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Advertising coming soon to a shopping trolley near you

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Small screens on shopping trolleys will exploit your psychological state at the supermarket, while collecting data about your shopping behaviour

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New technology to be attached to supermarket trolleys will play on the human mind’s openness to suggestion when undertaking a low-involvement activity such as grocery shopping. And if marketers respond to new research published in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour, it won’t be long before small screen advertising is attached to your small shopping basket. But there is much more to this little activity than giving you helpful information about specials and offers.

 

TNS Research will use supermarkets as a concept testing ‘retail laboratory’, and will use the data from your shopping activities to evaluate advertising effectiveness. The Media Cart trolley will use path tracking technology and an interactive visual display to collect data on shopper behaviour, so that TNS are able to deliver research for manufacturers, retailers and advertisers/ marketers.

 

According to reports in a number of media outlets, one Canberra and one Sydney supermarket are about to trial new screen technology that will map your route through the supermarket, and suggest products for you to buy, as well as telling you of the specials and discounts in each aisle. By attaching a form of GPS technology to trolleys, the supermarket marketers will be able to exploit the low-involvement experience by creating a further stimuli in the shopping experience, and making it more likely that you will purchase the suggested items.

 

This technology has been trialed in the United States, and has been very successful in boosting sales in particular brands. Although these trolleys are only being trialed in Australia, it is not clear whether they will be adopted in all supermarkets. Previous trolley technology has not been fully embraced, although other aspects of technology  in supermarkets, such as self-checkout seems to have now reached a significant level.

 

As I have written elsewhere, grocery shopping relies heavily on a range of psychological manipulations to move you toward purchasing particular brands. These include the use of colours such as red, end-cap displays, and prime shelf-positioning (through slotting fees paid for by the brands). The supermarket shopping experience from the consumer’s perspective is one that is based predominantly on habit and inertia, so supermarket marketers try to increase dissonance by inserting stimuli into the experience, which results in the consumer buying the suggested products and brands.

 

In effect, what happens when these stimuli do get our attention is that we give more weight to it in terms of cognitive effort, the brand becomes salient, and we are therefore more likely to choose that brand, if we consider all brands are relatively equal in that product category.

 

So a short ad, just before you reach that product, is likely to have an effect on your willingness to choose that brand. We may not be fully conscious of the stimuli, but our brain picks it up, and this reduces the barriers to us choosing that particular brand (amongst a range of other brands in the same product category). This is best described as a form of supraliminal priming – as opposed to subliminal – because we are partly conscious of the stimuli, but not conscious of its effect, which is that the stimuli is enough to evoke a behaviour. This form of priming is often used in supermarkets, and other retail outlets, through the use of announcements, or even point-of-purchase advertising.

 

If marketers have their way, it won’t be long before the screens are even attached to our little shopping baskets, as well. New research published in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour challenges the notion that major trips to the supermarket are the best opportunities to create unplanned purchases. Jens Nordfalt found that those little fill-in trips that we take during the week, are likely to result in many unplanned purchases. What Nordfalt found was that, on average, unplanned purchases will account for a greater share of the total bill for a fill-in trip, than for a major trip (which contradicts much of the established thinking around how we shop).

 

So, having a screen attached to your basket will allow marketers to tap into the fact this it is unlikely that you will have shopping list when you do the short trip. Previous research has found that we can only hold about seven items (plus or minus two) in our heads at a particular point in time, so having reminders flashing up on a screen while we are shopping means that we will be likely to give weight to suggestions, and put it in our basket (and purchase it), if we are in a "zoned-out" state prior to receiving the stimuli.

 

Sources

Miller, GA. 1956. The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. The Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.

 

Nordfalt, J. 2009. Unplanned grocery purchases: the influence of the shopping trip type revisited. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 8, Jan-Feb, 1 – 13. 

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