2017 Heat-Map Study Defines Multiple Paths to Purchase

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Nothing is more satisfying than being right—or at least knowing you’re on the right track.

That’s what Derek Gaskins and his team at Rutter’s Farm Stores felt after reviewing data from a comprehensive video-based study involving their chain and 10 other convenience retailers. That study is the eighth annual C-Store ShopperImpact (CSI) program from VideoMining Corp., State College, Pa.

Above all else, Gaskins, chief customer officer for the York, Pa.-based c-store chain, says the company felt validated in its efforts to create a food-first destination, even changing the mindsets of the professional drivers who typically prioritize fuel.

For this latest CSI study, VideoMining took its video technology—known for tracking people through stores to develop “heat maps” of the customer’s path to purchase—ramped it up and combined it with transaction data to determine with high degrees of accuracy their gender, age and ethnicity.

The result is even deeper consumer insights, says Rajeev Sharma, founder and CEO of VideoMining.

Here's a look at some of those results ...


Combining customers’ behaviors with demographics leads to better retailing strategies, Sharma says. For instance, male and female shoppers may have common wants, such as clean facilities and great ambiance, but they snack differently.

“If you understand your percentage of customer [segments] and their preferences, you can proportion [your store] properly and cater to those segments,” Sharma says.

“It’s nice to know who’s shopping, where they went in the store, what they bought and when,” Gaskins says. “You don’t get that unless you’re asking people for all of it, including names, emails and if you can contact them. Otherwise, you wouldn’t know if the average person buying a Monster [energy drink] is a 28-year-old Hispanic male.”

A Demographic Breakdown

While Caucasian shoppers made up the largest group in the CSI study, at 78%, their numbers have decreased by 2% since the last VideoMining study. However, Hispanics, even at only 11% of the study, increased by 2%. Meanwhile, a look at millennials shows a population eager to embrace c-stores on many fronts.

Hispanics: Seeing the sign

On questions about on-site signage, Hispanic respondents were more responsive than other ethnic groups. This suggests the importance of signage and bilingual messaging, especially in Hispanic markets.

What millennials want at c-stores

When it comes to c-store visitation, millennials are seeking core convenience offerings more than other generations on multiple fronts. The findings below show that millennials see c-stores as convenient, reliable locations to pick up something to eat or drink whenever the need arises.

Shopper frequency

Beyond demographics, the technology is also able to tie a shopper’s frequency with what they typically buy, Gaskin says. That’s important for Rutter’s because it segments its customers largely by their purchasing habits. The result: fewer out-of-stocks and smarter SKU assortments.

“If I were in line and you were in line and we checked out after each other, [VideoMining] may not match you or me with our names, but they’ll know you come in once a week and I come in five times a week,” Gaskins says.

The process has multiple layers, Sharma says, depending on what a retailer wants to focus on. For instance, with heat maps specifically, the visual-recognition component can isolate heat maps for millennial males or millennial females.

To that point, retailers can peel back the onion any way they want.

“You notice slight differences in that Hispanics are more mission-oriented and focused than non-Hispanics,” Sharma says. “You can start seeing patterns.”

Path to purchase

Pump-to-store traffic increased by 2%, typically an encouraging sign. However, people who visit the store and purchase something decreased by 4%. The trick, it seems, is in turning customers using the ATM or restroom or prepaying for gasoline into an in-store buyer. Retailers should position must-have impulse purchases in places that interrupt customers’ path, researchers say.

From Insight to Action

Through the course of using VideoMining technology—and all of its new capabilities—at Rutter’s stores for three years, Gaskins says the company has acted on a few key insights:

  • Rutter’s tinkered with better illumination of a high-traffic, central candy aisle by installing LED lighting.
  • The company used data to better line up promotional offers with customer purchase behavior and how they walked the stores.
  • One of the surprises was that people don’t just buy coffee to get their morning energy rush, Gaskins says—they also buy Mountain Dew and other caffeinated drinks. So Rutter’s started doing morning promotions based on a variety of energy options.

Source: VideoMining Corp. | * Percent change from a year ago

Mapping out the gas visit

Retailers appear to have made slight gains in converting people to go from the pump to then buy something in the store, but they still have work to do with selling things to people who are already in the store to pay for gasoline.

What Retailers Can Learn

Gaskins of Rutters says VideoMining seems to have carved out a “sweet spot” in its combination of technologies. Through video, it can capture the way people look at signage to assess the effectiveness of that messaging. It can provide close approximations of demographic data, so people with established loyalty programs don’t have to keep going back to providers for that data. And if a retailer wants to improve anything from pump-to-store conversions to suggestive selling, the science can provide metrics retailers will need to improve.

Source: VideoMining Corp. | * Percent change from a year ago


Heavy traffic around foodservice areas has retailers such as Rutter’s Farm Stores elevating its emphasis on the category.

“People are coming to us for food and beverages, which are the hottest areas of our stores,” says Gaskins. “It’s validation that we are a restaurant.”

About the study

For 11 weeks in 2016, VideoMining Corp. conducted its eighth C-Store ShopperImpact (CSI) MegaStudy, which quantifies and analyzes c-store shopper behavior and tracks the in-store path to purchase. The study, conducted in collaboration with several CPG vendors, included 11 c-store chains, a panel of nationally representative stores and customers who tracked more than 50 million c-store trips. A subset of stores received ceiling-mounted video sensors to track customers’ movements, while proprietary video-analysis software processed millions of hours of c-store shopping trips.

The data was then  integrated with point-of-sale data to reveal insights about the average c-store shopping trip by daypart, category and location in the store. VideoMining also conducted exit interviews with about 1,000 customers. VideoMining clients use this data set for benchmarking shopper behavior and category performance across the industry and for custom analytics for a range of marketing and merchandising areas.

For more information about subscribing to the CSI MegaStudy program, contact Richard Hirata, senior vice president of shopper science for VideoMining, at [email protected], or visit videomining.com.