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Sep 05, 2002

What Herb Sorensen Learned by Studying 60,000 Shoppers' Paths Through a Supermarket

SUMMARY: Researcher Herb Sorensen recently spent five months tracking exactly what paths shoppers take and what behaviors they exhibit as they move through a supermarket. Now he reveals some of what he learned including how location affects shopping patterns, and the fact that shoppers spend less and less time reading product labels as they get closer to check out.
For the past 30 years, Herb Sorensen of Sorensen Associates has been carefully watching how consumers really act as they browse through brick and mortar stores.

He notes what they whisk past and what catches their eye, and how that affects sales for consumer packaged goods brands such as Dr Pepper/7Up.

Last year, Sorensen's team camped out for five months in a Portland Oregon-area supermarket in a fairly affluent neighborhood, and used their new Path Tracker technology to discern fascinating patterns of 60,000 shoppers' behavior. Here are a few of the things they learned:

1. Shoppers do not travel up and down each aisle.

For years marketers assumed the most common form of shopping was to zigzag through aisles. Instead, "most consumers grab a cart, head to the right through the produce department and stick to the perimeter of the store or the ‘racetrack.’" From the racetrack consumers take "excursions" down aisles to grab what they want, most often entering the aisle from the back end.

2. "Check-Out Magnet."

Consumers shop a lot slower at the beginning of their trip and as they near the end of their trip they move faster and faster. "Data remonstrated over and over that the buy speed for products at the beginning of a trip is 3 times longer than at the end of trips."

Example: Salad Dressing. A shopper spends 28.2 seconds deciding to buy salad dressing at the beginning of their trip contrasting with a mere 8.3 seconds at the end.

3. Location, location, location

Shopper Attitude (how shoppers are standing and what they’re looking at), is all about location. "Data shows that in 85% of the time placement is more important than the product itself."

What is the best location for merchandise promotions?

-- Most consumers stop about 4 feet in from the end of the aisle

-- "The average elevation of most-bought product isn’t eye level but more like belly button level about 40 inches off the ground."

-- Shoppers buy on the left side almost 2 to 1 over the right side. (The dominant flow of traffic is from the back to the front of store so an item is better placed on the left side if facing check out.)

-- The nearer the beginning of the trip the better. "The first aisles people come to in the stores are the best for merchandising, the more people you’ll get exposed and the longer they’ll spend looking at it. As consumers go around the racetrack the pull towards the check out begins and by the by the time people get to the 4th aisle most have begun to exit. The first 3-5 minutes of the trip are key."

The worst place to promote merchandise?

The back right corner of the supermarket wins hands down. "It’s like a cull de sac, only 7% of people visit there because most people have already turned to get on the race track."

However, Sorensen notes, no matter where you put an item if people really want it they’re going to find it "no such thing as a place totally worthless."

Want to meet Sorensen in person? He is speaking at IIR's Insights in Action Conference on Sept 19-20 in NYC. For more info, go to:

Sorensen's site:
See Also:

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