Shopper behaviour is changing drastically and rapidly, and advances in technology are making it easier to track these shifts.
Nielsen is at the forefront of these changes having recently introduced its new Smartstore tool. South Africa is only the sixth market in the world to have access to the tool, ahead even of the US and UK!
Smartstore is an immersive virtual reality (VR) retail experience, with the technology able to fully recreate the layout, look and feel of a bricks and mortar store (either already in existence or planned for the future). This allows for the shopper’s journey through the store to be tested and evaluated.
“We’re bringing together the smart integration of store planning, merchandising and shopper research techniques to not only get richer insights into shopper behaviour, but to also convert them into something actionable for clients,” comments Erin Feeney-McKinney, from the business process improvement division at Nielsen.
The virtual store is fully customisable for the client’s needs and it doesn’t only include visual elements, but audio ones as well. The tool is also fully portable, fitting in a suitcase, and can run without an internet connection.
Two nifty features of the system are, firstly, the playback function, which allows the shopper journey to be immediately reviewed and key moments tagged for review, and secondly, a video selfie mode, which garners deeper shopper insights than traditional research methods.
Why the need for Smartstore?
On average, a consumer makes 56 shopping trips per month (including once-off coffee stops). They visit an array of locations, allowing Nielsen to track seven different mission types (up from just three: bulk shopping, top-up, and eat/drink now). With these added elements it was necessary for a research tool to be created to track them. This is why Nielsen created Smartstore.
“We needed something to help us move with the rapidly changing shopper environment. It comes from an increasing need to combine the ‘what shoppers do’, the quantitative bit, with the ‘why shoppers do it’, the emotional understanding of them (qualitative), to understand the shopper as a whole,” explains Kim Reddy, director of consumer insights at Nielsen.
“Retail is also evolving rapidly and we need to test the future for consumers, more so now than ever before,” she adds.
Eager attendees queued round the conference room at the Houghton Country Club to try the offering.
Here’s a look at how the Smartstore tool works and what users experience:
Not as disruptive and more affordable
Feeney-McKinney cites three other benefits of Smartstore. Firstly, the ability to test the shopper experience without disrupting a retailer and their physical store, and shoppers themselves. Secondly, it is more affordable than a physical in-store assessment, and thirdly, retailers can test the layout and design of a new store, without the possibility that its look will be seen by consumers or even competitors.
Grounded in research
A lot of the basis for Smartstore comes from Nielsen’s latest Shopper Trends Report.
Some of the major findings include:
- Supermarkets still remain the key channel for the majority of shopping but spaza shops are becoming more popular as a top up or emergency channel. On the go shopping is serviced by convenience stores or garage forecourts.
- Food inflation is increasing grocery spend, but shoppers are buying less items.
- Shoppers are planning what they buy, not on impulse. But while in store they are looking for price changes and specials.
- Shoppers are tending to stick to what they know and need. Getting them to try something new needs to offer a compelling argument.
- Consumers still buy luxuries, but are cutting down on these due to the rising cost of essentials.
“Price, value for money and convenience are still the key drivers when people are looking for what channel to shop at,” reveals Reddy.
She adds that, “Shoppers are adding more trips, stores, mission types and reasons to their shopping experience. They are becoming ever increasingly more complex”.
Also, despite tough economic times forcing consumers to tighten their purse strings, the latest Consumer Confidence Index highlights that the majority of shoppers still have a positive outlook for the future.
Here are some pictures from the event:
Michael Bratt is a multimedia journalist at Wag the Dog, publishers of The Media Online and The Media. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelBratt8