Unilever Shopper Study Challenges Traditional Retail Beliefs

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. -- The study commissioned by CPG industry giant Unilever, "Trip Management: The Next Big Thing," (TM: TNBT), which illustrates where people shop and their different needs on different shopping trips, as well as how supercenters have changed the way consumers shop, topples long-held retailer assumptions, according to the company. Key findings of the TM: TNBT survey will be revealed at the 2005 FMI Show on May 1 to May 3, in Chicago.

The initial findings say that almost two-thirds of all shopping trips (62 percent) are quick trips, one-quarter are fill-in trips, while the classic stock-up is becoming more fragmented, accounting for only 13 percent of trips. Unilever is using the findings to develop, with its retail customers, solutions to demanding consumer needs. TM: TNBT the first in a series of studies on shopping trip motives and behavior commissioned by Unilever.

Michael Polk, group v.p. Unilever North America and president of U.S. Foods, noted in a statement: "Understanding how our consumers are shopping today is critical in building strong businesses together with our customers. This landmark trip management research is an example of the powerful retail activities we are undertaking to help us connect with our consumers and achieve positive sales growth for both our customers' and our company's business."

TM:TNBT delves into the motivational patterns behind how shoppers use the various retail outlets available to them. According to Unilever, it goes beyond previous research to show why more than 200 categories of products are bought at each kind of outlet on the different types of shopping trips that shoppers make, and, in some instances, deviates from established retailer beliefs. For example, the study says that 70 percent of all category-level purchase decisions are made before shoppers even enter the store. By connecting consumers' motives on each trip with the retail outlet that's selected and the particular products bought, retailers are able to see where opportunities for retail growth exist, Unilever says. The company adds that retailers can then understand the types of trips they're getting as well as those they're missing, and find out what they can do about it.

The study additionally found that shoppers treat each retail channel differently. When it comes to buying the more than 200 categories of food and nonfood items that can be purchased at a grocery store, clear patterns emerged. Shoppers value smaller-box stores differently from larger stores, and consequently they make different types of trips to each. The kinds of trips they take determine how much time and money they'll spend, along with which parts of the store they'll visit. The reason that a shopper makes a trip was the single best predictor of store selection and the items that were likely to be bought, according to the study. Also, TM:TNBT addresses the thorny issue of volume stagnation in the center store

Among the projects that Unilever has devised as a result of the study's findings is a stand-alone meal solution center combining frozen, fresh/refrigerated, and shelf-stable meal components, which can be used to help satisfy shoppers' need for quick trips for meals, while at the same time help to deliver growth for the retailer, which wants to capture more of these kinds of trips.

The research for TM: TNBT was conducted in 2004, and data was uniquely collected from more than 2,400 shoppers in three key geographies where the supercenter format had a large presence, minimal presence, or no presence at all. Additionally, a panel of nearly 900 shoppers described in detail almost 4,500 store visits over a two-week period in personal online diaries. Store visits included activity at retail channels such as supercenters, supermarkets, chain drug, convenience stores, mass merchants, and wholesale clubs. The margin of error was +/-3 percent.

Unilever is committed to developing this initiative and plans to launch two other TM:TNBT studies in the United States later this year -- one concentrating on home and personal care, and the other on Hispanic consumers.
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