Blogs & Comment

What’s the difference between a consumer and a shopper?

New TBWA shopper marketing arm Integer brings its game to Canada.

(Photo: Randall Beard)

Thousands upon thousands of marketing messages slap our eyeballs all day, every day and, accordingly, we’ve become pretty good at ignoring them. This has made things increasingly difficult for marketers to actually break through and get a message across.

This, of course, is nothing new. But marketers are taking more significant steps to figure out just how to deal with this challenge. The category of shopper marketing, or marketing at the retail level, is one specialty dedicated to collecting data that goes beyond how we feel about a particular brand to what actually causes us to grab it off the shelf.

Marcus Evans is the managing director of the newly minted Integer Canada office, arriving in Toronto after setting up the agency’s operation in Dubai. Integer, part of the TBWA ad agency group, has offices in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North and South America with a client list that includes Proctor and Gamble, Kellogg’s, Visa, Johnson & Johnson, 7Eleven, Nissan, Michelin and Polaris. He says there is a fundamental difference between the consumer and the shopper, even though they exist within the same individual person.

“What a consumer thinks and feels and what a shopper ultimately does are sometimes totally different,” he says. “We’ve been working with battery manufacturers and we talk to consumers and they might say, ‘I’m a Duracell customer through and through. I know why it’s a better product, why it saves me money over time, etc.’ Then you go to their home and open up the remote control or the flashlight and you’ll see Energizers, private label, all different kinds of batteries. All this even though they tell you they love Duracell.”

The work done by Evans’ agency and others like it, such as DDB Canada’s recent addition Shopper DDB, is to use research and data on the Canadian market to give brands an upper hand. And while Integer will also use research done in the U.S. and other parts of the world, Evans says it’s important to see the Canadian market as distinct. Canadians, it turns out, are quite the planners when it comes to grocery shopping. Recent agency research showed that 51% of Canadian shoppers always use a list, compared to 43% in the U.S.

But how do they find all this out? It’s a combination of tactics that range from online surveys to anonymously watching shoppers in a store to actually going home with them to peek in their cupboards. “When we’re working with a particular client, we’ll do two-week shopper studies where we get shoppers to fill out a log of what they’re doing, thinking, how they’re behaviour changes, where they go to buy stuff, what happens when they go shopping,” says Evans. “Then we analyze it and, on the basis of that work, we accompany shoppers for a half-day to go shopping with them.”

That includes exercises where shoppers are asked to look at a shelf for three seconds, then turn around and say what they saw. Because for many shoppers, especially in places like the grocery store, that’s the amount of time a brand has to get your attention.

Integer also publishes public reports on a variety of shopper habits, primarily from an American point of view, ranging across subjects like holiday shopping trends and coupon usage.

“It’s really important for us to understand what happens in the store, when at the last minute that shopper’s hand goes out to pick up one product, then veers off and picks up another,” says Evans. “What happened in that split-second? It could be as simple as price. And all the incredible advertising that other brand may have done is completely thrown out the window.”

So how will this sudden influx of shopper marketing specialists affect the Canadian market? Evans thinks you’ll be pleasantly surprised. “As we get smarter and understand in more detail what shoppers want both in terms of products and offers, the shopping experience will be more interesting, more pleasant and a bit cheaper.”