September 27, 2007 / 11:31 AM / 12 years ago

New system looks at US shoppers differently

CHICAGO, Sept 27 (Reuters) - People who walk through the salty snacks aisle of a store are more likely to buy something than those who go past the dairy case, and consumers buy more in general when they shop with their kids.

Those are two of the initial findings from a new system that measures store traffic at grocery, drug and mass merchandise stores and ties it together with sales data. The system is being tested by a group of retailers, manufacturers, research company Nielsen Co and a trade group.

This new way of looking at how shoppers behave in stores is critical, because about 70 percent of final purchasing decisions are made in the store, said Dina Howell, general manager-marketing, global operations at Procter & Gamble Co (PG.N).

Among other findings from the project are that shoppers are exposed to an average of about 3,500 pieces of marketing stimuli in grocery stores, including displays, packages, televisions and other items; more than 5,000 stimuli at mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N); and about 2,300 at drug stores.

In the past, retail traffic was measured by the number of transactions, not the people in the store aisle, said George Wishart, global managing director at Nielsen In-store, a unit of research group Nielsen Co, in an interview.

The Pioneering Research for an In-Store Metric, or P.R.I.S.M. system, measures store traffic using scanners in the aisles and researchers.

“Retailers and manufacturers can understand not only what they sold, but also what lost opportunities they had,” said Wishart.

Once retailers and manufacturers have the data, they can make changes in how they market to consumers in stores.

Some of the findings are intuitive, Wishart said. For instance, only 13 percent of food shopping trips include kids, but shoppers buy more items when kids are with them.

But surprisingly, the items that had more sales when children were around included soup, water, canned vegetables and hair care items, Wishart said.

And even more surprisingly, the presence of children had little impact on candy sales.

Also, the middle of the day tends to have a higher percentage of people in stores who are not buying anything.

In food stores, 4.5 percent of all purchases happen around 2 p.m., but 7 percent of the store’s traffic is seen then, he said.

The produce aisle tends to attract more traffic, while there are “some parts of the store that are virtual wastelands and are not visited at all,” Wishart said. Those parts vary by store type and format.

The nationwide trial of the system began in April and will end in December when more than 160 stores will be studied, enough to statistically capture more than 60 percent of volume of products bought in food, drug and mass retailers, Wishart said.

An international pilot program is planned for 2008. (See here for "Shop Talk" -- Reuters' retail and consumer blog) (Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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