Snacks Retail Expertise

Why Shopper Behavior is Key to Your Retail Strategy

David Nolen
Vice President, Category Management
  • There's a growing industry wide commitment to bringing in the voice of the shopper.
  • Hershey is at its best when we put the shopper at the center of our retail strategies. 
  • Two key studies have informed our latest thinking on how to unlock snacks retail potential. 

Every January, if you're like me, I'm following what feels like hundreds of articles published with predictions for the coming year. I scan for key themes, and many, including Forbes' 10 predictions for the retail industry, talked about a growing industry commitment to shopper insights and understanding. The Forbes author listed customer-centricity going mainstream as his third prediction for 2019. Music to my ears.

Now at the half-way point of the year, I've been reflecting on where we've come. More and more of our conversations with retailers start with consumer and shopper insights. Rather than moving directly into strategies and tactics, we spend time thoughtfully discussing consumer trends and insights. It's clear that both retailers and manufacturers are committed to bringing in the voice of the shopper in a bigger way, and our retail partnerships are richer as a result. 

I've been at Hershey for 21 years, and we've always been at our best when we put the shopper at the center of everything we do, as we are today. After taking the lead of Hershey's category management function a year ago, I challenged our team to do more. To always lead with shopper insights, whether we're talking about the future of pay points, primary and secondary merchandising or our next season. This is especially true with the creation of our Retail Experience Snacking Team (ReSET), which has brought together our industry-recognized shopper insights function with our retail innovation team, the experts who are dreaming up customizable, actionable solutions that will deliver retail growth for our partners. 


"We've always been at our best when we put the shopper at the center of everything we do, as we are today."


While we have many studies in the field at any given time, I'd like to focus on two pieces of shopper research that have had an outsized impact on our latest snacks retail thinking, which is highlighted in our latest retail report, “Creating Value in a Shoppers’ World.” Synthesizing multiple studies and many different sources can be challenging in today's data economy. Our team of data scientists and category experts puts an emphasis on converging the insights and connecting the dots for our partners, as we have in our latest report. 

To understand what that research typically looks like, we thought we’d give you a glimpse behind the scenes of our “Month in the Life” and "Shopper Value Equation" studies, which are two pieces of the puzzle in informing our latest retail thinking. Here’s a look at the what, how and why of these studies, which was born out of our continual drive to make the shopper part of every decision we make.

What we wanted to learn

Our team wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the shoppers’ retail journey in order to unlock opportunities for growth. To do this, we sought to uncover behavioral patterns, key shopping motivations and attitudes of customers. In addition, we wanted to develop a value framework to better understand the key trade-offs shoppers make on each trip when selecting a retailer.

How we conducted the studies

We followed more than 500 shoppers for a month, collecting information on where they shopped, when they shopped and what they bought. Over the course of 30,000 trips, we surveyed them after each shopping excursion to learn about their “whys:" what were their motivations, attitudes and barriers? We also conducted mobile shop-alongs and focus groups with shoppers across the country to understand how shoppers define value on their shopping trips across multiple classes of trade.

Key Takeaways

After spending an entire month following 500 shoppers on 30,000 trips, we learned a lot about shopper behavior. Like:

  • Shoppers take nearly 60 trips in a typical month – that’s nearly 2.5 trips per day.
  • Through the data we collected, we were able to identify eight common shopping patterns that distinguish shoppers. We classified those patterns from high-trip-taker frequency to low-trip-taker frequency as “super shoppers,” “C-store fanatics,” “early birds,” “standard shoppers,” “online loyals,” “club stock-ups,” “weekend warriors” and “efficient & infrequent” shoppers.
  • Once we narrow down those categories of shoppers, we were able to identify opportunities where we—and our retail partners—can win sales and drive trips to the store, whether it’s through pre-trip planning, in-store or at the shelf. For example, we know that in order to get the customer’s attention during their pre-planning stage, we need to leverage shopper touch points and drive awareness so that we can get on the list. We know that we can do that by targeting relevant media when shoppers are most receptive. 
  • Through our value insights, we identified that value is relative and changes with the trip mission, shopping intent and categories being purchased.
  • On any given shopping trip, shoppers’ perception of value is dependent on three key elements: spend, time and experience.
  • When evaluating retailers on key value drivers, half of shoppers say retailers deliver a “good deal.” About a third say that retailers deliver on time and experience.
  • This value framework helped us gauge key gaps across the value anchors for individual retail partners and provide recommendations on shopper solutions to close those gaps.

Why shopper research—matters

The shopper is at the center of everything we do at Hershey. Today, retailers of all sizes are experimenting with ways to drive trips, build baskets and gain customer loyalty. When shoppers win, retailers win. When retailers win, snacking categories win. So by understanding what motivates customers, and using that complex information to a devise simple shopper value equation, we are able to better understand shoppers, and that in turn makes shoppers feel understood. When that happens, we all come out ahead.


To learn how to action Hershey's research to win with your shoppers, download our report, “Creating Value in a Shopper’s World: A Guide to Unlocking Your Snacks Retail Potential.”