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Study Identifies Four Shopper Mind-Sets That Determine How We Shop

What Kind of Shopper are You?


Why do shoppers buy the same brand of coffee and mayonnaise over and over again, but will often purchase different brands of cold cereal and chocolates? It's not by chance, according to a study by The Nielsen Company. Nielsen's study of shopper behavior shows that shoppers have defined shopping modes at the supermarket that determines what ends up in their grocery bags.

"Shoppers don't waste energy on everyday decisions," said Manjima Khandelwal, senior vice president, Nielsen Customized Research. "To simplify their lives, shoppers are often in grab-and-go mode, reaching for the brands they usually buy without reading the label or checking the price."

The study, which reviewed consumer shopping behavior across 30 food categories, found that shoppers adopt one of four different "shopping modes" as they cruise the supermarket aisles. Key characteristics of the shopping modes - auto-pilot, variety-seeking, buzz or bargain hunting are:


In auto-pilot, or grab-and-go mode, shoppers are making everyday, habitual decisions driven by brand choices and they are usually not in the market to try anything new. For example, Nielsen's research found that shoppers were quite particular about their coffee, choosing the same caffeine fix, flavor and coffee experience.

Common Auto-Pilot Products - Margarine, Mayonnaise, Bottled water, Nuts, Coffee, Popcorn, Soft drinks, Hot cereal, Cheese, Cold cuts


In the variety-seeking mode, shoppers are browsing shelves actively and on the lookout for new tastes as well as interesting product innovations or products offering "surprise" in their role as household chef.

Common Variety-Seeking Products - Cookies, Salad dressing, Chewing gum, Salty snacks, Breakfast bars, Frozen snacks, Candy, Frozen desserts/entrees


"Shoppers are most likely to be influenced by catchy advertising, new product introductions and the original packaging that leaps off the shelves and grabs interest and attention," said Khandelwal.

Common Buzz Products - Energy and sports drinks, chocolate, ready-to-drink teas and yogurt drinks.


Bargain-hunted categories are driven purely by price comparison and promotions. "Shoppers in this shopping mode are on a mission and the mission is savings," said Deepak Varma, senior vice president, Nielsen Customized Research.

Common Bargain Hunting Products - Canned tuna, canned tomatoes, cheese, canned fruit and pasta sauce are items most often purchased in the bargain-hunting mode.

Switching Your Mode to Bargain Hunting

Knowing what kind of shopping mode you fall under is important if your goal is to become a bargain hunter.
  • Making the Switch from Auto-Pilot to Bargain Hunting
    Make a list of items you buy in the auto-pilot mode. Other products we probably buy on auto-pilot include milk, eggs, some cleaning products and pet food. Knowing what we buy on auto-pilot can help us break the mode and search for bargains rather than just favorite brands.

  • Making the Switch from Variety-Seeking to Bargain Hunting
    "Shoppers seem to get bored with the same choices in certain categories," said Varma. "We found shoppers on the lookout for a change of pace when shopping in the frozen food and cold cereal aisles, as well as for biscuits, salad dressings and chewing gum. In this context, customers' decisions to purchase products were greatly influenced by informative and exciting packaging."

    Avoid being distracted by the color and packaging of products. In the article Package Design - How it Affects What You Buy we look at the great deal of effort that goes into packaging decisions designed to persuade shoppers to buy a product. Also, the "Color and Consumers - Do You Know the Tricks of the Trade?" helps show us how much we know about how color influences what we buy.

    Once we are aware of the tricks of the trade, we can remain better focused on finding the best prices rather than being swayed by finding the most appealing package.

  • Making the Switch from Buzz to Bargain Hunting
    The Nielsen's research revealed that even though some product categories are not bargain-driven, manufacturers continually offer in-store deals and promotions, resulting in some categories to be over-promoted.

    "Shoppers choosing sports drinks aren't looking for a bargain," said Khandelwal. "In-store deals for these products go largely unnoticed."

    Many Buzz products are promoted with coupons, but many times Buzz shoppers do not take advantage of the deals. If you enjoy buying energy drinks, yogurt drinks and other health/energy type products, look for coupons first and also check ingredients. Many generic brands or older brands will have identical ingredients as their newer counterparts. Also, consider making your own smoothies and yogurt drinks.

  • Congratulations to the Bargain Hunters
    For those of you who fall mainly under the Bargain Hunters mode, congratulations! Just keep doing what you are doing although you may want to review the other modes in relation to your own buying habits and see if you need to make adjustments.

Poll: What Shopping Mode Do You Shop in Most of the Time?

1) Auto-pilot
2) Variety-Seeking
3) Buzz
4) Bargain-Hunting

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