List vs Impulse – How Shoppers Really Decide

For years the retailing industry has debated between those who argue a shopper’s mind is mostly made up before they even enter the store and those who assert the real decision what to buy comes down to a final few seconds at the shelf. In fact it is neither, according to a recent survey of U.S. consumers.

To the longstanding question of how shoppers make decisions, PLMA’s newest study by Buxton consumer research gives up some surprising answers and identifies significant opportunities for store brands.

The nationwide poll of 1,170 shoppers reveals that, contrary what is often claimed, shoppers tend to be engaged fully in a process for purchase decisions that starts with preparing a list of items at home, visiting stores and walking the aisles, then considering a variety options and alternatives to their planned purchases prior to deciding what to buy at the shelves. 

How Shoppers Make Decisions” is the latest in a series of research publications focusing on consumer attitudes and behavior. The report follows shoppers during three distinct parts of the shopping experience: Preparations before going to the store, the shopping trip itself, and the buying decision made at the shelf.

Among the highlights from the survey findings:

The venerable shopping list endures.

Despite changes in consumer demographics, lifestyles and store formats. Two-thirds of those surveyed say they rely on a list when doing the main household shopping for their family.

Brands are not often specified.

Six out of ten shoppers say they list products by brand name only occasionally, rarely or never. However, half of these shoppers admit they frequently have a brand in mind, even when they don’t list it.

Lists – and brands – are less of a factor for drug chain shoppers.

Nearly two-thirds say they don’t make a list for drug store purchases, and of those that do barely two out of ten will specify a brand.

Once inside the store, shoppers become browsers.

They walk through the store looking for items on their list but also paying attention to special displays, promotions, product sampling and demonstrations.

Paper and pen are holding their own.

Despite expectations that the impact of more connected shoppers will increasingly be felt in the future, the use of smartphones and apps for shopping is relegated for the time being to a small, tech-savvy minority.

Even when brands are on their shopping list, consumers are open to switching.

Only one in four actually select the brand they planned to purchase without hesitation, while three out of four say they consider other options before they buy.

Most shoppers shop at just one store.

For the household shopping, two out of three of those surveyed say they go to more than one store only occasionally, rarely or never. And virtually all (95%) are satisfied that they frequently or always find all the items on their list.

Store brands may hold the key to shopper retention.

Half of all shoppers say they would buy a store brand if the national brand were not available. Only 23% say they would buy another national brand instead. A mere 14% would go to another store.

The willingness demonstrated on the part of shoppers to consider different choices promises to be a positive force for the continued growth of store brands. 


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