The four types of convenience store shoppers

By Britt Peterson

There’s been heaps of research done on who shops in convenience stores. Stores have done it. Brands have done it. Research companies have done it. Agencies have done it. And it’s useful, don’t get me wrong. It helps inform the right distribution strategy and identify buying opportunities.

We also know instant gratification is a huge driver of sales within the convenience store channel. We look for opportunities to convince people to “buy now,” or focus on prime placement to enhance our chances of “winning the grab” in the store.

These are good strategies, but not necessarily great. What’s missing is the connection between who is shopping and how they’re shopping. What if instead of just focusing on demographics or even psychographics of who’s shopping, we focused on leveraging true shopping behavior or need states to drive purchase? What if we focused our in-store programs less on us and more on what people are looking for at that very specific point in time?

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Through a proprietary study, Cole & Weber United focused on understanding that behavior and how championing “need states” can play an instrumental role in instigating and winning the grab. We identified the four basic c-store shoppers based on their specific motivations for walking into and out of a c-store.

Need states aren’t bound by age, sex, gender or ethnicity. Rather, need states cross all of those factors and, in fact, people may cross need states on different trips. But by understanding these different motivations, brands can better leverage true, in-the-moment behavior to trigger purchases.

Meet our four c-store shoppers:

Mr. Jones. They’re your regulars. They’re in the c-store because of life’s simple addictions. Yes, maybe a pack a Marlboros, but also a Gatorade, a Diet Coke or that daily bag of Doritos. The store is a means to an end. Mr. Jones is in search of the immediate satisfaction that comes only from that one key item. They are unfailingly brand loyal. For them, the experience is transactional and routine, but highly satisfying.

The Neighbor. For these people, the c-store is their community center. Their trip is a ritualistic part of their day. They’re often on a first-name basis with the clerks (if you don’t believe this behavior exists, you should watch the recent 7-11 episode of “Undercover Boss”). Just as they are regulars to the store, they have their regular purchase as well. For them, the experience of being in the store matters. It’s all about familiarity. They want to feel important and they cherish the sense of community and neighborhood.

The Last Minute Shopper. Your significant other calls and says “can you grab milk on your way home?” You are now this person. This need state is largely driven by the home front and a need for a last-minute and very specific item. They rarely look at the clerk or others shopping. They are on a mission and can often seem uncomfortable in the store environment. They want to get in and get out.

The Thrillseeker. This need state is every marketers dream. If only we could win over the Thrillseeker consistently. This group is in search of an experience. They speak in hyperbole. They want something, and that something could be anything. They just want products that tap into their desire for emotion, uniqueness, personalization and frankly — excitement. They’re brand drifters and will try anything once. So consistently keeping them intrigued is your biggest challenge and opportunity.

By understanding which need states might be most appropriate for your brand or product, you can better focus your programs in, around and outside the c-store. The language and strategies used to engage a Thrillseeker are different from those used to entice Mr. Jones. The programs you create for the Neighbor might be more about rewarding their loyalty as a frequent shopper than about a price special on a new product. The packaging or merchandising signage most helpful for a Last Minute Shopper is different than those that best attract the Thrillseeker.

Identify the need state with the biggest opportunity for your brand or product. Leveraging that need state (or even multiple states) can help focus your POS, promotions, specials and even WOM programs to ensure they’re working as hard as possible and adding the most value to your brand’s experience and your business.

Britt Peterson is partner and director of business development for Cole & Weber United. (Photo by magicfab.)

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