OPINION1 August 2017

Mission critical

FMCG Opinion Retail

Understanding shopper missions will only get you so far, says Shoppercentric’s Danielle Pinnington, who explains why shopping is now all about ‘horizons'.

For a long time now missions have been a core part of the category management/ shopper marketing language. Identifying which missions are important in which channels allows brands and retailers to flex their offering and target specific shoppers on key missions. 

But shopping has changed considerably in recent years as channels have multiplied and evolved and shopper behaviour has fragmented.

The old notion of basket = top up and trolley = main shop is being swept aside: 16% of UK shoppers now shop groceries little & often, across multiple channels, avoiding any big shopping trips altogether.

And it is no longer the case that big stores exclusively satisfy big trolley shopping: nearly 20% of hypermarket/supermarket shopping trips are accounted for by small baskets. Furthermore, shopping missions no longer necessarily = purchase missions. Missions can be as much about browsing, or even opportunistic bargain-hunting as they can be about supplying, and a single purchase journey may involve multiple missions each intended to perform a particular ‘job’ as the shopper moves from trigger to transaction. 

All these factors mean that having an updated and clear understanding of why (mission) and where (channel) shoppers shop is fundamental for CPGs (consumer packaged goods) looking to increase sales. But from a category perspective, this requires a more granular understanding than overall store mission thinking.

While understanding missions at the level of ‘top up’, ‘distress’, ‘main shop’, etc. sets the important context of how much time, energy and money shoppers have to spend with individual categories, it will only get you so far.

Understanding if the snack that I want to buy is for now, for later, for me, for a group of people (is it a store cupboard item for my family, or for a social occasion with friends), adds a more detailed level of insights that allows category and brand managers to activate with influence.

This means we need to think more along the lines of ‘horizons’:

  • When will the purchase be consumed – now, later today, tomorrow, this week…
  • How long is the purchase intended to cover – stocking up vs distress
  • How important is this category to the trip – destination, convenience, planned & impulse
  • Is the purchase anchored to a key event on the horizon – visitors, party, birthday, weekend…

To really explore these elements we need to spend time with shoppers, capturing what they are doing and why. Self-ethnography tasks help us identify the missions; group discussions allow us to understand the mission/ channel relationship; quantitative techniques such as store intercepts or online surveys help to prioritise key missions within and across channels; and intercepts enable us to live the priority missions with shoppers.

By taking a multi-faceted approach, we get much closer to the reality of those horizons, below the explicit layers to the implicit factors that drive behaviour, and the opportunities to influence. Armed with this knowledge manufacturers are better able to:

  • Identify opportunities
  • Develop targeted strategies

This knowledge can then be used to affect change through:

  • Delivering fixtures according to mission
  • Targeting shopper marketing activation to specific missions in specific channels

Of course there is a balance to be achieved between granularity that identifies the opportunities and overwhelming detail that swamps the business decision making process.

But with the right balance, we are already seeing some retailers trialling mission-led ranging to boost sales and satisfy shoppers by providing for shopper’s specific needs on a particular mission.

As shoppers increasingly flex their shopping around the wide variety of retail options available, the importance of identifying the mission horizons that retail can target will grow.

It is the businesses who genuinely understand shopper missions who will best deliver the right products in the right place at the right time.

Danielle Pinnington is founder and owner of Shoppercentric