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Hooking the Shopper In-Store

Trying to second guess the thought processes of the consumer as they progress through a store is an ongoing obsession for retail marketers. Recent research from Marketforce seeks to shed light on what impact in-store promotional mechanics have on magazine purchasing behaviour. Christina Lucas and Natalie McCaffery summarise the key findings.

By Christina Sequeira

With an industry spend of over £30m annually on retail promotions, it’s essential that publishers and their distributors understand the relative effectiveness of each mechanic in their in-store arsenal. There are three points to the successful promotions triangle:

* the supply / demand dynamic between distributor and retailer, including compliance;
* the financial RSV return on investment for the issue promoted;
* the shopper’s behaviour and attitude to promotions in-store.

Recent research conducted by the Consumer Insight division at Marketforce has unearthed some revealing new findings about that most vital but often overlooked point on the promotions triangle: the shopper.

Conducted in September and October 2007, the study’s core objective was to investigate the impact of promotional mechanics on shopper behaviour. The findings are already helping us deliver shopper-focused (rather than title-focused) promotions.


A series of in-store qualitative clinics were held country-wide at Asda, Sainsbury’s and WHSmith High Street stores by retail research experts SPA ( Following these, over 600 quantitative in-store interviews were held at the magazine fixtures. Both purchasers and non-purchasers were interviewed to establish what didn’t work as well as what did. Interviews were held across a range of times and days to ensure a representative sample.

Defining the shopping mission

Truly understanding the consumer’s behaviour at retail starts with understanding the nature of their shopping mission. The magazine purchasing approach varied across the three stores and, in the grocery channel, was determined by the type of shop intended: main shop, top up or replenishment. For Asda and Sainsbury’s shoppers, unsurprisingly, the mission was the main grocery shop, and customers purchased their regular magazine from the newsstand. While Asda shoppers were less prone to browsing - reflecting tighter incomes and value-led shopping habits – at Sainsbury’s, shoppers did browse and were more open to new titles due to their more upmarket shopper profile and higher spend-per-item purchasing behaviour.

Of course, magazines are a core category offer in WHSmith’s, so customers mainly visited with a specific purchase in mind. They tended to head straight for the appropriate magazine sector and then browse within their area of interest.

Grocery shoppers bought magazines more frequently than the high street customers – 44% of Asda shoppers buy magazines once a week or more compared to 33% at WHSmith. Conversely, a third of WHSmith shoppers buy magazines once a month versus just over a quarter at Asda. For Sainsbury’s, 36% buy once a week or more and 31% once a month.

Magazines engage

When customers were asked how much they enjoy shopping various categories in grocers, magazines outperformed all other areas with 63% of respondents enjoying shopping the category. This compares incredibly well with the likes of bakery at 49%, 41% for health and beauty and 36% for beers, wines and spirits. Definitive proof that magazines really do enhance the shopping experience. Both Sainsbury’s and Asda were praised for their clear, simple and well-organised layout - familiar and unchanging, making the category relatively easy to navigate and shop.

Unsurprisingly, 88% of WHSmith shoppers enjoy shopping the magazine category versus 68% for books, 50% for stationery and cards and just 32% for music. Shoppers welcome the wide variety of titles and clear signage in WHSmith, recognising their role as a magazine specialist range retailer.

Three shopper types

For all outlets, we identified three shopper types: Browsers, Searchers and Loyalists.

The Browser’s purchase is determined by looking at covers, headlines and content – whatever catches their eye. These shoppers are the most susceptible to promotions and are inclined to purchase both weekly and monthly titles.

The Searchers have a set repertoire or sub-sector in mind when shopping and will look within that specific range to choose a magazine. Being slightly more knowledgeable about magazines, they can be less influenced by promotions but will respond if something is well targeted to them.

The final group are the hardest to sway as they are loyal to their title, often a specialist monthly magazine. Their trip to the newsstand is purposeful and habit driven, so promotions can often be overlooked. Promotions can be used as a reward for loyalty or a confirmation of a choice well made.

Only 3% of respondents could be classified as true impulse purchasers: that is, with no intention of buying a magazine at all before going into the store. Just over a quarter know what type of magazine they want, but don’t have a particular one in mind. But seven out of ten, say that they know exactly which magazine to buy before shopping.

The research clearly indicates which promotions from the retail arsenal work most effectively for the shopper type publishers may want to target.

Retail promotional mechanics

Over a quarter of respondents claim overt awareness of promotional activity in connection with the magazine they purchased. However, 62% did not consciously notice communication around the magazine category. There will of course be a high degree of subconscious but less powerful influence, given the high level of planned and semi-planned purchasing behaviour.

* Newscubes. Primarily associated with newspapers. Location near chilled cabinets increased noticeability. 28% of respondents said they often buy a magazine along with a newspaper here. 36% would buy a magazine here if on offer with their regular newspaper, presenting opportunity for publishers. Newscubes foster a "grab and go" attitude - ideal for buying magazines in a hurry. The format isn’t about browsing, making it perfectly suited for targeting Searchers or Loyalists - but better signposting, replenishment and branding than present. Women’s weeklies – with their high cross-purchase with newspapers like the Mirror and the Daily Mail and high purchase frequency – are core magazine sectors to promote here.

* Till Points. Achieved a high noticeability rate at 57%. One in five had also purchased magazines from a till point. This was higher for Asda at 30%, and, overall, weeklies were bought most. As the majority of those who purchase from the till units also browse the main magazine shelves, there is no cannibalisation but a high level of true impulse purchasing. 39% of respondents would pick up a magazine both at the shelves and at the till. A further 37% will pick up at the tills if they don’t buy at the shelves, giving an excellent second chance for publishers. Around 13% will specifically buy from the tills rather than elsewhere in store.

* Recommended Reads, etc. Experienced the most criticism from shoppers. Over half claim never to notice them, rising to 62% in WHSmith. Most don’t act on a recommendation, finding some communication inappropriately placed or designed. While Browsers can be influenced, better use of shopper language and an explanation of who is recommending which title is key in articulating a reason for the promotion.

* Fins. Use within the magazine shelves did succeed in drawing the shopper’s attention, however they are rarely noticed as a promotional device. Often perceived as clutter, it’s important to avoid them looking tatty or untidy as this will reflect on both the magazine brand and store. Again, using shopper language is vital – eg "not to be missed" or "for this week only".

* WHSmith beacon branding. A relatively new tool to frame the category and individual sectors within it. It works well with infrequent or new shoppers – primarily Searchers – giving clear direction to a sector. The most useful sector messages stated were category headings at eye level with differentiating colours.

* Free standing units. When asked about free standing units, shoppers – especially Browsers – found them to be useful if well maintained. The better quality units reflect well on the titles displayed and help navigate shoppers into the whole magazine section itself.

* End of aisle displays. Generally seen as good promotional vehicles, highly visible, positioned neatly within flow and synonymous with the grocer itself. Shoppers are used to these locations presenting offers, and so an ideal opportunity exists for value promotions.

Honing the message and targeting effectively

The research has thrown new light not just on varied shopping missions – and key types of shopper – but how they relate to the established in-store mechanics. While some communications are working hard, it’s also clear many shoppers find the environments too ‘noisy’ and cluttered. Fewer, bigger promotions could work better. Calls to action employing customer language often cut through, and can convert non-purchasers, as can clear promotions focused at specific shoppers.

Magazines are a high-involvement, high-interest category. Marketforce’s annual ROI analysis shows that the return for every £100 invested has increased by 24% year on year. Understanding shopper motivations and behaviours - combined with a grounded focus on the other two points of the retail promotion triangle – is fundamental to helping publishers truly optimise their retail spend.