The Digital Signage Insider

Miller Zell Shopper Behavior Survey Provides Insights Into Consumer Buying Behavior

Published on: 2009-01-14

I was hoping the good folks at Miller Zell would publish the initial findings from their 2009 Shopper Behavior Survey before I wrote this week's post, and lo and behold, they did. MZ is one of those companies that has been working on shopper marketing since long before it was even a buzzword, so I treat them like a bellwether for our little digital corner of the industry. I also tend to believe their research findings a bit more than those of the average joe marketing company. With all the questions I've been getting about how the recession will impact retailers and retail media, I'm quite excited to hear what a 'real' expert like Miller Zell thinks about the topic -- and see how their findings compare to our own internal and external observations.

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Before I get started on the MZ survey findings, I'd like to remind any readers who didn't fill out last week's survey to do so now. We're already harvesting data from the 100-odd folks who've told us what they'd do to make the WireSpring blog better (thanks, folks!), but I want to make sure that everybody who wants to have a say in the matter does. It's 10 questions and takes 2 minutes to complete, which is really no time at all (unless you're caught on fire or something). Click here to take the survey.

With that out of the way, let's get back to the subject of this article...

What's the Miller Zell survey about?

Obviously, the tail end of 2008 caught a lot of people -- from consumers to Fortune 500 CEOs -- by surprise. The suddenness and ferocity of the financial collapse combined with a generally negative long-term economic outlook managed to force hundreds of thousands of people out of jobs, and is already being likened to the Great Depression (by people who have absolutely no recollection of exactly how bad that was, mind you). In their own words, "Miller Zell undertook execution of a shopper behavior survey to look at how current economic conditions are impacting the shopping behaviors of men compared with women. The survey also sought to understand how shoppers felt their buying behaviors would change in the next six months." In the process, they also gained some valuable insight into the way shopping in general is changing. (To get a copy of the study, you can sign up on Miller Zell's blog.) My goal is to take some of those findings and suggest ways that digital signage owners and users can take advantage of them.

Playing the gender card

Unsurprisingly, the MZ survey found that "the general trend across age, gender and income [levels] was to reduce spending, trade down and brand switch to private label product." However, drilling down into that result indicated that "females were far more likely than males to be more cautious about economic conditions, trade down products and shopping locations (e.g. national brand to private label brand or premium retailer to discount retailer) and reduce overall home expenditures than males." Likewise, the survey found that "females are driving tighter fiscal discipline in the household including the reduction of family night out."

Your in-store messaging obviously can't focus on male shoppers at the expense of females, since each gender does roughly half of a household's shopping. But by using store demographics, you might be able to optimize your messaging to whichever gender is more likely to be in the store at the time. The key here is subtlety. I've seen a couple of signs lately at the Fort Lauderdale airport that either tried to guess the viewer's gender or, more likely, just randomly showed some content heavily geared toward one or the other. In this case, it was a ridiculously expensive day spa versus Humvees. (No, not Hummers, I'm talking about genuine military surplus, 5200 lb. light armored vehicles.) Instead of redesigning your spots to have male and female versions, make a single spot with two variants: one that emphasizes your lower cost or higher value proposition, and another focusing on features and non-price benefits. Since the research indicates that the females will be the more difficult group to sway, make the default version of your ad the value-centric one, and save the feature-centric one for known peak male shopping periods.

Return of the "pre-shoppers"

Way back in March 2007, we did an article on optimizing your in-store media for pre-shoppers. Our recommendations at that time included focusing on messages that could be understood in three seconds or less, ensuring that shoppers could identify the brand of product being advertised at a distance of five feet in under five seconds, and to use visual lists to help pre-shoppers check against their own research lists. Of course, in March 2007 those pre-shoppers generally tended to be Millennials and others who rely heavily on the Internet to do price comparisons and research before going shopping. These days, financial constraints have forced many more people to turn to the 'Net before heading to the store. A full 60% of MZ survey respondents indicated that they were pre-planning more today versus a year ago, typically relying on online research to get the job done.

When it comes to pre-shoppers, our original recommendations still apply. To get started on your content strategy for this group, begin with the article I linked to above, and then check out our series on making digital signage content that's memorable and effective. Including a checklist in your content is a great way to appeal to pre-shoppers, particularly for complex or feature-rich products. But you'll want to make sure that viewers have at least a sporting chance of reading and actually remembering some of the items on your list, right?

Brands beware!

The last major takeaway from the Miller Zell survey is that in tough times, shoppers will turn away from trusted but more expensive name brands, and instead try out private label products. A third of the survey respondents have switched to store brand apparel and 87% have switched brands in grocery. Considering all the attention that private label brands have received in the in-store marketing arena over the past few years, I'd say that the switch to these products is maybe only 50% driven by the economy. The other 50% of switchers have probably started to realize that store brands today often rival or exceed the quality of their big brand counterparts.

While many stores already advertise their house brands on their digital media networks, name brands may have a harder time connecting with shoppers. Fortunately, expert marketers know that the store is a great place to conduct brand-building exercises. And whether you believe POPAI's estimate that 75% of shoppers make brand decisions at retail, or Ogilvy's more conservative 43% figure, there's little doubt that many of today's shoppers are open to trying a brand they might not have considered before -- or returning to an old favorite that offers superior value.

How is the recession changing the types of messages that brands send to shoppers? Do you think we'll see any change in the content running on digital signage networks? Leave a comment to let us know -- you can even do it anonymously if you like.

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