Spotlight on the C-Store Shopper

Retailers discuss ways of understanding, engaging current and potential consumers.

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

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Breaking into the mindset of the many groups making up modern consumers—from social-media-savvy millennials to yoga-centric females and construction-working Bubbas—can be a daunting task. Take millennials, for instance: By time a retailer can gather data on the latest Gen-Y food trend, most of that group has moved on to the next hot-ticket item. Yet with deep pockets and a willingness to embrace the c-store channel, millennials are hardly a group that can be ignored.
What’s a retailer to do?
Fortunately, the c-store channel is one that embraces the opportunity to swap stories and share information on engaging the growing variety of consumers out there. The nearly 60 retailers, suppliers and experts on modern consumers who attended CSP’s annual Shopper Insights and Engagement Forum in September in Phoenix gathered to do just that.
“I’m amazed at the amount of information you’re willing to share with each other, despite being in competition,” said Christopher Brace, owner of New York-based Shopper Intelligence. “I think that’s unique to the c-store channel. I certainly haven’t seen it anywhere else.”
Brace did some sharing of his own during his session at the forum, including many common misconceptions about the definition of an insight.
“Insights are not generalizations. There are significant differences between the two,” said Brace. “Insight is the act or result of apprehending the inner nature of things. If there is a number in an insight, it’s not an insight; it’s a generalization. Generalizations are meant to inform; insights are meant to inspire.”
For example, Brace’s data shows that roughly 46% of c-store shoppers purchase only one product during a shopping trip. Saying that most c-store shoppers buy only one item is not an insight, but a generalization. To understand why these consumers are buying only one item—and how to inspire them to change the behavior—requires insight. 
“We need to move from ‘disrupting’ shoppers’ behaviors to ‘connecting’ with shoppers’ emotions,” Brace said. “Shopper and consumer insights are the key to developing communications that capture the attention of shoppers.”
While a common tactic for driving sales is using in-store signage to advertise new products or promotions, Brace believes this is not the most successful way to capture the attention of shoppers, who make 95% of decisions subconsciously, as opposed to just 5% in the conscious mind (to which such signage appeals).
“There is a fallacy in marketing that the more information we give our consumers, the better,” he said. “This could not be further from the truth. Too much information makes it harder for consumers to make a decision.”
Given that, how can retailers inspire consumers to make additional purchases? It comes down to connecting, engaging and inspiring shoppers.
“Of these three, it’s most important to connect with shoppers. If you don’t do that, you’re not going to engage or inspire,” said Brace. “The good news is if you can connect and engage your shoppers, you’re perfectly set up to inspire them.”

On Millennials, ‘Susie Normal’

Of course, before a retailer can connect, engage or inspire shoppers, he or she must first understand the consumers who are shopping the c-store—or could be. Michelle Barry delved into the mindset of several consumer groups in her presentation.
“Convenience has been around for a long, long time,” said Barry, president and CEO of Centric Brand Anthropology, Seattle. “It has become a part of how we operate and how we live.” 


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