Shoppers and Their Shopping Lists

I’ve heard and read a number of discussions quoting a Sept. 2010 NPD released research study that claims that 94% of all Americans make shopping lists at home—before they shop. Furthermore, according to the study, almost three out of every four shoppers report never or rarely venturing off of the list. The conclusion? CPGs are almost certain to lose the sale—before the shopper ever walks into the store if they haven’t made it onto “the list”. So why bother with creating in-store media? After all that’s not where shoppers make their lists.But it doesn’t make sense. At least not to me. Not because I don’t believe shoppers make lists, I do. But I question the notion that shoppers are rarely tempted and that lists are so specific that in-store media rarely matters.

In fact, I conducted a tiny (and admittedly unscientific) study and what I got was exactly what I expected. I asked a few hundred people for and received about 200 grocery lists. I asked that they quickly jot down the first five or ten things on their shopping list. And I wanted to know if they shopped with a lists.

Most reported that they do keep and use a written list and some reported a mental list, but all but a few used a list of some kind. What was also striking was how similar the lists were. Eggs, milk, bread, paper towels, deli meat, and chips were common. A few listed very specific (brand) items, but brand-specific products were exceptionally rare. What’s more, and something that I wasn’t expecting, was how was the number of times “something for dinner” showed up on a list.

I’m not saying that folks don’t have favorite brands or that they don’t tend to buy the same products. I wonder if this could mean that an item on the list is what drives shoppers to a category but once they’re there, it’s anyone’s shopper to have.