Blog | March 10, 2021

Shopper Insights vs. Consumer Insights: What’s the Difference?

With the rise of new brands, innovative retail technology, and evolving preferences, it’s harder than ever to understand how individuals feel about brands and retailers, and how those preferences and opinions are reflected in their behaviour and the purchases they make. And market researchers across the globe are tackling these data challenges head-on, with Shopper Insights and Consumer Insights professionals leading the charge. But what’s the difference between these two key functions?

The basic difference between Shopper Insights and Consumer Insights teams is the focus of their research: the person making the purchase decision (the “shopper”) vs. the person using the product (the “consumer”). Spoiler alert: the buyer and consumer of dog food are different people (er…species). Of course, the distinction between the shopper and consumer is not always this clear, especially when it comes to “personal” categories. Without the right data sets and survey capabilities, it’s difficult for a brand to know if a shopper is also the end user when they buy things like cereal, a toothbrush, or beer, for example. Understanding the distinction between the shopper vs. consumer— and their respective attitudes and behaviours— is imperative for a brand to effectively market its products.

While these Shopper and Consumer teams may leverage the same data sources (panel, point-of-sale, loyalty, survey, etc), they have different goals in mind. Shopper Insights teams leverage data related to distribution, retailer dynamics, promotional activity, and in-store experiences to influence their business’ sales and marketing efforts where shoppers buy (e.g., in-store or online). Consumer Insights teams typically work more closely with brand health and perception data, consumer preferences, category trends, and other research that can influence their marketing both above and below the line. So how do these differences manifest themselves?

Sales vs. Marketing (Push vs. Pull)

Shopper Insights roles are often (though not always) tied to a company’s sales structure. Analyses for Shopper Insights tend to be retailer and channel focused, building stories for improved distribution, assortment, placement, and promotions based on HOW and WHEN people purchase, and WHAT they buy or don’t buy. The goal of shopper research is typically to establish the category management and sales teams as an expert to drive the store’s retail strategy, answering questions like:

  • Did the shopper go to several retailers in the shopping trip?
  • Were they exposed to a circular publication before going into the store?
  • How often do they buy this product and how much of it do they buy?
  • What else did they purchase during this trip?

In contrast, Consumer Insights teams are generally more concerned with the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours that subconsciously influence the purchase decision. Consumer research focuses more on when, why, and how people interact with a brand or category and how the brand is perceived, what emotions it evokes, and the need states it fulfills. Brand teams work with Consumer Insights to create products and messaging that align with these consumer needs. This often includes information on:

  • Who is their consumer? Demographics, psychographics, lifestyle, values, etc.
  • When do they use a brand’s product (or similar products?)
  • How do people feel about a brand and its competitors?
  • How and when should a brand most effectively/efficiently reach its target?

How Insights Help Solve Business Needs:

Shopper Insights can help answer questions like:

  • “What would be the right pack size to add to our distribution at Costco?”
  • “How can we increase distribution in the convenience channel?”
  • “How can we get our new toothpaste secondary placement at Loblaws?”
  • “Should there be different sections for different types of wine in the store?”

Consumer Insights can help answer questions like:

  • “What flavor should we think about for innovation in soft drinks?”
  • “Who are the new buyers of the category and how can we target them?”
  • “Is there seasonality in our flavors? How should we determine the flavors that go into our variety packs?”
  • “What segment of the population should we target with our new Super Bowl ad?

How Shopper + Consumer Insights Work Together

Shopper and Consumer Insights often work together to optimize the shopper and consumer experience to help their brands grow. While Consumer Insights teams help brand and marketing teams understand the consumers’ emotions and drivers to choose a brand, Shopper Insights will bring recommendations to the sales team to ensure that this information is communicated in-store to drive shoppers to their brand. To drive this synergy, centralized teams (e.g., Insights/Analytics Center of Excellence or even a joint ‘insights’ teams servicing both sides) are sprouting up to increase the sharing of information more effectively across the aisle.

Sometimes, the friction between these teams’ goals can lead to differences of opinion. But as an overall organization, understanding both sides is essential to ensuring your product is winning both in the consumer’s mind and in-store.

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