Not created equal

Much PoP material is based purely on simple messages and arresting visuals – ignoring advances in knowledge about consumers’ behaviour and the ways in which it varies. It is time that PoP design took such factors into account, according to Tra

Marketers who think that point of purchase (PoP) means little more than using bright signage to encourage consumers to impulse buy may be missing out on the opportunity to apply new understanding about consumer behaviour in ways that could turn stock into sales more effectively.

Take supermarkets, for instance. Christiane Ella, European client services director of brand design consultancy SiebertHead, says: “I don’t believe that developments in PoP have properly addressed our understanding of how consumers shop. Supermarkets have not changed significantly since about 1955, apart from being more confusing and alienating. The downside of choice is confusion – and with up to 30,000 items in stock, as opposed to about 550 in 1955, consumers have no time to make a real choice.”

Jo Arscott, creative director of integrated agency 141, suggests: “A lot of PoP is no more sophisticated than a loud shout of ‘Cheap!’. Most PoP is still predominantly visual, partly because in busy stores it has the highest impact, but also because it’s cheaper.”

Ian Millner, managing partner of marketing agency Iris, believes that much PoP design is based upon the myth of the impulse buy. He suggests that, in reality, shoppers have powerful reasons for making particular purchases, but they may not be fully aware of such reasoning. He says: “PoP design is usually done rationally, and consumers don’t shop rationally.”

We know why you buy

In recent years, understanding of consumer behaviour has advanced in leaps and bounds. It is now possible to relate purchasing decisions to gender, socio-economic group, age, behavioural archetypes, and the ways in which consumers process information through all the senses rather than just sight.

Ella states: “There is a certain amount of neurological evidence, supported by cognitive psychology, that women tend to consider all aspects of their situation and needs at one time, whereas men think sequentially. This can mean that, in a supermarket, men tend to work their way down a shopping list, moving from end to end of the store in search of the next item, whereas women will hold the whole list in their head and move more logically from aisle to aisle.”

Alison Falconer, director of research consultancy Link Consumer Strategies, believes that there are gender differences, but that the differences between women can be just as influential as the differences between men and women. She says: “One woman may behave in two or three different ways, depending on her mood and the situation she is in.

“This is also true of men, but overall men tend to be more consistent in the way they think and behave. Women can veer between extremes of health and indulgence, convenience and quality, bargain and treat. One basket of shopping can show evidence of all of these. It is part of the binge-purge mentality that is becoming more and more common as we attempt to balance our lives while ‘having it all’.”

Paul Seligman, managing director of sales promotion and direct marketing consultancy Communicator, feels that gender is a red herring. He suggests: “It is not so much a question of gender, but rather the role that someone plays within their household. For example, ‘house controllers’ – usually still women in a family unit – will be better at household shopping because they are likely to be more familiar with products and pricing. Ultimately, they will be the person who has to remedy the situation if they forget something, so they are highly motivated to get it right in the first place. If you do something regularly, you generally do it more rapidly.”

Focusing on gender can mean that marketers ignore crucial variables such as socio-economic differences. Arscott says: “AB shoppers have always been less brand loyal than C1C2DEs, which is why they buy more own-label goods. Other than that, socio-economic differences are driven by discretionary income levels.”

Ella also believes socio-economic differences can be more important than gender. She argues: “We seem to imagine that ‘the female consumer’ carries a briefcase, has a nanny and a soft-top Golf, and has a very different behaviour pattern to her male counterpart. But we must beware of stereotyping. Work may mean ’empowerment’ in SW1, but it can also mean working double shifts in a chicken-gutting factory, or being forced into unskilled work by family tax credit.”

Millner believes that there are crucial factors related to age that strongly inform consumer behaviour. He says: “Younger shoppers will try everything, because they aren’t experienced or capable of understanding what they really want and will experiment for the sake of it. Over time, people develop better self-awareness and become more in tune with what they really want. They know what works for them and what does not. A selection process is happening, but it’s an unconscious one.”

The behavioural argument focuses on specific traits that can relate to product categories, transcending gender or socio-economic variables. Arscott explains: “A person will treat categories differently, depending on how interested they are. There are three basic forms of behaviour. Browsers tend to make detailed comparisons of information, such as price or ingredients, before selection. Rushers may have a regular shopping list, and impulsive shoppers are attracted by new and different items. So a person may be a rusher when it comes to a low-interest category such as teabags, but an impulsive when faced with the confectionery aisle.”

Ella suggests: “More reliable is the fact that most people shop in one of three different modes: replenishment – replacing stock with an identical or similar product; bargain-hunting – buying on price; and browsing – looking for something new.”

But perhaps the most powerful factor of all is the way in which we process information through all of our senses, a fact that much visually dominated PoP design ignores. In a document entitled The ICI Report on the Secrets of the Senses, produced by ICI in association with Oxford University, lecturer in experimental psychology Dr Charles Spence describes how Asda increased sales of its own-brand toilet paper by removing the outer wrapping of the product and allowing shoppers to “feel the difference”.

Making sense of it all

So which is the most influential sense? Spence says: “Neurophysiological studies show that parts of the brain that respond to smell lie very close to those that are involved in memory and emotion… Smells have a far more important emotional impact on us than the other senses.”

Research also shows that women are more sensitive to scents than men, and that certain branded products, such as Johnson’s Baby Powder, have “signature scents” that are – perhaps surprisingly – recognised far more easily than distinctive natural odours such as lemon.

So how can all of this information be translated into effective PoP design? Millner suggests that the overall purpose of PoP is to disturb habitual shopping behaviour and to engage the emotions through all of the senses. He says: “Most of us go into the same few shops and buy the same few products again and again. Consumers shop on autopilot, so PoP has to snap them out of their normal routine. Getting them to actually touch a product means they are much more likely to buy it.”

Recent understanding of consumer needs has resulted in products being redesigned or repackaged to reflect the way we live. For instance, Falconer suggests that the recognition that women juggle increasingly busy lives and are becoming more health-conscious has led to “micro-targeting” in the form of “quick, popular lunchbox solutions” and “individual portions, such as single servings of cheesecake, or single-pot salads”.

A pain in the eyes

The increasing amount of visual information in retail outlets could actually create confusion rather than enhancing choice. Ella suggests that PoP designers turn the visual volume down. She says: “In food terms, the more that brand-owners can make the product benefit absolutely clear without muddying the communication with extraneous messages, the more successful they are likely to be.”

Understanding how shoppers behave is altering the way shops are laid out. Seligman says: “Retailers are increasingly realising that many buying decisions are made by couples or friends – hence the development of ‘rest and relax’ areas in clothes shops, so that one person can take a breather while the other tries clothes on.” For Seligman, the design of retail outlets such as Starbucks cafés allows consumers to choose how they want to experience the product: coffee to go, or coffee over a chat on a comfortable sofa.

In terms of using the powerful sense of smell, Spence notes that marketers are learning to use odours that are known to generate specific emotions. General Motors, for instance, adds a manufactured leather aroma to new cars, in order to trigger pleasant associations and memories. Spence suggests that companies could develop “signature scents” for products, or enhance PoP design by “having scented displays, or pressure-activated displays”. He does warn, however, that if too many companies used this method, retail outlets could soon be bombarding us with scents in the same way that we are currently overwhelmed by visual information – and that would not be a good way to persuade us to shop.

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