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A recent article in CPG Matters relates new findings from Campbell Soup Company that 80 percent of buying decisions are made before a shopper ever gets to the store. Contrast this with the long-held belief that 70 percent of buying decisions are made at the shelf edge.

Or actually ... don't contrast those. Because they really have little to do with one another, and both are true, at least sometimes. Even the spokesperson for Campbell's, according to a rebuttal editorial from Progressive Grocer, says that there are "infinite moments of truth" across the path to purchase.

Mark Twain had it right when he said there were three kinds of untruths: lies, damn lies and statistics. The fact is that we make shopping decisions all the time, whether we're planning a trip or not, in the store or not, and have a specific occasion in mind or not. We make lists, and we think we know what we'll buy, but then we get to the store and something else catches our eye—a sale, or something new.

Trying to apply this level of science to food shopping is an exercise in futility at best. Further on in the Progressive Grocer editorial, a study by Integer group is quoted as stating that 43 percent of people "always" shop with lists. Ask me that question and I'll tell you yes as well: milk, bread, bananas, cereal, etc. Brands are not in evidence, and it doesn't mean I don't go outside that list. Never mind the fact that asking people about their habits is the single worst way to get accurate information.

The point that all this fuzzy science appears to be trying to make is that we are less impulsive than we were. Maybe, but I doubt it. Even if we are, it's more a result of the economy than our access to information. We are certainly more informed; we go online to learn about everything from diapers to dryer sheets before we shop, or even while we're in the store. But whether we buy Cling Free or Bounce has more to do with the price and which smells better.

I have piles of research on my desk that we've conducted over the past three years showing that we can influence purchase behavior at the shelf edge consistently. Our average sales lift is over 30 percent, whether the product is on sale or not. I'm not making a sales pitch here, just trying to make a point that influence at the shelf edge is far from a thing of the past. This lift might be the result of those 20 percent who don't fit the statistic of making buying decisions before they get to the store. But it's more likely the impact that shelf edge marketing has at the real—and only—moment of truth.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Mike Anthony
    Dear Jeff,
    Thanks for this and agree that ultimately if you don't win at the shelf you don't win - but as the shelf is often an expensive place to play, then gaining advantage before you get there is clearly desireable. As you say, both parties are right, and wrong. Different shoppers behave differently - the same shopper will behave differently from category to category. Our experience is that the challenge is about understanding which shoppers we are interested in (rather than all shoppers) and trying to understand where and how they can be influenced. For example the shelf edge may be great at influencing some; but if they are merely deal seekers who will desert your brand next week when another offer is available, then that behavioral change may be low value. Understanding who the target shopper is (the one's that can create maximum value for the brand) is the hear of shopper marketing and helps cut through the infinity of decisions.
    For more please check my blog post on the same topic at
  • Jeff Weidauer

    I would say we are in "violent agreement," meaning that we are both arguing that neither the shelf edge nor pre-store operates in a vacuum, and you can spin the numbers anyway you like. No argument there. My bigger issue is the growing desire to peg shopper activity to one single point on the path to purchase, which is a specious argument. All of it works together, and you can't single out any one point that is most important.

    But - it still is all about whether or not the shopper buys. Period.
  • Mike Anthony
    Dear Jeff;
  • Mike Long
    It is an interesting convergence of beliefs. I tend to believe the 70% of decisions are made at retail. The 80% statistic that decisions are pre made seems odd to me. I could believe that 80% of shoppers have category decisions in mind.
    There are so many factors at play at the last three feet. Promotions, Branding, the presence of information all play a part in the decision making process.
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Latest posts by Jeff Weidauer
Jeff Weidauer
Jeff Weidauer is vice president of marketing and strategy for Vestcom, a provider of integrated shopper marketing solutions. With over 30 years of retail experience, Jeff is a prominent speaker, writer and expert source to retailers, brands and media on shopper marketing and the evolving retail industry.
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