Real world experience is a great way to learn about the consumer decision making process. Our group discovered the many new ways shoppers process and select out of the endless product options offered in each isle of a grocery store. We observed specifically how long each shopper took to make their final decision on a product and how they came to their final choosing.
Prior to arriving to Publix, our group hypothesized that consumers would spend a longer amount of time deciding on shopping goods bought less frequently. Consumers will spend more time choosing a good bought less frequently because these are not habitual purchases for the consumer. The consumer will most likely want to see all their options and evaluate the value proposition of each one before deciding to buy something as there is a larger risk associated with the purchase (due to its infrequency), meaning the consumer is unsure whether or not they will be satisfied with their decision of the product. With non-habitual purchases, consumers have a larger chance of post purchase dissonance due to their limited previous experience with the product. Additionally, there will be a greater uncertainty if they will enjoy the product, leading to a longer time spent on the decision of the purchase.
In contrast, if they were buying a shopping good on a habitual-basis they would have a lot of experience with the product allowing them which features they look for in the product and likely be very brand-loyal requiring less time to compare similar products from different brands. In general, consumers will need to spend more time on these infrequently bought goods simply due to the lack of knowledge the buyer has on a good they have not experienced or purchased before. The consumer will have little to no experience with the product and the consumer will have less personal knowledge about.
Similarly, we hypothesized that consumers would compare several options when choosing a good bought less frequently. Consumers will compare more options with these goods because, as stated, the consumers will have less experience with these products and therefore want to compare and see which product will give them the greatest value. If this were a habitual or perishable good, consumers would most likely quickly choose a habitual option, and they would not compare as many options. In our own experience, we generally tend to compare more options, with greater intensity and time, when we are buying a product that we do not know much about, such as good bought infrequently or less frequently.
When making a purchasing decision for a perishable good, we hypothesized that previous experience will be the most important factor for the consumer. Especially in our case, with bread, consumers will probably look to buy a good they know will taste good and satisfy their expectations. Previous experience will influence the consumer, meaning if they had a positive experience with a brand it is likely that they will continue to buy that same product. Consumers do not want to waste their money. When consumers make purchasing decisions about goods bought less frequently, price will be the most important factor. Consumers may not know the difference between goods bought less frequently, especially when their positioning is not significant or dominant in the consumer's mind, so price can greatly affect a buyer's decision. It will most likely be the deciding factor as it might be the only difference in a consumer's mind. For cleaning products, brand names will be the most important factor. Consumers will probably choose cleaning products based on goods they recognize and most of the time gravitate to big name brands they recognize from advertisements and demonstrations on TV. They will most likely choose brands with a good reputation or more well known brands as these are most likely to seem reliable.
Before arriving to Publix, our team chose disinfecting wipes - a cleaning product, bread - a perishable good, and immune system supplements - a good bought less frequently, as our three products to study. We faced a challenge regarding the product bought less frequently, as there were not many shoppers at the time of our visit.
Our group went to a Publix supermarket at 2:30 pm on Thursday, September 27th. In order to properly observe shopping behavior, we (politely and not creepily) timed how long it took for shoppers to make a final decision from a distance. Additionally, we approached shoppers to ask why they chose that product among all the options the store offered once they had made a choice. Together, these methods of data collection gave us a good idea about what goes through a consumer's head. However, before starting data collection, our group derived hypotheses about what factor(s) would play the most crucial role in the decision making process and the supermarket.
For the disinfecting wipes, 4 shoppers were observed. The first shopper took about 30 seconds to choose and decided on Clorox wipes. When asked why that shopper chose Clorox, the shopper responded that she “is a clean person,” and that she wanted something that was “aggressive.” The Clorox wipes she chose cost $5.09 and the packaging emphasizes the amount of germs, bacteria, and viruses it kills. The second shopper took about 15 seconds to choose disinfecting wipes. The second shopper chose unscented Publix brand wipes. When asked why, she stated that “wipes are wipes, so I went with Publix because they are cheaper.” Publix brand disinfecting wipes are $4.09 with simpler packaging. The third shopper spent less than 15 seconds choosing disinfecting wipes. She decided on Clorox wipes because in her words, “Clorox is a dependable brand.” She described positive past experiences with the Clorox wipes. The Clorox wipes she chose were the same as the ones the first consumer chose. The fourth customer browsed for 15 seconds before finally choosing Lysol wipes. When asked why, she simply stated: “It's what I've always used.”
Regarding the perishable good, bread, the average time spent making a final decision was just under 15 seconds, indicating that consumers typically had an idea of what they were going to purchase. For example, when asked what made an old gentleman chose a specific loaf of bread he answered that the brand was “the one that my wife always buys.” This man had previous experience with the brand, leading him to buy it again for him and his wife. A similar response given by multiple shoppers was that it was the one they always bought, highlighting the habitual nature of perishable goods shopping. Lastly, another response heard when shoppers were asked why they bought that specific brand of bread was that it was the one on sale. While the brand may not be the one they always buy, since the price is lower they are willing to switch brands for the time being and will return to their trusted and brand of habit when the promotion is over.
