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Inside the Customer's Head.

NEW YORK -- Category management has done much to rationalize and increase the profitability of retailers' product offerings. But a recent nationwide study by Harris Interactive suggests that category managers may now have available a tool that will provide a new level of understanding of consumers' purchasing behavior.

A ShopperInsight survey of 5,797 respondents on the Internet earlier this year focused on how consumers shop 44 food and nonfood categories at their primary supermarkets and why they switch from those stores to other supermarkets or other retail classes of trade.

While the survey yielded important findings on a channel level, the greater significance of the study lies in its methodology and focus, which goes beyond purchase data to uncover customers' attitudes and motives.

According to vice president of consumer packaged goods research Peter Gold, current category management methods fail to deliver a basic understanding of shoppers' behavior.

"Purchase data, whether obtained from point-of-sale scanning or consumer panel home scanning, leaves shoppers' motives and needs to be inferred," he explains. "So transactional data can't reveal why consumers behave the way they do. What we try to do with ShopperInsight is get inside people's heads and find out why they shop where they do and why they switch from one store or format to another. If a retailer can understand these behaviors then they can address the issues revealed."

While the study concentrated on shoppers' relationships with their main supermarkets, the results also revealed their expectations when shopping other trade classes, not to mention highlighting their varied approaches and priorities when shopping different categories.

Gold contends that attitudinal data enables category managers to understand how and where consumers shop particular categories and why they prefer certain retailers.

For example, among the study's major findings was the relatively weak loyalty shoppers feel toward their supermarkets when it comes to shopping for nonfood items, especially health and beauty aids. Most respondents, in fact, preferred to shop these categories at discount stores, drug stores and even warehouse clubs.

Reasons, however, varied from one category to another. While a lower price at discounters was the main driver for shoppers who switched to buy cough/cold remedies, the availability of particular brands and wider selection was an important factor in the case of such segments as cosmetics, women's hair color, hand and body lotion, and face creams.

"These results, however, don't show the depth of information that can be generated from looking at the the key competitive chains within a particular market," Gold points out. "A customized approach allows us to produce data that's really relevant for the retailer."

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Author:Jacobson, Greg
Publication:MMR
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 23, 2001
Words:432
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