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Stop disrupting shoppers


Boxing Day, Myer, Christmas, sales, shoppingAbout 45 per cent of shoppers will purchase the same thing they bought last time around.

Yet the focus of most category managers and shopper marketers is on interruption and disruption.

While this seems logical, it is in fact deceptive and causes frustration.

In the world of product buying, visual representations of a store’s products (planograms) aim to influence shopper decisions.

Our 20 years of observing shopper behaviour at TNS shows the purchase process has everything to do with finding what a shopper has already decided on. Shoppers are simply blind to anything irrelevant. 

‘Shopology’ researchers have experimented with this reality by placing a case of beer in the middle of a cereal shelf.

Far from being attention grabbing, hardly any shoppers even noticed the beer, because in search mode they don’t see what they are not looking for.

The way to open shopper minds is to work with their agenda, rather than trying to change it.

The good news is that if shoppers find their planned item quickly, they don’t walk away from the category.

When they find their first item within 10 seconds, the average number of category items in their basket jumps markedly.

In most categories, ‘decided’ shoppers can become ‘open’ shoppers once the search process is complete.

The science of de-selection

At the shelf the decided shopper interacts at a category rather than a product level, and seeks visual cues to make sense of the shelf and narrow search options. 

open-decided-TNSFor efficiency, they need a clearly structured shelf hierarchy based on product features reflecting their order of search.

 When P&G took a bold step to re-organise skincare category shelves to make them easier for shoppers, the impact on both behaviour and spend was dramatic.

Over six months, shoppers spent noticeably less time standing in front of the shelf scanning products. Instead, they identified their products from a distance and went straight to that shelf point.

Significantly, the amount of time they spent in the category didn’t reduce, but rather that time was spent considering purchases – and more than before.

During that period category sales increased by a staggering 31 per cent.

Catering to all shoppers

Merchandising cannot afford to barrier undecided shoppers. 

We know that increasing sales depends on building shelf hierarchy around decided shoppers, but with only one shelf, how do we cater for open shoppers? 


In fact, their selection isn’t completely open – it is actually based on selection needs established before entering the store. 

So it comes down to understanding different product propositions to meet these needs, comparing them, and choosing the one that balances their requirements effectively.

Grouping products of similar selection needs and enabling shoppers to compare propositions is a simple strategy to support and strengthen shelf hierarchy.

A mother shopping for children’s cereal wants something they will happily eat but is nutritious – they want something that tastes good. She hasn’t got a brand preference, but a good idea of the needs to satisfy.


If she can identify a group of nutritious kids cereals and compare flavours then she is well placed to make an efficient decision, and provided they fit within a clear shelf structure, this won’t delay her also finding her favourite.

Category planning and merchandising will always be a complex art, but understanding the precise priorities of both shopper types per category is essential for planning shelf hierarchies and product groupings. 

To increase consideration and spend, organise categories to reduce search time and allow decided shoppers to find their item quickly. 

This puts shoppers in control of their time so they spend less of it searching and more of it shopping. 

It’s a leap of faith, but one that is long overdue.

Peter Firth is a director at TNS Global. He advises on growth strategies around new market entry, innovation, brand switching and stakeholder management.

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