Shopper Marketing: What Brands Need to Know

They’re magically delicious!

If you were a kid at any point in the last 50 years, you probably remember that as the slogan of the colorful breakfast cereal Lucky Charms. That means the folks in the marketing department at General Mills did their job—they made an impression on you, the consumer of the cereal. But of course, you weren’t buying the cereal at the store–your parents were. They were the shoppers, or the ones doing the actual purchasing.

The magic-themed tagline of this marshmallow-y cereal is a great example of successful consumer marketing. But it also raises the question: Could General Mills have sold more Lucky Charms over the years if they had marketed more heavily to adults, the actual shoppers, instead?

Shopper marketing is a marketing strategy that does just that–it focuses on the shopper, as opposed to the consumer. It covers the whole customer journey, from when they first become aware of a product to when they make the purchase. And it places special emphasis on the final stretch—once they’ve entered a store or opened an ecommerce site—making a last-minute appeal to move them from browsing to buying.

In this guide to shopper marketing, we’ll explore the distinction between consumers and shoppers, key elements that go into creating a shopper marketing strategy, and some of the tactics a shopper marketing strategy may employ.

Consumer vs. shopper: what’s the difference?

To understand shopper marketing, we have to start with the differences between the consumer and the shopper. Put simply, the consumer is the person who uses the product, while the shopper is the person who actually makes the purchasing decision. The consumer and the shopper may at times be the same person, but that isn’t always the case. Whenever one person shops for others, these roles are distinct, which can make an important difference in how you market to either.

Consider, like in the Lucky Charms example above, the difference between marketing to children as the consumers of breakfast cereals and marketing to their parents as the people who shop for their children. To appeal to children, you might use bright colors, cartoon mascot characters, licensed branding from their favorite TV shows, or the promise of a prize inside the box. But to appeal to the parent who actually does the shopping, you might focus on showing that your product is healthy, meets dietary restrictions, provides good value, and makes for a convenient purchase.

It’s important to market your products to both the consumer and the shopper. These strategies are complementary, not opposed to one another. But they each require a different kind of approach.

Creating a shopper marketing strategy

To create a shopper marketing strategy, you’ll need to identify a target shopper, invest in shopper insights, and follow the customer journey. Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements.

Identify a target shopper

A good shopper marketing strategy is based on a specific type of shopper. So the first thing you must do in creating your strategy is identify your target shopper.

Your target shopper could be a parent of young children, as in our previous example. Or they could be a college student, new to purchasing all their own necessities. Or they could be a retiree, with unlimited time and extra funds to spend on themself and their family.

The target could be any specific demographic, but you’ll want to make your selection based on who the shopping data shows to be purchasers of the kinds of products you sell.

Invest in shopper insights

Having determined the shopper you will target with your shopper marketing strategy, you need to dig into the shopper insights to learn everything about their shopping behavior. This research is crucial to ensuring that your strategy specifically addresses the needs and interests of your particular target shopper.

The shopper insights you gain should include things like:

  • Where they first hear about products
  • How they plan their shopping
  • Which retailers they frequent
  • What motivates their purchase decisions (brand loyalty, convenience, price, etc.)
  • Things that cause them to deviate from their usual behaviors (sales, bundles, etc.)
  • Ways in which things like packaging, product design, or shelf placement affect their likelihood to purchase a given product

Armed with these insights, you can craft a shopper marketing strategy that pinpoints the target shoppers’ behaviors and moves them along the path to purchase.

Follow the customer journey

Because shopper marketing encompasses every stage of the customer journey, you’ll be seeking to influence the target shopper’s behavior at every step along the way.

This starts with their discovery of your product. Use those shopper insights from your research to learn where it is that shoppers initially hear about the kinds of products that you sell. Is it from influencers? Social media? Mailers? Ads? Wherever it is, that’s where you need to make an initial appeal to introduce your target shoppers to your product.

Likewise, during the customer’s exploration phase of their journey, you’ll want to make sure you’re showing up wherever they do research. Among other things, that’ll include having an optimized product page that includes not only the basic information they’ll be looking for, but also insight-driven appeals to whatever this particular target shopper needs to move them along to the purchase phase.

