Chapter XIII – How To Generate Shopper Insights?

Shopper insights are the starting point for any succesful shopper marketing campaign. They stem from a deep understanding of how shoppers behave along the path to purchase, how brands enter their consideration set, and what criteria is applied to decide on one single brand. Moreover, they can be obtained at brand, category, retailer or shopper level.

But how can companies best generate shopper insights?

In our previous chapter, we defined shopper insights and introduced real-world examples to classify them into different categories according to their scope.

In this chapter, we provide an overview of how to generate shopper insights and how to verify their validity.

Sources of Shopper Insights

Shopper insights can be obtained from within an organization and/or acquired from external sources:

Company internal: Frontstore employees, sales, research, marketing, etc.

Company external (paid): Specialized agencies (Saatchi & Saatchi X, G2) or research companies (Nielsen, IRI)

Company external (free): Media, literature, business partners (i.e. retailers or manufacturers), etc.

Ideally, a company can draw from all three sources. Nevertheless, smaller companies with limited budgets may opt for company internal and free external sources only.


Tools to generate Shopper Insights

There is a virtually infinite number of tools a company can apply to generate shopper insights. In this post, we can only mention a few of them (click on picture to enlarge). Nevertheless, all tools can be classified along two axes, the path to purchase (at home, on-the-go, in-store, postshop) and the form of purchase (online or offline). As offline purchases often include the application of mobile devices or online research at home, a hybrid form might be required though.

Insights can also be gained from lab tests and simulations. They might allow for a more controlled study but also lack the real-world setting. Nevertheless, they are widely used for testing a new product or packaging to allow for adjustments before the actual launch.

Also be aware that purchase decisions might be driven by unconscious processes triggered by stimuli the shopper does not perceive consciously. Tools to uncover shopper insights, which are based on a judgement of the actual shoppers, might consequently be flawed. For more information, please consult our post “The Unconscious Shopper”. We also recommend our post “Reading Your Shoppers’ Minds (Literally)” which introduces technologies that might facilitate uncovering these unconscious processes.


Method to verify Shopper Insights

As human beings, we tend to overestimate our social judgement skills. Various scientific studies have proven that most of us consider ourselves experts in reading the mind of others. Yet, this skill too often falls short of expectations. Moreover, we ignore information which counteracts our previously held perception and tend to process only information which supports our initial idea (cognitive inertia). Many other biases based on stereotypes and other long-held beliefs can adversely influence the interpretation of shopper insights. Our gut feeling is too often misleading.

Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan once said, “a point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding”. Thus, it is crucial for any company to apply a scientific approach to verify shopper insights before proceeding.

Scientific research usually consists of seven steps:

1. Formation of topic

2. Hypothesis

3. Information gathering

4. Analysis of data

5. Interpretation of data

6. Testing, revision of hypothesis

7. Conclusion

It is important to completely understand a shopper insight before proceeding. McKinsey for example recommends the “5-Why’s” strategy to get to the very root of a problem:

What is the number one attribute for shoppers buying tissues?

– Softness

Why do shoppers value softness most?

– Because tissues touch a sensible organ

How do shoppers perceive softness?

– Shoppers judge the softness of tissues by touching it with their hands

And so on…

Too often we are satisfied with the first answer to the main question before really understanding a concept. Equally important can be to understand the “why not“. If for example 80% of shoppers value softness as the number one product attribute when purchasing tissues, you should ask yourself: What is the number one attribute for the remaining 20%? After all, the profound understanding of a shopper insight is the very basis for any successful shopper marketing campaign.



There are many ways in which shopper insights can be obtained. Instead of merely trusting one’s gut feeling, it is important to apply statistic tools and a scientific approach before proceeding. Our post “How PepsiCo Lost The Cola War (For Now) – Listen To Your Customers!” demonstrates, among others, the risk of making assumptions on what shoppers are likely to buy and consume.

Nevertheless, we recommend our readers to adopt three basic traits to uncover potential shopper insights:

1. Be skeptical – As mentioned above, we tend to fall victim to our inherent biases. Be skeptical and try to look behind the obvious. A shopper insight, which might appear obvious at first glance, could be more complex than you expect.

2. Be curious – Try to access as many sources of shopper insights as possible. Talk to colleagues from different departments within your organization and hire external experts if necessary. Equally important, consult media related to shopper marketing, as for example magazines or blogs, as well as unrelated sources. According to the encyclopedia Britannica, an insight “occurs (…) when people recognize relationships (or make novel associations between objects or actions) that can help them solve new problems”¹.

3. Be the shopper – For any shopper marketing professional it is crucial to understand its shoppers. Hence, try to be as close as possible to their daily lives. Watch their television shows, read their favorite magazines, frequent their favorite stores and above-all engage with them. The better you understand your very shoppers, the better you will be able to market to them.


As generating shopper insights is similar to measuring the success of a shopper marketing campaign, we also recommend the following posts:

How To Execute & Measure Shopper Marketing

How To Execute & Measure Digital Shopper Marketing


Chapter XIV explores the concept of consideration set.

Click here for the complete table of content.


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3 Responses to Chapter XIII – How To Generate Shopper Insights?

  1. Pingback: Chapter XIII – How To Generate Shopper Insights? | shoppernewsblog | Center for Ecommerce Excellence (CEE) |

  2. Great post. I would add the best kinds of shopper insights are in fact shopper problems. In the tissue example, softness is a need, but the inability to know HOW soft a tissue is until you’ve bought it is a problem. Once you’ve found a potential problem, here’s a way to stress test it:

    1. Do they recognize they have the problem we’re trying to solve?
    2. If there were a solution, would they buy it?
    3. Would they buy it from us?
    4. Can we build a solution for that problem?

    This works especially well for inventive product-oriented companies (fast-growing categories, new technologies, etc.) that need to become more customer-oriented.

    • Excellent comment, Dan!

      I completely agree with you. Your example also reminded me of Sleep Innovation’s change to presenting sleep products. In this category shoppers like to feel and touch the product as it touches the naked skin. Although most manufacturers try to solve this problem by putting a model bed next to the product, Sleep Innovation found out that it is actually better to have sample cloth next to the product. Shoppers actually do not want to lie down in the supermarket.

      This is in accordance with what you’re saying. It not only matters that shoppers want to try sleep products before buying but also how they can experience the product.

      Keep up the good work! Looking forward to reading more from you on your blog as well…



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