MAY / JUNE 2011 | PDF | Subscribe | Home

Digital Love?
Are shoppers as enamored with technology as we are?

It’s undeniable: The use of technology among consumers is growing. It’s something we must recognize, respect and, most of all, pursue. But we have to ask ourselves: What happens when consumers turn into shoppers? Are we blinded by the bright and shiny, double- and triple-digit increases in consumer digital adoption?

Let’s take a step back and remember the big picture. While the spending on and execution of digital vehicles are growing, what is the actual penetration and growth of engagement among shoppers? Those numbers may not be quite as bright or nearly as shiny.

Those who understand the realities of marketing at retail and shopper activity know that change is often a slow and gradual process. As much as we would like to think otherwise, the adoption of technology by shoppers is proving to be more of an evolution than the revolution it was for industries like music and entertainment.

For our traditional food, drug and mass channels, shopping is a routine activity — yes, a chore. As jazzed as we marketers are about the possibilities of shopping-list apps, Facebook deals or mobile coupons, shoppers may not necessarily share our passion — at least not enough to change their current behavior. For years, shoppers have been satisfied with good-old, pen-and-paper shopping lists; as “yesterday” as it may seem, the system still works, and frankly, some habits are just hard to change.

The focus on digital is prevalent, creating buzz and eliciting action as fast as the technology creating it. But while the industry is quick to talk, it has taken a relatively lax approach to defining digital — a term thrown around with regularity.

What is digital? For marketers, it has broadly been the “management and execution of marketing using electronic media.” If you consider this definition through the lens of the marketer, we have actually been involved with digital-marketing activity for years — even as far back as the introduction of Catalina.

Why not refocus and define “digital” the way we do everything else in shopper marketing — through the lens of the shopper? The shopper is in control — digital shopper-marketing vehicles are only as effective as the shopper’s willingness to put them to use. In other words, shoppers must be the ones who are consciously applying technology to their shopping routine at any point in the path-to-purchase.

The term, “digital shopper marketing” insinuates and introduces a new division of shopper marketing. Rather than isolate digital from what we do, we should embrace the new possibilities for how we use it. However, before we can do that, we must understand the realities of practicing shopper marketing in an increasingly digital world, which is why we dug deeper.

We wanted to understand the penetration of technology involvement during the shopping routine, so we fielded an in-store survey in collaboration with a grocer in the Northeast. Rooted in the context of the shopping experience, we were able to base our results on shoppers’ responses in-store at the time of purchase.

We conducted more than 400 shopper intercepts as shoppers exited the store. This methodology allowed for more objective data collection, as conducting a study on technology via online survey has the potential to skew results. The results were very eye-opening, revealing important, simple truths that shed light on the reality of this hot topic.

Simple Truth 1: Usage of digital vehicles during the shopping routine trails usage of traditional vehicles. The results of the survey indicate digital shopper-marketing tactics show opportunity for growth and that shoppers rely on more traditional methods before, and during, their trip.

Of the shoppers who read the circular, 95 percent used the physical copy. The shoppers who made lists vastly preferred a physical copy (93 percent) to a digital shopping list (3.5 percent). Only seven percent used the internet to plan their trip, and 90 percent didn’t receive an email from the store they shopped or from a brand they purchased. Digital coupons had the strongest showing among the available digital avenues, with 15 percent of shoppers who used coupons obtaining them digitally. Our findings show traditional shopper-marketing tactics are still preferred by the majority of shoppers surveyed, who have yet to embrace digital methods fully.

Simple Truth 2: Although the group using technology during the shopping routine is small, they are an involved, responsive group (see chart one). Most shoppers have not yet adapted technology into their grocery-shopping routine. However, those who have done so are engaged and responsive to in-store and purchase-driving tactics.

For example, although only 11 percent of respondents received an email from a brand, 35 percent of them were prompted to make a purchase as a result of the email. Similarly, only nine percent of respondents received an email from the retailer, but 27 percent of those respondents were prompted to make a purchase on their current trip as a result of the email.

When looking at shoppers who used the internet to plan their trip, we see that this group is also engaged in the process. Twenty-eight percent of respondents visited a recipe website and 24 percent visited the retailer’s website. The most striking engagement came from shoppers who used handheld scanners in-store. Of the shoppers who used a handheld scanner during their trip, 48 percent made a purchase as a result of a promotion delivered on the scanner.

These results demonstrate that the adoption of technology in the grocery-shopping routine is still emerging. However, those who have incorporated it into their routines are likely to be responsive to shopper-marketing vehicles that reach them at various touchpoints during their path-to-purchase.

Simple Truth 3: The smartphone maybe the gateway to technology engagement during the path- to-purchase (see chart two). By evaluating shoppers who owned a smartphone versus those who didn’t, we noticed a number of significant differences. Overall, the respondents who owned smartphones were more engaged with digital vehicles than those who did not own smartphones.

Interestingly, we found that more smartphone owners are using handheld devices in-store. As versatility and adoption increase, smartphones could potentially replace the costly handheld scanners. The disparity between shoppers who own smartphones and those who do not correlates directly with their digital engagement. Smartphone owners are more digitally engaged, so as smartphone penetration increases, we anticipate digital engagement to increase, as well. Digital will become a more routine part of the path-to-purchase and the smartphone is the gateway to this change.

Digital is not changing what we do; it’s changing how we do it. Advancement in technology has introduced a variety of new and exciting vehicles. Who can blame marketers for wanting to be a part of it? But while technology gives us power, it also comes with responsibility. We cannot be enamored into forgetting the point of what we are trying to do.

Here are some simple take-aways:

Understand your shopper. When relevant, digital vehicles should be incorporated as part of a targeted, holistic, shopper-marketing program.

Retailers are gatekeepers. Partner with retailers to provide digital vehicles with functional, value-added benefits their shoppers will use.

Spend accordingly. While testing is necessary, your program spend should not be influenced solely by what is bright and shiny; remember what’s been proven.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, which is why it’s important to remember the core tenets of shopper marketing. A strategically developed shopper-marketing program begins with an objective and an understanding of the shopper. The insight drives the implementation of digital vehicles, rather than the eagerness to execute them.

Smartphones, social networks, search engines — these vehicles empower shoppers, but they have not created a new type of shopper marketing. They are simply new tactics we can integrate strategically to reach a more digitally engaged shopper.



SARAH CHOW and DIANA BOYNTON are strategic planners with Integrated Marketing Services, specialists in shopper marketing, experiential marketing, shopper-centric custom publications, and field events. The authors would like to thank Elizabeth (Betsy) White, who utilizes primary and secondary research to develop strategies, and Andrew Zenyuch, who facilitates brainstorms to bring original thinking to shopper-marketing programs, for their help in writing this article.

MAY / JUNE 2011 | PDF | Subscribe | Home