I believed the information I had obtained in the 1950s when I was going to school and at the same time working for the A&P chain. That was, that the shopper upon entering the store followed a particular path through the store covering all the aisles in the order that we devised. We even set up the aisles similar to one-way streets. That is, the labels in the lower bins (stores no longer have these bins which were set up for the high volume brands) all faced in one direction. NOW, along comes Herb Sorensen who, through the use of PathTracker®, tracks the paths of the shoppers of the twenty-first century. Is the path the shopper takes through the store important? You better believe it is.  For instance, did you know that today, 46% of the shoppers will cover less than 25% of the store, only 1% of the shoppers will cover 75% or more of the store's shopping area, and approximately 77% of the shoppers will spend 20 minutes or less in the store?

The above are the results of over 57,000 shopping trips. Today, Dr. Sorensen has data covering over a million shopping trips.

If your brand is one that is purchased spontaneously you had better have your brand displayed in an area where the shoppers frequently travel. Also, and very importantly, do you measure your Effective Distribution through the use of the ACV statistic?  If so, ask yourself if the All Commodity Volume is a valid statistic.  Suppose your brand is in 80% of the stores but only 20% of the shoppers in those stores travel down the aisle where your brand is displayed.  Is your Effective Distribution 80%, is it 16% or is it somewhere in between?


As a good friend once said, "People only see what they are prepared to see (physical & mental vision)."  I think the statement fits the shopper, management and the market researcher.

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[Sorensen Associates Inc]
"Dedicated to the relentless pursuit of WHY?"

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