When they’re ready to make a purchase, your product should be available wherever they prefer to shop. This of course means consulting those shopper insights once again to be sure that the shopper’s favorite retailers carry your product. But it also means using an omnichannel approach that offers the shopper a wide variety of purchasing options.

Adding a Where to Buy solution to your product pages is an effective way to provide those options, allowing customers to move directly from doing research to making a purchase without getting distracted by other products as they navigate to their retailer of choice.

Ultimately, shopper marketing places a special emphasis on the final stretch.You make a last-minute appeal right when the shopper is considering a purchase, and that can push them past any indecision, helping to finalize the sale.

Effective shopper marketing tactics

There are a number of ways you can apply the insights you’ve gained, and a good shopper marketing strategy will often use multiple tactics. Let’s consider a few examples of what this could look like.

Use displays to grab the shopper’s attention

When a shopper walks into a store or opens an ecommerce website, they’re confronted with hundreds of thousands of products. With so many options, they won’t even notice most of the products available. You need to cut through the noise and make sure your offering stands out and grabs their attention. One effective way to do this is through the use of displays.

In a brick-and-mortar store, this can look like signs advertising your product placed throughout the store. Or even better, an end-cap display that visually and physically separates your merchandise from any other comparable options.

Be sure to use shopper insights to optimize your display as well. Consider everything from where to locate the display in the store, to the height at which to place it, to the colors and fonts it should use. These factors can all contribute to the display’s effectiveness at catching a shopper’s eye, causing them to stop and examine it, and ultimately prompting them to make a purchase. And of course, the ideal way to achieve this depends on shopper behavior for the specific target shopper you’ve selected.

On an ecommerce website, this can mean banner ads promoting your product across the site, featured placement on the home page, sponsored search results (in addition to using good SEO to rank well by default), and promoted placement in the “similar products” sections of comparable product pages.

And with ecommerce, you have greater ability to customize the experience for your particular target shopper. A display in a brick-and-mortar store will look the same for every customer, regardless of whether they’re your target shopper. But on a website, you can use browser cookies and user accounts to target your ads directly to the shoppers you’re trying to reach.

Craft an environment that considers all the senses

People shop using more of their senses than they often realize. What they hear and smell can be just as important as what they see in making a purchase decision. So it isn’t enough to focus solely on the packaging and displays for your products. You also need to make sure that retailers are presenting them in an appealing environment that is conducive to making sales.

The most obvious applications are in brick-and-mortar stores.

For example, it’s no secret that good-smelling food can make people hungry, and hunger can motivate sales of food. But your product doesn’t have to be food to benefit from smell. Regardless of the product being sold, people tend to continue shopping for longer than they otherwise would have when they’re in an environment that smells good.

A study conducted for Nike found that shoppers were 84 percent more likely to make a purchase in a room with an added floral scent than in an identical room with no added scent. Plus, shoppers were willing to pay 10 to 20 percent more for the exact same products in the scented room.

Similarly, the presence or absence of music being played in the background, along with the tempo and genre of that music, can even further influence sales. Generally speaking, music with a slower tempo tends to generate more sales than faster upbeat music. But you can use shopper insights to refine this even further for selling particular products. One study focused on wine sales, finding that classical music caused shoppers to buy more expensive wines.

Of course, if you’re selling via ecommerce, your options in this area are more limited. We don’t yet have “smellovision” hooked up to our devices, and unlike in stores, most people hate background music on websites. However, that doesn’t mean environmental factors are irrelevant.

In this case, the environment is the website itself, and simply employing good design principles for user interfaces and user experience can go a long way toward converting browsers into buyers. Thankfully, retailers heavily invest in these areas and compete to provide the highest-quality experiences—so you don’t have to. But as you choose your retail partners, you’ll want to consider what it’s like to actually shop on their site and what kind of associations that environment will create with your brand.

Additionally, some direct-to-consumer brands have experimented with branching out from ecommerce to create dedicated stores or temporary pop-ups that are able to better engage their shoppers’ senses. Consider, for example, the beauty brand Glossier. Although they prioritize ecommerce, they’ve opened a handful of physical stores and pop-ups with the express intention of creating an experience, incorporating art, augmented reality, and cafés. And it seems to be working. Their stores and pop-ups have had an average conversion rate of 50 percent and 60 percent respectively, and that’s in addition to the overall increase in brand awareness.

