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Neuroscience could boost food sales

By Nicholas Robinson , 11-Jul-2014
Last updated on 11-Jul-2014 at 12:57 GMT

Understanding the neuroscience of shopping could boost food and drink sales
Understanding the neuroscience of shopping could boost food and drink sales

Food businesses need to tap into neuroscience and understand how consumers make fast and unconscious decisions, if they are to improve their sales, says a marketing expert.

Consumers make decisions in one of two ways, according to Stephen Yap, head of marketing company Ipsos MarketQuest. They make fast, unconscious and emotional decisions or thoughtful, conscious and rational decisions, he said at a Food and Drink Innovation Network conference on new product development last month.

“Retailers and manufacturers must tap into the first decision mechanism by making products easier to buy,” said Yap. Traditional forms of marketing, such as asking customers what they wanted through interviews, were not accurate enough to produce packaging and products that could tap into the first decision-making mechanism, he warned.

‘Growing momentum’

“There’s a growing momentum in neurosciences and shopper insights, which can determine how shoppers purchase products more easily,” said Yap. By using eye-tracking, biometrics and facial coding, firms could work out why shoppers bought certain products.

There is a belief that the longer shoppers spend looking at a product, the better. “But that’s not true and eye-tracking has shown that shoppers who spend the least time looking at something are more likely to buy it,” he said.

A similar claim has been made by behavioural scientist Dr Nick Southgate, who said despite consumers claiming to make rational decisions when shopping, they actually settled for products requiring the least amount of thought.

“The average consumer’s dream is to make it around the supermarket on autopilot,” said Southgate. “If people have to think about a product like a suduku [puzzle] they will not choose it.”

Well known brand owners, such as Unilever and Kellogg, were able to attract customers on autopilot more easily than new brands, added Yap. They had usually been around for decades and so consumers recognised what they were buying instantly.

More likely to purchase

If newer brands could convey quickly and simply, through packaging, what their products were, then consumers were more likely to purchase them, said Yap.

Retailers needed to review how products were displayed in-store, he said. In future, shops would be digital, so consumers could look at more products. “Marks & Spencer is already trialling a digital store in Amsterdam,” he added. “In the future there will be more touch-screen shopping and virtual shelves to reduce the time shoppers have to look for products.”

In-store facial recognition would also allow supermarkets to target specific products at consumers, based on previous shopping trips, which would also save them time.

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