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The problem with the way typical consumers shop

Elliot Begoun
A customer's trip to the grocery store is difficult to interrupt. But brands must do just that.

One of the oddities of doing what I do for a living is that I no longer just grocery shop. Instead, I feel compelled to treat every trip to the store as market research. I wander the aisles looking at the products, merchandising, pricing, brands and packaging. I am highly aware when something new appears on the shelf and equally so when something disappears. I look at endcaps and find it fascinating to see what is on sale and at what price point. I look at close competitors and see how they are battling for share of stomach.

I am guessing, if you are reading this, that you do the same. Maybe you focus on one category, but it’s research nonetheless and like me, you are failing to see the shopping experience through the lens of the consumer.

I want to take you on a “normal” trip to the grocery store. Close your eyes for a moment. Wait, scrub that because if you do you can’t continue reading. Instead, visualize what I am about to describe.

It’s Sunday afternoon with your shopping list in tow, you enter the sliding doors of your neighborhood store. You are kind of a germaphobe, so you use one of the wipes on the cart before you start zig zagging your way through it. One more glance at your list and you’re off. Based on the number of items and busyness of the parking lot, you figure you can get all your shopping done in 20 minutes. You go to the right and enter the produce section where hundreds of fresh fruits and veggies await. Working your way toward the back, you hit the service deli to pick up some sliced turkey and cheese, then continue to work your way up and down the aisles. You rarely pause for long; you know the place on the shelf where each item will be found. Unless there is a specific brand that is called for on your list, you make a quick glance at the yellow tag and determine the best value. You’ve got this down to a science; it’s habitual and you’ve become highly efficient. Occasionally, you trip over a display in the middle of an aisle or notice something on an endcap, but for the most part it is a head-down exercise. Twenty minutes later you are in line at the checkout counter. Only then do you notice that Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup and toss one in your cart on impulse.

Why this illustration you ask? Because, what I just described is the typical shopper you are trying to court. It is this person that somehow you need to interrupt from their habitual trip getting them to discover your product, buy it, try it and buy it again. Sounds crazy, right? What are the odds? Yet, this is exactly what you need to do in order to launch your product successfully in retail grocery.

You may be feeling pretty good about the number of doors you’re in or shelves you’re on. But, I ask you what are you going to do to create shopper interruption, to get discovered and drive trial? Unless you can answer with confidence, I’d suggest you be very cautious how quickly you grow your distribution. You must recognize that retail grocery is not built for discovery. Rather, it’s built around the fact that as humans we’re both ritualistic and habitual creatures and if you don’t have plan to overcome that, you risk failure.

Elliot Begoun is the founder of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow. He positions CPG brands to raise capital, prove velocity, gain distribution, drive revenue, win share of stomach and scale.

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