Consumers tend to shop differently across physical and digital channels — typically taking a more routinized approach to purchases — by shopping for essential items first — when shopping online.
But even though consumers' online trips today tend to start with a focus on adding essentials to the cart, businesses still have an opportunity to influence their customers with delightful disruptions that can spur unplanned purchases.
"We know that in-store lends itself more for discovery," said Ed Edson, senior director of omnichannel marketing at The Hershey Company, whose team is focused on maximizing demand based on shoppers' paths to purchase. "The online experience doesn't allow for ease of browsing like shopping in-store, but our research shows that consumers are, indeed, interested in discovery online — especially once they have completed their core shopping and mission."
The key to unlocking unplanned online purchases (and driving up basket sizes) is delivering the right "micro moments" of media placements in the shopping experience, according to Hershey.
"Shoppers need prompts and inspiration to build their baskets," Edson said. "Whether that be helping to suggest products/occasion solutions that help a shopper prepare for a weekly stock-up trip or delighting them with a comforting treat that is unexpected but catered to their past purchase behavior."
Those prompts and inspiration increasingly take the form of targeted advertisements on retailers' websites. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has supercharged consumers' shift toward online shopping, any business or brand that invests in marketing should consider the role retailer media can play to drive their business.
Understanding retailer media
As more and more retailers become their own media platforms by selling ad space within the shopping experience, Hershey is applying its expertise in consumer insights to redefine the art and science of ad buys to capitalize on high-potential micro-moments in the consumer journey.
"Hershey has been involved in this space for two to three years and significantly increased our focus on it just before COVID hit," Edson said. "It's allowed us to really learn what parts of the retailer media tactics are working and which aren't. And then we work really closely as a partner to retailers to help bring some of our experience and expertise to help improve their ad products."
None of this would be possible without deep consumer insights.
"Our strategy is always led by the consumer, and we're very data-led as a company," Edson said. "One of the really neat things about the retail media space is that it allows for closed-loop measurement. That means the retailer has the transaction data at their fingertips and has the media data at their fingertips. Many of our strategic partners are using that to evaluate the effect of media on a more real-time basis, so we built capabilities internally to understand that performance. That's guided our understanding of what is working and what isn't working."
Applying consumer insights
Retail media, which is all about driving conversion through tools such as search and on-site display, allows for "delightful disruptions" of the shopping experience at unique points in the consumer journey. Those disruptions are often most effective when they are customized to consumers' past shopping behavior.
For example, consumers often "build their basket, and then they'll go back through their mental list to check if they missed anything," Edson said. "They're very receptive at that point to unplanned messaging that helps satisfy occasion needs they might have." A good example of this is a cross-merchandising tactic, such as reminding a past buyer of chocolate syrup who has milk in their cart that they may want to make chocolate milk.
Those occasion needs may also be ones consumers aren't expecting. As COVID-19 hit and lockdowns expanded, for example, Hershey recognized consumers wanted new ways to gather and connect indoors, among their own households. Boosting spend on media that advertised at-home baking and s'mores helped Hershey increase consumers' interest in buying confections for those kinds of experiences.
Even as the pandemic recedes, Hershey said it believes that consumers' "at-home behavior has meaningfully changed, as well as online shopping behavior in terms of the role that online plays for our retailers," Edson said. "We just don't know how much in both of those cases. And so we're going to continue to use almost daily consumer surveys and learning to adjust what we're doing with media based on what we're seeing in the data."
"It's an exciting time to be in this space as it allows us to increase our level of sophistication and capability to truly deliver performance-based marketing," Edson said.