People are still shopping on autopilot but don’t admit it

In store: Autopilot frees up time
In store: Autopilot frees up time

I was surprised to learn from Maeve Hosea’s feature ’My Economy mindset sparks a new approach’ (MW 13 January) that “No one shops on autopilot any more”.

Yes they do. Pop down to Tesco and take a look. They’re all at it.

And a good thing, too – otherwise our supermarkets would be crammed full of “switched on, savvy, cynical” shoppers blocking up the aisles as they ponder each and every purchase.

Shopping on autopilot can be useful because it enables us to shop really quickly for all those low-interest, low-risk items that we made up our minds about years ago, freeing up time to engage with products and promotions of interest to us.

Shopping on autopilot is actually an involuntary response to the retail environment and the category we are shopping in. It’s what psychologists call “selective perception” – subconsciously de-selecting irrelevant information from the world around us, thus protecting ourselves from sensory overload. We often find it hard to turn the autopilot off, even if we want to.

So how did the Blue Marlin team arrive at their conclusion? Focus groups and in-depth interviews. Which, frankly, is like trying to find plastic pipes with a metal detector.

There’s a yawning gap between what consumers say in research and how they actually behave in shops. Of course we all believe we are being more careful about how we spend our pennies; of course we all realise that conspicuous spending won’t make us many friends at the moment.

These attitudinal factors are real and will influence our shopping behaviour. But they won’t fundamentally change the ways in which we shop.

Focus groups and interviews are useful ways to understand many important things. Shopper behaviour is not one of them.

Tony Nunan
Managing director, Visuality

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