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Q&A: Returning to a Great In-Store Experience

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Dan Sabanosh

Great Northern Instore was excited to partner again with the Path to Purchase Institute on a timely research project in 2022. Great Northern strives to bring the latest retail insights to its clients and translate those insights into successful retail activations. It is always important to get an up-to-date read on shopping behavior. This Q&A highlights some of the research’s key findings from the perspective of Dan Sabanosh, Great Northern’s director of shopper marketing.

P2PIQSurvey respondents were asked what the biggest change has been in their own experience shopping in-store now versus before the onset of the pandemic. What’s your perspective on this?

Sabanosh: Of course, all the safety precautions have been the most noticeable changes to shopping now versus before the COVID-19 pandemic. Masks, barriers and social distancing have led to shopper anxiety and have made the experience transactional. People are not having a good experience. They are getting into the store, buying the items they need, and getting out. Second, there have been various supply chain disruptions that add another element of frustration. So right now, people are not enjoying their trips to the store. As the survey shows, more people are reducing and combining trips.

P2PIQHow and why does shopping frequency differ by product category and store type, and why does that matter to product marketers?

Sabanosh: Category differences in shopping frequency are based on how shoppers consume or utilize products. Consumables naturally are needed more frequently compared to categories such as electronics, home decor and home improvement. These category differences correspond with retail channels. Marketers have to take this into consideration to develop the programs that keep their brands and promotions fresh. Programs will need to be more frequent in consumable categories.

But there is also another path to consider: What additional distribution opportunities are possible? Great Northern’s Q4 2021 electronics audit saw lots of new activations in the home improvement channel, opening a new opportunity to reach shoppers.

P2PIQWhy is it important to understand stock-up trips — how much time shoppers are spending and how much they’re buying?

Sabanosh: Stock-up trips are where shoppers are opening their wallets. It is a high-spend trip. And it is becoming more important as nearly half of shoppers say they are more likely to buy more items during a stock-up trip versus a year ago. The challenge for marketers is that 40% of shoppers are spending less time in-store for this trip. Safety concerns, frustration finding items and overall dislike of the experience are all factors causing this. It means merchandising vehicles utilized to drive trial, highlight promotions and showcase new items must work very hard to break through the clutter. Easy-to-find, easy-to-shop, solutions-based merchandising can succeed.

P2PIQAre consumers really buying additional items when picking up online orders in-store? What’s the opportunity there?

Sabanosh: Yes! The survey clearly shows nearly three quarters of respondents are picking up extra items at least some of the time. The grocery survey from the Path to Purchase Institute performed in early 2021 showed the same trend. We keep working with clients on ways to convert on this impulse opportunity near the pickup and checkout areas of stores.

P2PIQThree-fourths of consumers were expecting their in-store shopping frequency to remain the same over the next six months. Can we believe that? What can change that?

Sabanosh: I think this is a reasonable response, based on the time of the survey. Omicron was raging and no one knows when the next variant will strike. Also, people are busy, so projecting they will start to dedicate more time to shopping is not something a person will likely say. I think this can be helped as the pandemic recedes and people begin to feel safer. As mask requirements lapse and barriers are dropped, shopping can become more fun again. It will be all about returning to a great experience to bring shoppers back. 

Editor’s Note:Dan Sabanosh is director of shopper marketing for Great Northern Instore, a leading designer and manufacturer of merchandising solutions, where he helps clients be more insightful when developing their retail programs. Before joining Great Northern, Sabanosh worked for Colgate-Palmolive in both shopper marketing and brand management roles.

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