The state of persuasion on the shelf

The state of persuasion on the shelf

I bought a tub of Häagen-Dazs ice cream at the supermarket. As the cashier rang it up, I asked, “How do you pronounce that?” Speaking slowly and distinctly, he said, “Four dollars and seventy-nine cents.”

How do you successfully introduce a new product or brand to the market? And how can you work the shelf as hard as possible (to make up for possible cashier shortcomings)?

The latest Roland Berger data across a range of categories shows that up to 60% of new products and innovations fail. For FMCG products only, rates are even reported to be more around the 90% mark (Nielsen), meaning only 10% of new products on the supermarket shelf actually succeed.

Nevertheless, success rates vary significantly and are influenced by a range of factors, including the new product development process in place, profound knowledge of and consequent alignment with the targeted market segment, positioning within the competitive framework and the quality of the market introduction. 

Now, with all this in place, the final question remains: What can be done in store to seduce the shopper to actually try the new product?

New research from the Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia shows 30% of ‘heavy supermarket shoppers’ (those who purchased more than five items) included a first time purchase in their basket.

Considering the generally habitual nature of FMCG purchases, 30% of shoppers trialling a new item is good news!

The reported prompts for trial were the following:

  • 33% ‘noticed the brand packaging or shelf placement in-store’;
  • 26% ‘noticed the price, price promotion or special offer’;
  • 13% ‘saw the brand advertised’;
  • 10% ‘received a recommendation’;
  • 6% ‘tried/used the brand before’; and
  • 3% ‘bought a new brand as usual brands were unavailable’.

So the biggest opportunity to influence first time purchasing lies within the store, to be precise, it lies in packaging and placement on the shelf.

Let’s look at this more closely.

What leads people to try a new product?

To understand why shoppers notice a particular packaging, placement or promotion in-store and try a new product we better take a look at the brain directly (as we know, people aren’t able to tell us).

Shelf optimisation

First of all, let’s get rid of the old myth that the “eye line is the buy line”. A wealth of eye-tracking studies in supermarkets have now revealed the heart level is the true “strike zone”. When standing in front of the shelf, shoppers look at the heart level, not the eye level as it was long thought to be.


Source: Think Neuro, Neuro Retail Revolution Conference Amsterdam, 2013

Neuroscientist Dr Yener Girisken says brands like Coca-Cola have taken this on board and now position their most profitable product at heart level.

Furthermore, his research showed that shoppers tend to see family value/bulk buy packages at bottom. If big packages are placed on the upper shelves emotional arousal decreases and therefore probability of purchase decreases. Equally, small packages are best placed on upper levels of the shelf.  

Packaging optimisation

Packaging cues are the most powerful instrument to connect with the shopper at the shelf. Here are a few tips:

1. First of all, our brains relate to contrast, brands and symbols. So make the new product stand out on the shelf and awaken the shopper facing the usual sea of sameness. The use of colour, texture, shape, and symbols helps create contrast and attract the shopper’s attention. Nudie Juice implemented this very successfully in store, with shelf talkers and woollen caps on the bottles. 

Source: Nudie Juice

2. Faces on a package also create a positive impact on the shopper, as the human face is the single most attention-drawing signal to humans.  

3. Design your packaging cues to strategically resonate with the desired market segment. Shopper attraction to different colours, fonts, shapes, and imagery varies strongly by shopper personality types, so start by understanding how you can align your packaging to the desired target market. (Details in my earlier blog subconscious-mechanisms-at-play-on-the-supermarket-shelf and we also run workshops on this topic.)

4. What Cadbury does brilliantly with its Marvellous Creations advertisements – showing flowing chocolate – also works on packaging. Packages with flowing chocolate create 80% more attention with shoppers, according to Dr Girisken’s research.