FEATURE20 July 2015

Decisions, decisions, decisions


Among the many shopper issues that we regularly tackle, purchase decision hierarchies challenge us and our clients more than most.


This familiar three-word phrase finds its way into numerous research briefs but what does it actually mean? And why is it so important?

The truth is, it doesn’t mean the same to everyone. Agreeing on a clear definition is a crucial first step to designing the right approach to meet a client’s needs and their intended applications.

  • Do we want to unpick the navigation process that shoppers use to find the solution they need? To guide signage and layout issues, thus facilitating an efficient product selection?
  • Or do we want to understand what is most important in driving the shopper’s selection, identifying the key features and benefits that are needed to grab the headlines in communication both pre-store and on-shelf?
  • Or is it about the editing and elimination process that may happen in the blink of an eye to create consideration sets within an otherwise overwhelming product range in store?

Just as the nature of decision hierarchies vary, so do our techniques. From the simple and stated, relying on shoppers’ conscious recognition of their priorities, to less direct approaches that use substitution and trade-off to reveal potentially more subtle truths, dealing in behaviour not words as our currency.

At Shoppercentric we’ve developed our own approach to revealing purchase decision priorities through trade-off behaviour in-store. Using real shoppers in real situations, designated fixtures are targeted and shoppers are asked to undertake a forced substitution exercise as part of a more traditional intercept interview. They are challenged to replace their real selection with a series of alternatives on shelf until no more are acceptable. The exercise itself is quick and simple — easily accommodated within a standard intercept questionnaire — but the results offer us multiple layers of understanding beyond those most ably articulated by shoppers:

  • Which are the product attributes that shoppers are most keen to retain in their choices, hence the top of their list of non-negotiables?
  • Which characteristics are most readily traded, hence secondary factors in decision-making?
  • How many substitutions are acceptable, if any? Is SKU-level loyalty a key dynamic in the category?
  • How well do substitution patterns match the client’s understanding of how the category should segment? Is it time to rethink adjacencies to provide a more solutions-orientated fixture better reflecting shopper decisions?

The approach is not a panacea. It doesn’t provide all the answers a category manager may ever need to construct the perfect planogram, but I’m not sure that this Holy Grail exists. But it does provide a very useful means of re-framing category decision-making on the basis of shopper reality in-store.

Danielle Pinnington is founder and owner of Shoppercentric