"Shoppers don't always care about retail theatre" (Torben Valsted, TV Consult)

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When it comes to shopper marketing, “experience” is often a misunderstood term: shoppers do not primarily come to a shop to waste their time with events. In order to find out what they do want, you need to invest in insights and analysis. "Understanding shopper behaviour is so important, and yet undervalued."


The wrong question

"How often does it happen that you walk into a shop and a salesperson asks 'Can I help you?' And what is your answer? Usually 'No, thanks, I'll just look around'. That is the wrong question: it ends the conversation right away", shopper marketing expert Torben Valsted, who has had extensive experience with big names such as Carlsberg, Nestlé and Nike, says. “Which is why research often incorrectly shows that shoppers do not want to be served by in-store staff. It is partly because they are asked the wrong questions. Sometimes it just is that simple."


Valsted is passionate about understanding shoppers and consumers. "I think companies need to learn distinguishing between the two. Everyone wants to be 'consumer-centric': that means you build the perception of your brand. But if you want to generate loyalty, you must find the right mix between consumers and their perception on the one hand, and shoppers' behaviour on the other. In retail, you can build on perceptions but it's mainly a behavioural driven game."


The problem with perception

Marketers are sometimes too preoccupied with what they themselves think is cool, and with the message they want to send to the consumer in the store - who is actually a shopper. "Then we lose track: it is about what we want as a company, and no longer about what the shopper wants." This then leads to new concepts such as experiential retail. But experience is a term that is misunderstood, Valsted thinks. Retailers start organising one-off events, retail becomes too much theatre.


"If shoppers really want that, you have to do it. Personally, I think shoppers are not attracted primarily by retail theatre. They are on a mission: they want to inform themselves about products, they want to buy a specific product, they want to look around... But most of the time, I do not think they come to your store to spend time on events. Marketing people live under the delusion that consumers will spend half an hour in a Nike type of store, but they do not: they spend five minutes in a 300 sqm store. That is all you have to create the right experience and influence their behaviour.”


Moments of truth

Perception is about understanding all the moments of truth throughout the entire customer journey, the "shopper funnel", Valsted elaborates. We sometimes underestimate the frictions we create throughout that customer journey. "Because what is a 'moment of truth'? A moment in time when shoppers are willing to turn around and end the customer journey because they are not happy or feeling motivated to move on."


Sometimes it is about the simplest things, but you only find out when you start measuring and analysing them. "I have been working with StoreDNA, a company specialising in shopper insights, for years. We use cameras to understand how shoppers behave in a store. That is very interesting and sometimes you get surprised. In one store, there was a bench in front of a wall of shoes. The retailer did not understand why the conversion of that wall was rather low. We put the bench one meter back, and sales increased by 120 %. The bench was in their way: people do not like narrow spaces."


Atheists in church

"We did research for a car dealer. Now, buying a car, that is a purchase done with consideration: you would think that you can not change much from a merchandising perspective. In food retail you know you sell more at eye level, but at a car dealer? And yet... This dealer had different models arranged by colour. We thought that was out of sync with consumer behaviours, so we suggested changing the layout. That increased conversion by over 25 %! In a car showroom! If it can be done there, it can be done anywhere."


Understanding shopper behaviour is hugely important and often undervalued. Most retailers have counters: they know how many shoppers come into the stores, they know the conversion rates, the number of transactions... But we have seen many retailers only use these numbers for publishing in their weekly reports, not to understand why traffic is dropping or why the conversion rate is what it is.... “The overload of non-actionable reporting often leads to 'analysis paralysis'. It can turn decision-makers into what is something like atheists who still go to church on Sunday, just in case... They have the report, but are they really going to work on it? Probably not. Then they fall back on gut feeling or, at best, experience."


Informed decisions

Improving the relationship with the shopper is an ongoing process. Only when you consistently and persistently research what shoppers want in order to serve them better, can you make informed decisions that increase conversion. Retailers should not only invest in insights, but also put a team behind it that takes action.


"I am fascinated by what happens when you bring people together and create synergy. It is like geese flying in a V-formation: they can travel up to 2,000 kilometres in one day, at maximum speeds of 110 kilometres per hour. By flying in a V-formation, they save 50 to 70 % of the energy they would otherwise expend. They constantly change their position. You can learn a lot from that, from a leadership perspective. When we bring insights & analytics together with the business functions in our companies, we can fly further and faster. I am not claiming that we should completely get rid of gut feeling and experience, but we can make better informed decisions."


The path to a better future

Torben Valsted calls himself a 'business imagineer', a contraction of 'imagine' and 'engineer': "I imagine what a better future looks like and then work like an engineer on the path that leads there." He will explain how he goes about this at the Trade & Shopper Marketing Congress of RetailDetail and LD&Co, which takes place on Thursday 30 September in the Antwerp Stadsfeestzaal. Speakers from Carrefour, Pepsico and Shopperware will also be present that day.


It will be a hybrid event: 200 tickets are available for participants who want to experience the congress on the spot. Physical networking is possible again. Others can follow the live stream from a distance. More info and tickets can be found via this link.