Entice shoppers with samples and demonstrations

If you’ve ever been to Costco, you know the power of free samples. People will literally come to the store just for their samples, and while they’re there, they make other purchases. There’s nothing like actually tasting delicious food—right next to a shelf stocked full of the stuff—to motivate shoppers to buy a pack or two to bring home.

But samples aren’t limited to food. Any small consumables could be a candidate for free samples, like makeup, perfume, or skin care products. Or you can offer branded swag, giving away things like pens, carabiners, or flashlights that will remind users of your brand every time they use it, as well as making them feel good about your brand right when they receive the free item.

If your product is too big or expensive to give away free samples, you can offer live demonstrations to grab attention and drive sales. Show shoppers how effortlessly your vacuum cleaner gets out dirt, how quickly your blender makes a fresh smoothie, or how perfectly your knife set slices through a variety of foods, and then send them home with a new purchase. And in those latter examples, you also end up with free samples of the byproduct of your product: the smoothie or the sliced foods they can try.

Ecommerce is different, but there are still ways to implement this strategy online. With some items, you may offer free samples through your direct-to-consumer channels. For example, if you sell automotive seat covers in a variety of fabrics and colors, you might send out free swatches to allow a shopper to see first-hand which option will actually look best in their car.

You can also offer downloadables. If your product is digital, the download could be a sample of the product itself. For example, if you’re selling a music album, you could give them a track to download for free. Or the downloadable could be something related to your product, such as a desktop background image showcasing your product or brand.

Demonstrations exist in ecommerce in a variety of forms. You can provide video overviews of your product, interactive media such as 360° rotatable displays, and even augmented-reality apps that allow a shopper to virtually see what your product will look like in their home.

Make use of promotions, sales, and special events

Offering a promotional discount for your product can be a great way to drive sales. When a shopper who is already considering your product sees that it is on sale, this can finalize their decision and motivate them to make the purchase right away so they don’t miss out on the deal. Alternatively, if they’re deciding between comparable products, a sale can be the determining factor to make them choose yours over another. And if the sale is significant enough to be worth advertising, it can be a reason to get shoppers in the door in the first place.

Sometimes you need to go beyond small-scale sales and samples and really make a splash with a big event. This can be a great opportunity to focus on your target shopper and create an experience that caters to their particular needs and desires.

For example, every year you see back-to-school events marketing to school kids (as the consumers) and their parents (as the target shoppers) with products the kids need as they return to the classroom.

But you don’t have to wait for an expected seasonal event. Whatever your product may be, you can reach out to your target shoppers with an event crafted around them. Let’s say you sell coffee and come out with a new brew. Make it into an event. Declare a new mini holiday around your brand, send out advertisements, offer free samples and discounts, and get people in the door to try your product and become loyal customers.

Events can work just as well for ecommerce as in brick-and-mortar stores. One need only look to Amazon’s Prime Day as a “prime” example of how effective such events can be. And you can craft your own events around whatever products you sell.

Use loyalty programs to keep shoppers coming back

Beyond securing individual purchases, shopper marketing seeks to influence shopper behavior over the long term. A single sale is great, but a shopper who keeps coming back to purchase your product over and over is even better. And that’s where loyalty programs come in.

Offer shoppers a reason to be loyal to your brand. Give them exclusive discounts or bonuses for being in your loyalty program. This will not only encourage more purchases, but it can also provide you with a wealth of additional shopper insights. Any time they make a purchase through your loyalty program, you get additional data into how your shoppers operate.

Additionally, when shoppers sign up for your loyalty program, you get their contact information, allowing you to reach out to them with updates and promotions, moving them along the customer journey.

Gain shopper insights and drive sales

In shopper marketing, it’s important for your products to be available wherever your target shoppers prefer to make their purchases. One of the best ways to accomplish this is with Where to Buy. It allows shoppers to move effortlessly from research to purchasing by following through to the retailer of their choice—whether that be online or in a store.

Our live reporting dashboard also gives you invaluable shopper insights into purchasing behavior across all retail partners. You can use these insights to better understand your target shopper and further hone your shopper marketing strategy.

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