Delving into the shopper’s mind

Understanding the motives behind consumer decisions is essential for advertisers who want to target customers effectively. Mike Jeanes explains. Mike Jeanes is market research manager of the Newspaper Society.

Research into consumer shopping habits sometimes includes an element of future intentions to buy. But it often overlooks the issue of how, where and when consumers make their purchase decision. Understanding these determinants would enable advertisers to market their products and services more effectively. Arguably, a consumer who is “closer to the point of purchase” (in both geographic and time-frame terms) is more valuable to advertisers.

Branding and awareness messages cast a wide net to prospective customers. However, in many cases consumers seek information to help them make purchasing decisions. This could be product or price details, availability of items locally, where to go to obtain items and how to get there.

Consumer’s Choice 111, conducted by the Newspaper Society, is a national consumer survey covering many of the above issues, including the impact of advertising on the decision-making process. The survey allows the information to be readily accessed, with all of the findings displayed “chart style” in a compact pocket book. Additionally, since two Consumer’s Choice studies were also undertaken in 1992 and 1993, these areas can be tracked over time, which allows shifts in consumer behaviour to be identified. Where available, this information has been included in the report.

One of the major changes to occur in the past three years has been the shifts in localised catchment areas for some retailers. Since 1992, shoppers seem more willing to travel further for personal items such as clothes or furniture. They seem less prepared to travel for non-personal convenience products, such as groceries or DIY goods.

The Consumer’s Choice data also reveals a slight change in attitudes towards shopping since 1992. Although quality, cost, convenience and choice remain key factors when deciding where to shop, all have declined in importance. Perhaps shopping expectations have been raised, and consumers now expect all of these factors to be part of the overall shopping mix.

Shoppers could now be looking for something else. More specific needs, such as covered precincts and facilities for children, have increased in importance (see chart one).

Consumer desire to travel less to obtain groceries may be a reflection of the significant growth in outlets over the past few years (see chart two). Consumers expect more and the plethora of stores has increased competition in the market. In fact, the study also highlights that over half of all consumers use more than one supermarket. Although convenience is a key reason for this, the data shows consumers recognise that some stores are better or cheaper than others for different things. Also, the significance of special offers when selecting a store has more than doubled since 1992.

Of those shoppers who look for special offers, almost 80 per cent will discover them in-store while over 40 per cent will have used the regional or local press in advance to obtain this information (see chart three). If the intention is to use special offers to attract custom rather than incentivise customers who are already in the store, then it is important that the message is communicated effectively to those consumers. Clearly advertising plays a role in this.

Response to advertising is highlighted in other sections of the report. For example, almost one in five shoppers visited an electrical store as a result of seeing an ad in the regional or local press. This is impressive when you consider that over 40 per cent of all electrical shoppers visit more than one store.

Turning to the new car market, the results show that over half of all new car owners consider their choice of car at least a month before making the purchase. However, short-term decisions are becoming increasingly common. The percentage of new car owners who considered their purchase less than three weeks in advance has more than doubled since 1993 to 24 per cent. This may be due to the ease of obtaining personal contract plans and other financial incentives.

From the report, it is clear that the regional and local press generates interest and encourages high response to advertising with almost 80 per cent of the adult population responding to an ad in the regional daily press at sometime. This compares with just over 60 per cent responding to ads on TV, just under 60 per cent responding to ads in the national daily press and 42 per cent responding to ads on local radio. Additionally, people tend to respond to advertising in the regional and local press more frequently than with other media.

Newspaper owners need to be well versed in these statistics if they are going to market regional papers to advertisers successfully.

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