Change is everywhere. Aging Boomers are moving in with their children, and Millennials linger at home. Dual-income families are more commonplace than ever. And in just three decades, the number of women in the workforce has risen by 20%, shifting their traditional purchasing roles in the marketplace. Many of us have seen our jobs become more time-consuming and demanding, as management wants round-the-clock attention and faster servicing.

Shifts in lifestyle are also affecting the way consumers interact with brands. The brand-consumer relationship has transformed dramatically before our eyes and continues to do so.

Moreover, new technologies are changing the shopping experience.

Those changes are so profound that even something as fundamental as grocery shopping is evolving in completely new ways.

Using grocery consumer packaged goods (CPG) as the lens through which we view those changes, we can start to proactively influence change rather than just react to the new consumer. Intelligent shopper insights can help ignite change and inspiration, and allow brands to thrive in a changing landscape.

Where We Came From

Research on shopping behaviors with CPG is not new. It originated with pioneering research Daniel Starch in the early 20th century. He researched and devised methods to assess the effectiveness of advertising based on CPG purchase behaviors. His research explored consumer recall and interest based on brand advertising—a model used by large companies like General Mills, Proctor & Gamble and many more.

Those early models were widely adopted and evolved very little until the 1980s and 1990s, when the "emotional" element was added.

Digital Paradigm

There has been a lot of denial and resistance to how digital would change our lives as researchers, marketers, and the brands we represent. Initially, we didn't understand how big the digital wave would be—nor its widespread repercussions.

In the early 2000s, the epic failures of many of the more promising "dotcoms" seemed to reassure us that changes to our model were not eminent.

As digital influence rose and affected all parts of life, however, many companies had to scramble to keep up. We started "duct-taping" existing models to show they can still work—treating digital as just another channel in a multipronged marketing campaign. That didn't work either.

We are missing the mark with the new consumer.

What Grocery Can Tell Us

Grocery is changing and will be shopped entirely differently in the next few years. Shopping apps, beacons, loyalty programs, virtual and augmented reality, and more are creating a sea change in the retail sector. Millennials and Gen Z (Digital Natives) are approaching grocery shopping differently than previous generations did.

The new generations have an openness, a promiscuous attitude, toward products as well as a propensity to spend more on higher-quality products that resonate with them on a social level—sustainable, cause-oriented, local, etc. The interplay of price and the added value of a quality or interesting product is very fluid. These shoppers can change priorities often.

Based on data from 1,000 shoppers who have bought groceries in the last 24 hours, plus data from shopper journey studies collected over the past six years, we found some interesting trends:

  • 47% of Digital Natives look for product recommendations and suggestions before buying (vs. 31% of older generations)
  • 57% love to be the first to know about new products (vs. 42% of older generations)
  • 64% like to browse aisles to discover new products (vs. 55% of older generations)

In short, the Digital Native must be the center of the shopping experience. Interactions with a brand must be easy and convenient, and hit every touchpoint the shopper wishes to explore. From chatter on social media to help the decision-making process all the way to purchase and delivery, the entire process must be seamless.

The traditional siloed framework for marketing and selling don't work. Brands must create an end-to-end process that thinks of the new consumer first at every step.

What Now?

Everything about the way we shop is different and will continue to evolve, according to research. "Duct-taping" doesn't work anymore. Old models should be discarded, and we should rethink the way we do market brands from the ground up as if we were inventing it today. That can mean everything from using new tools for market research, such as digital engagement and reframing the treatment of research respondents, all the way to completely revamping the markers we select for brand success.

Today's digital consumer may not be loyal, but we can measure things like awareness, consideration, and advocacy for a picture of performance.

To fit the demands of the new consumer, brands need to provide clear, easy access to information. We are used to having every question answered with a simple touch on the screen. Brands need to give their target audiences the information they need so that they don't find it elsewhere. Finding that sweet spot where things like price, value, and meaning come together can help change the way brands are marketing.

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We Are How We Eat: How Grocery Shopping Data Reveals the New Consumer

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image of Rebecca Brooks

Rebecca Brooks is co-founder and partner at Alter Agents, a market research company committed to helping admired brands ignite action with powerful shopper insights.

LinkedIn: Rebecca Brooks