How are consumers responding to where shopper marketing is headed?

Robert Levy, president of BrandSpark, examines how pre-shop has changed, how DTC can enhance in-store and which new tech is actually useful.

In this week’s shopper marketing report, strategy turned to Robert Levy, president of BrandSpark International, for his thoughts on the latest shopper trends, and what habits formed during COVID will be long-lasting and what others will be a flash in the pan.

According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, about 70% of a customer’s purchase decisions are made in store. How can you best reach the “pre-shop” part of the funnel through shopper marketing? 

Print and digital flyers continue to be accessible to shoppers. We have been tracking the impact of print flyers for a number of years, even before the advent of COVID, so we know that flyers remain popular and effective due to the routines that consumers establish (like reviewing the flyers on Thursday evening) and the overall importance of obtaining value for money.

Digital flyer apps like Flipp have seen very large increases during the pandemic in the number of flyers read, but a decrease in the number of stores visited. So you can see that consumers are reading more content, and pre-shop planning has become more important, even if the number of stores visited has decreased. Shoppers are increasingly interested in trying new products, but are not really putting in the time necessary to find these new products and are not exposed to them in stores as they were before.

So, online sampling is useful too, where request-based microsites and online shopper communities like have become much more popular with shoppers as well as brands. We have also seen increased interest in consumer endorsements and awards – due to the tremendous amount of brand switching and exploration by consumers, together with frequent out of stock issues, brands need to make sure they use any tool to stay top of mind and continue to earn consumer loyalty.

Private label brands have even more of a presence online now, so brands really need to build that habit with consumers and ensure that consumers believe there is increased value for money to justify price premiums. As online continues to build, brands are not able to exert the same kind of control as they can within retail banners, as brand choice is virtually limitless and new brands are jumping into the arena with strong ratings, reviews and search optimization – often looking stronger than leading brands – something unlikely to happen in-store.

How is livestreaming ecommerce going to affect the traditional retail landscape?

There is a lot of opportunity that can be facilitated by comfort levels with video technology and streaming going up across all age groups thanks to COVID. I expect conversational marketing to grow, where existing social media platforms can be leveraged to help consumers travel through the purchase funnel in a more seamless and intuitive way. I’m not sure about the role influencers will play – we’ve seen Masterclass prove that experts are valued in these experiences, but someone that happens to have a big social media platform, maybe not so much.

Companies like Inabuggy have rolled out Google Streetview-style technology for virtually perusing grocery store shelves. How do you foresee technology like that co-existing with more old-school shopper marketing tools?

When you hear about this technology it sounds cool – but when you actually see how it works and think about practical applications, I’m not sure it will really disrupt traditional shopper marketing. It replicates walking through the store but does not necessarily offer a better or more intuitive way to shop than online shopping sites. Many might find Voila or PC Express to be easier to manage and more intuitive – people expect to shop a certain way online.

It’s always important to make sure that any new technology fit the channel. This capability might actually be game changing for brands who want to monitor their products and those of competitors, but what is the purpose of this tool for consumers? It could make sense to plan a shop, but if you’re going into the store anyways – as most consumers still are – your planning time is going towards flyers, where people can save money.

We also know consumers are interested in trying new products but often are not aware that these new products exist – even more challenging in the ecommerce world where product and brand choices expand exponentially. We also know brands are always looking for new and better ways to have their new products stand out, especially during the pandemic when in store options have been curtailed. So could this be a way to call out new products? Discovery of new products is one of the best reasons to go in store shopping, so if they could take a more shopper centric point of view by highlighting new products or healthier products. Another trend we expect to continue is consumers seeking more premium experiences with their everyday products, so this type of technology could be an effective way to present these opportunities to consumers and get them excited to try.

How have DTC websites from CPG companies like Kraft Heinz affected how your agency handles shopper marketing?

It will create new opportunities to scale shopper opportunities for brands. Their websites provide enhanced analytics and also offer benchmarks by being able to build across multiple categories, and brands can share those with retailers to help strengthen those important relationships and sales channels.

These sites allow brands to develop a direct relationship with customers, instead of everything being in the hands of the retailer.  But the DTC sites miss the opportunity of driving sales with their most important retailers, such as Amazon and Walmart and Loblaws. If the brand is selling DTC, those products won’t help with sales rank, ratings and reviews and overall search on sites where consumers often learn about products and new brands that are popping up. So in the end there is room for this marketing channel, but it should be part of the overall marketing and sales channel mix.