Lies, damn lies and statistics

Oct. 10, 2011 | by Jeff Weidauer

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.

Topics: Consumer Behavior , Marketing , Point-of-Purchase / POP

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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