When observing consumer behavior regarding immune system supplements, the first consumer spent about 15 seconds and ended up choosing Emergen-C. When asked why, she said “because it was the most recognizable brand” and that she thought it would be reliable. The second consumer spent about 15 seconds as well and chose Airborne. When asked why, she stated that she chose Airborne because that was the brand she recognized. During the span of time in which we were at the grocery store, Publix, only two customers shopped for this good. Therefore, we have less data on consumer behavior regarding goods bought less frequently.
While observing shoppers buying perishable goods, it was found that the hypothesis was correct, that consumers typically buy goods they have previous experience with. This finding indicates that consumers are creatures of habit, and that they find it easiest to buy the same product everytime instead of conducting a search to find another brand to try. Also, these findings reflect the fast paced lives of consumers today, as shoppers typically only spent 15 seconds picking out a loaf of bread. Consumers are more focused on getting their bread and getting out instead of taking their time to look at different products or brands in search of a better value proposition. It was easier for consumers to pick the brand they are familiar with and can get quickly instead of going through the more tedious search process. While our hypothesis was correct for the perishable good bread, it may not stand true for other non-packaged perishable goods such as fresh produce. It is likely that consumers will spend more time looking at the freshness and quality of produce to ensure it is the best choice, meaning they will spend more time looking at multiple products and brands. In conclusion, while our hypothesis was true for packaged perishable goods like bread it may not be as accurate for perishable goods like produce because consumers spend more time looking at the quality and freshness of the produce they are selecting.
While observing shoppers buying the cleaning goods, it was observed that the majority of shopping decisions were based on what they always use and previous positive experience with the brand. Shoppers mainly chose products because they knew they were functional, dependable brands that would get the job done, or deliver value. Consumers were more likely to pick the products they trusted and used in contrast to our hypothesis. However, brands did seem to be an important factor, just not the most dominant one. Consumers were observed buying products that they had previous experience with, as the majority chose the products they have used before and knew were dependable rather than choosing an off-brand name or a product with a lower price. In conclusion, consumers made decisions about cleaning goods based on previous experience and dependability, so the factor of previous experience was the most dominant factor when choosing a cleaning product. Our hypothesis was disproved.
Prior to observing shoppers buy goods bought less frequently, the group hypothesized that price would be the most important role in the final decision. However, upon observation and data collection, we found that consumers paid the most attention to brand name. This goes to show the importance of recognizability and positioning for companies creating products like these. Both consumers purchased the Emergen-C and the AirBorne brand because of their popular reputation and recognizable brand names, even though there were other off-brand options that were cheaper. This is probably because since they did not know much about these products since they do not buy them often, they chose whatever seemed most reliable, or had less risk, and was least likely to lead to customer dissonance. This disproved our hypothesis as the consumers observed did not seem to consider price as a driving factor. This also made the
choosing process take a short amount of time, as the consumer immediately gravitated towards the brand name. Perhaps this was because the consumer buying the Emergen-C did seem to be in a rush, so naturally, a consumer will buy a widely known brand.
Customers averaged about the same amount of time when choosing each product, with disinfecting wipes having someone spent the longest browsing for them. This proves our hypothesis wrong that customers would spend the most time on goods bought less frequently as the customers spent pretty much the same time on all products. This is probably due to the fast paced lifestyle that is common in today's culture. It may also be that at the time we went, 2:30 pm, people have less time to browse in a grocery store and therefore be in a rush. However, since we observed less people buying the good bought less frequently, our data may be skewed.
Customers seemed to compare the most options when shopping for cleaning products. They compared what benefits the products claimed to have such as the customer who claimed to look for the disinfecting wipes wipes that claimed to clean aggressively. Similarly, with another customer comparing prices. Shoppers seemed to look at different brands more than they did for perishable goods or goods bought less frequently, which we did not expect with such a habitual purchase. This disproves our hypothesis that consumers would compare more products with goods less frequently. With goods bought less frequently, customers barely compare products and simply picked the one they knew. Consumers probably compared more options in the cleaning category because there are so many options for what seems to be the same thing. The packaging of these products also have varying claims that attract consumer eyes.
We would recommend to the store that they have in store demonstrations, samples, and hands on experience with the product available for the customers. Customers seemed to look for dependability and recognizability. If the customers were able to associate specific products and brands with an on-site experience, the customers will probably associate good experiences with the product and they will be able to recognize it. In this way, customers might gravitate more towards certain brands that they are experiencing and assessing the value proposition first hand. In store demonstrations would affect brand positioning and aid the companies in getting their product positioned in consumer minds.
Overall, this experience was fun for us. We enjoyed getting a hands on experience with marketing and applying what we learned in the classroom to real life. It made us think about our own consumer behavior and it made us aware of all of the factors that are thought of before a seemingly insignificant decision is made.
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