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How virtual shopping research can help market OTC products

What if you had a window into shoppers’ behaviors as they virtually shopped for over-the-counter products in an online simulated setting that re-creates a conventional store?  A virtual shopping environment is not only immersive and fun for shoppers, but allows marketers to gain a better understanding of the dynamics that occur at point-of-purchase as well as the impact of marketing activities on shoppers.

In the over-the-counter (OTC) category/industry, the moment of shoppers’ decision-making is much more complex than it is in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) market. The level of complexity differs from country to country and is linked to the varying degrees of importance of healthcare professionals’ (HCP) recommendations in the shopping process. Tactics like price, point-of-sale (POS) promotions and package design, although to different extents in each market, always have a big effect on shoppers’ behavior at the point of purchase.

Intuition and perception drive shopper behavior in-store

Traditional research methods often focus on capturing conscious attitudes and stated behavior. However, most consumer decisions are made not only rationally, but emotionally. This also applies to a greater degree to the OTC market, where the rate of emotional vs. rational decisions continues to rise.

Shoppers simply don’t have time to “reflect” in-store, as shown in System 2 on the following chart of Daniel Kahneman’s Nobel Prize-winning framework on decision making outlines, which he categorizes as explicit behavior.

They mainly use their autopilot, relying on “intuition” and “perception” as System 1 reveals, thus demonstrating implicit behavior. That is why our research focuses on measuring shoppers´ behavior and changes to that behavior at point of sale and not simply capturing conscious attitudes and stated behavior.

The first step to win at point-of-purchase is to gain a realistic look into shopper behavior

We recently augmented our shopper research services with a suite of virtual store research solutions powered by Simstore. By bringing shoppers into a realistic online re-creation of a shopping environment, our research allows marketers to gain a real understanding of shopper dynamics at the point of purchase. Using Simstore, the impact of marketing activities can be measured at the shelf and in-store. In addition, this true-to-life shopping environment can be used to test new scenarios and initiatives that support business development and brand building.

Flexibility of the virtual store environment increases research options

Roughly speaking, there are three types of pharmacies worldwide:

  1. The self-service layout where shoppers actively go to the counter to ask for a recommendation, like we see in the U.S., U.K. and Canada
  2. A store where shoppers are not allowed to pick up a drug directly, but need to ask the pharmacist for the OTC drug
  3. A store between these two standards

With virtual store research, marketers have the freedom to easily re-create one of these types of stores to help them not only understand shoppers’ behaviors, but also to find out how customers respond to new marketing ideas displayed in a realistic and credible manner.

Shopper research and shopper marketing are integral to a sound marketing strategy

On a strategic level, when making decisions about portfolio and distribution management, virtual store research helps to explore opportunities for new segments. This includes where these segments should be placed, displayed and even how they should be promoted. It also helps you explore how new segments should be designed in order to create a distinct identity that is appealing to the shopper.

On an executional level, virtual shopper research provides new insight into the choices shoppers are making at the store fixture, and how these relate to the occasions they are shopping for. It fosters a much deeper understanding of what pack sizes and packaging formats marketers should be offering for different shopping missions and different trade channels.

Insights from virtual store research allow marketers to map out future shopping behavior that can be a valuable guide for developing new products, enhancing an existing brand or creating more effective shopper marketing strategies.

This article is co-authored by Walter Pechmann.

For more information on virtual store research and Simstore, please contact anders.orbom@gfk.com.

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