The point of purchase (POP) is a manufacturer’s last opportunity to have an effect on their customers’ decisions. Awareness of the crucial role of in-store influences is growing, and several POP companies have started offering detailed research on how customers react at the point of sale.
According to Coutts Design managing director Kevin Price, more money is being put into the in-store arena in an effort to influence consumer choice in the outlet because such a high proportion of brand choice is made in front of a shelf. “It’s not surprising,” he says, “that in-store research is becoming much more sophisticated.”
To this end, Coutts has formed a partnership with a research company called The In-Store Audit. The partnership uses two techniques – ROCI (Register of Customer and Consumer Interest) and ESOB (Electronic Surveillance of Behaviour), which give a detailed understanding of how consumers behave within a shop, says Price.
“With ESoB, shoppers are tracked remotely on video around the store and their movements and actions are followed. Because this technique is fairly unobtrusive, we are able to capture natural shopper behaviour as people are not being followed around by a researcher.”
Although the video technology for these research methods is fairly straightforward, Price says the computer software behind it is complex.
“The cameras are specially modified and they record a large sample size. They can measure consumer behaviour from entry to exit, following customers around the store and noting the items they touch and the visual cues that they give and get. The cameras may operate for between ten and 14 days. The information is then analysed and the key clips from the video are used to reinforce the key points that have emerged from the analysis.”
POP consultancy Kesslers commissioned Mori on behalf of the Kingfisher Group to gather in-store qualitative data, identifying why people went to certain displays, what was attracting them and what they did not like. In addition to observation of shoppers, the research also included exit interviews.
Kesslers managing director Charles Kessler says: “The results of the research backed up what we suspected, but also reinforced the importance that people attach to the availability of in-store information. In the case of cosmetics, for example, good testers were very important.”
The research also revealed that, while consumers expect to be guided in making purchase decisions in store, many prefer to shop alone. “Shoppers are sometimes put off by consultants or store staff,” says Kessler. “They prefer to be left to make their own decisions. That suits many brands as it gives manufacturers a chance to push their own message.”
For Tony Rogers, account director at marketing consultancy Skybridge, “point of purchase” is not the best term for what happens in a store – it is better described as the “point of decision”. Skybridge recently appointed a researcher to analyse where and how that decisive moment occurs in store.
Rogers says: “We analyse the entire process, from the focus groups we put together to get feedback on design concepts to the videos that are used to record the consumer experience in real-time, showing what happens when the shopper comes across the fixture. Mystery shopping is also useful after the trial stage for a point-of-decision installation.”
Rogers says the Skybridge research indicates that the current trend towards “in-store theatre” may be over-rated in terms of increasing sales.
“There is no point dressing up fixtures just for the sake of attracting people to your stand. It may well do that, but it probably won’t lead to a decision to purchase. Great fixtures are not some sort of panacea for all POP needs. It does not take into account what is good for the brand, or how brand values influence a decision.
“This is where research comes in – putting concepts in front of the target market and getting feedback before going to the second stage.”
The availability of dedicated research facilities reflects a new status for POP, says Rogers.
“It offers added value to the client to have that resource in house. ‘Point of decision’ is becoming a more recognised part of the marketing mix and is no longer seen as an afterthought. Point-of-sale strategies need to be set up from the start to ensure there is synergy with anything that happens above the line, all the way through to point of decision,” he says.
Any attempt to study customer behaviour should recognise that customers are not always consciously aware of POP, says Tamsin Addison, managing director of Decision Science, which specialises in POP and new product development and has developed methods of studying customer responses to point of sale material.
Addison says using focus groups is generally futile. “When you get people together in a group and ask them what they think about what happens at the point of purchase, they won’t tell you what you need to know.
“The brain processes POP information superficially and fast. There is so much information out there that if we processed everything, we would never get from A to B.
“So by asking people directly what they think of POP, you are asking them to do something that they would not normally do and they will give you a biased answer.”
Nevertheless, says Addison, it is still possible to get some information from these groups. “After an item of POP has been removed from a store, customers may think that they haven’t seen it at all. As psychologists, we can establish if they have seen it or not by providing them with two different images, one that was in the point of sale display and one that was not. We have proved that consumers are better disposed to the image that was in the display than the one that was not.”
Decision Science also conducts research in store, either talking to customers as they shop or immediately afterwards, says Addison.
“This information is processed so quickly that you don’t need an hour and a half for a group to talk about it. It’s best to do it in the store because people find it very difficult to predict theoretically how they would respond. If you ask them how they actually did respond, it is really easy,” she says.
Addison says it is necessary to talk both to customers who did purchase and those who did not. “If you don’t talk to both groups you will never find out what you are doing wrong. It might be that the point-of-sale display was spot-on but the reason they did not buy the product was that it was on promotion last week and they stocked up then.”
In an effort to get as close as possible to the real-life customer experience, POP consultancy RMS has developed research facilities that allow clients literally to see their products through the eyes of their target market.
RMS director of retail marketing, Guy Vaughn, says: “We set up special video cameras so we can watch the customer, but we’ve also developed spectacles with cameras attached that people can wear while shopping.
“They are the same cameras that are used in medical science and they allow us to watch what the customer watches. We ask people to shop in several different areas of the store and we have a control mechanism to show how theydo it.”
This surge in customer monitoring raises questions about shoppers’ right to privacy and their willingness to be the subjects of psychological surveys. By watching consumers obsessively, companies risk scaring them away. Yet the financial benefits of being able to predict their customers’ responses still seem worth the risk for many manufacturers and POP companies.