Solving the Mindset Puzzle

CSP forum examines how age, race and weather nudge consumer behavior.

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

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 If one were to ask a retailer about the mood of an average c-store cus­tomer on a given day, the comeback might be: “What’s the weather like?”

Literally. And that retailer might be right. A really in-tune retailer might even ask, “Is it above 65 degrees?”

That’s because panelists at the annual CSP Shopper Insights Forum, held last month in Scottsdale, Ariz., covered a broad range of factors that influence shoppers, including age, gender, ethnicity and, of all things, weather.

The 65-degree threshold was part of a presentation from Don Burke, senior vice president of Management Science Associ­ate Inc. (MSA), Pittsburgh. Combining data from Temple, Texas-based McLane Co., the nation’s largest c-store dis­tributor, with firms that follow national weather patterns, Burke and MSA cal­culated the “magic number” at which consumers would start mobilizing after a spate of chilly weather.

“At 65 degrees, people are going out more,” he said. “They shop more and sales are going to peak.”

Even though notions such as hot weather leading to higher packaged-beverage sales seem obvious, Burke said planning for such measureable behavior leads to actions such as extra prep work to avoid out-of-stocks.

Understanding the changing nuances of weather, demographics and customer experience keep retailers nimble and profitable, according to speakers at the forum.

“Marketing to consumers comes down to understanding different mindsets; it’s about marketing to the mindset and not necessarily the age or demographic,” said Tina Wells of Buzz Marketing Group, Voorhees, N.J. “It has become really complicated for a c-store to figure out how to market to a demo­graphic. They really have to think out of the box and think about how to reach [their customers].”

For instance, a retailer considering ways to market to a younger demo­graphic should consider potential sub­groups. One may be adults ages 20 to 25, many of whom have returned to their parents’ home to live. In that case, the mother of the household may become the one who decides what to buy and where to shop for that young adult.

Forum speakers revealed more aspects of the mindset puzzle:

  • Acculturated Hispanics were more likely to respond like typical customers, while Spanish-only-speaking custom­ers responded to specific cultural cues such as Spanish products and Spanish-speaking employees.
  • Creating a customer experience is still a strong motivational tool for shoppers.
  • Reaching out to “tribes” within the so-called millennial market.

Retailers are always trying to under­stand how shoppers behave in certain spaces and want to manipulate their stores to promote certain kinds of behavior, said Michael Powell, cultural anthropologist for Shook Kelley, which has offices in Los Angeles and Charlotte, N.C.

“How you create a better experience is a key part of the puzzle,” Powell said. “What does the store mean? What does brand mean? What do your products mean to people?”

Hispanics Today

Examining issues of brand and brand meaning, David Portalatin, director of industry analysis for The NPD Group, Houston, brought the question to the specific demographic of Hispanics, exploring some of the findings from work done specifically for the CSP forum.

This firm’s studies show Hispanic populations tend to be brand-loyal, but not brand-specific. “It’s important to have a good selection of brands, but it’s not necessarily dependent on a specific brand,” he said.

As long as variety exists with branded product, that’s what the Hispanic shop­per prefers, with that tendency intensify­ing with Spanish-speaking individuals, Portalatin said. Of course, in areas where the Spanish-speaking element is domi­nant, retailers ought to consider com­municating via product choice, signage or Spanish-speaking employees, but the placement of brands as a way to satisfy that base penchant for national names ought to be in place.

“Some consumer segments are brand-loyal. In other words, if the brand is not there, they’ll leave,” Portalatin said. “Not necessarily so for Hispanics. They will make a brand replacement.”

And by brand, that means well-known manufacturer brands, recognizable ones with brand affinity. Private label may qualify, depending on the merits of the label, but typically it’s what a retailer would consider a product brand.

Portalatin’s NPD research also hit upon foodservice. Surprisingly, the key to wooing the Hispanic population in this evolving category is not necessarily with what may be considered “ethnic” foods. Rather, it’s the “simple basics” of foodservice.

“No. 1 is food quality. Does it taste good?” he said. “Quality and it being well executed is more important whether or not an [ethnic] offer is there. And variety is important, too.”

Portalatin’s findings were obtained in conjunction with Los Angeles-based Garcia Research, which focuses on Span­ish-language data collection, providing attendees with “bonus material” outside of NPD’s base research.


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