Consumers Shop Back to Front

Sep 09, 2002

After five months of observation and 60,000 shoppers, Sorensen Associates can tell you a lot about how consumers move throughout a supermarket (at least one store in an affluent area near Portland, OR).

Here are some of Sorensen Associates’ findings as reported in the ‘ Great Minds in Marketing’ e-newsletter.

  1. Consumers do not shop every aisle.

  2. – According to Herb Sorensen, principal of Sorensen Associates, “Most consumers grab a cart, head to the right through the produce department and stick to the perimeter of the store or the ‘racetrack.’” Aisles, when entered, are generally done so from the rear of the store.

  3. Consumers speed up decision-making as the shopping trip progresses.

  4. – A consumer takes just over 28 seconds deciding which salad dressing to purchase at the beginning of a trip. If the same consumer goes looking for salad dressing at the end of the shopping trip, a decision takes place in less than 9 seconds.

  5. Placement is usually more important than product.

  • Typically, consumers stop about 4 feet in after entering the aisle from the rear of the store.

  • Most products aren’t purchased from eye-level on the shelf. The majority of purchases take place about 40 inches off the ground or “belly button level”.

  • Shoppers buy products from the left side of the aisle (coming from the rear of the store) almost twice as much from the other side.

  • Strong merchandising is essential at the beginning of the shopping trip. Sorensen observers that “by the time people get to the 4th aisle most have begun to exit”.

Herb Sorensen will be a featured speaker at IIR’s Insights in Action Conference coming up next week, 9/19 – 20, in New York, The URL for the Sorensen Associate’s site is

Moderator’s Comment: How well do supermarkets align
planogram and display practices with shopping patterns and consumer purchasing
behavior? Where are the biggest opportunities for improving execution/compliance
at store-level?

Tracking how consumers shop has become a science. Unfortunately,
merchandising to those same consumers is still largely art. There are too few
artists in the business today.

Manufacturers often grumble about the lack of display
and POS material compliance at store-level. In the past, we’ve had some suggest
to us that achieving a 50% compliance rate was almost reason to celebrate. Stores,
for their part, will blame lack of communication with headquarters, local reps,
brokers and/or lack of bodies for execution deficiencies.

Of course, there are also slotting allowances to account
for. How many times, particularly at checkout, do you find a clutter of products
displayed for no other reason than a manufacturer having deep enough pockets
to secure the space? [George
Anderson – Moderator

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