Buying and preparing food is a huge part of most of our lives and routines. Almost everybody grocery shops – but not everyone shops the same. Strategists Jen Herbert and Greer Pearce recorded grocery diaries for a month and sat down to compare notes on the modern grocery experience.
LIFE STAGES SHIFT FOOD ROUTINES
Greer: Jen and I are in different life stages, and one of our big takeaways was not just that our shopping routines are different, but that changes in our lives have acted as triggers for a whole new food routine. Marketers have known for a long time that there are some brief periods in a person’s life when routines are disrupted and shopping patterns are open to change, and we saw that play out clearly in our own lives.
When Jen moved in with her partner, Jason, grocery shopping became a team effort. She had to start coordinating weeknight schedules and planning differently. They shop together, so the actual shopping experience became more fun: they make funny faces at each other in the produce section and gamify splitting up the items in their cart at checkout to try and get as close to possible to a perfectly split bill.
When I had a baby last year, I also got a new shopping partner – my son, Teddy. Pre-shopping trip, that meant planning more carefully so I could get in and out of the store faster, and new items on our list as he started to eat solid foods. In-store, it meant less time looking at labels or new products, and more time solving the puzzle of how to physically shop with him, a tiny human either taking up most of the cart in his car seat, strapped to my body, or trying to escape from the child seat.
These new routines are markedly different from how both Jen and I shopped as single young professionals, when we made more, smaller trips to the store and only bought food for one.
Brand Takeaway: Consumers need different things at different life stages, and there are multiple phases when they’re actively adjusting their routine. Meet them in the moment to offer them solutions specific to their needs.
Life stage shapes how people shop. Jen and her partner shop together and gamify their routine to make it more fun. Greer looks for items that will distract her toddler.
GROCERY SHOPPING STARTS BEFORE THE GROCERY STORE
Jen: What Greer and I came to appreciate as we traded our grocery stories was just how much effort we both spend on “pre-work” before ever stepping foot in-store.
Before a list can be constructed, we both meal plan our future dinners, but our sources for drawing meal inspiration are very different. Greer knows that her family will be home and in need of dinners every night of the week. She sits down and plans each of those seven meals, surrounded by her go-to resources: three favorite cookbooks, the New York Times, and Bon Appetit’s online recipes.
Meanwhile, Jason and I start meal planning by assessing when we’ll both be home – these are nights when it feels “worth it” to invest time in a homemade dinner. Then, we’ll scan the fridge to see if anything is in need of repurposing, which will often spark a meal idea. In the warmer months, we’ll also check the weather – if there are sunny days ahead, we’ll grill. If we’re still stuck, I’ll head to my Saved posts on Instagram. (When I see an easy meal idea, I proactively flag it for times like these.) Finally, I’ll do a scan of the house for staples – everything from vitamins to eggs to Kleenex – that we are running low on and should also be added to the list.
When we finally arrive in-store, our routines don’t stop. Greer follows the same pattern around her store each time, while I go so far as to “code” my list by the section of the store I’ll find each item in.
Brand Takeaway: Going in-store with a clear plan of attack helps the shopping experience run on autopilot, guaranteeing the trip is relatively efficient and even free of in-the-moment decision-making. With that insight, we both agree that well over half of our “grocery experience” actually takes place within our own homes. Consider ways that your brand can build relationships with customers outside of the physical store, when they’re more likely to be in an open, “inspirational” mindset rather than cruising on autopilot.
The grocery experience starts with inspiration and preparation. Jen and Jason make a detailed list before heading to the store.
SURPRISES MAKE A SHOPPING TRIP BEAUTIFUL
Jen: With all that prep-work, what’s in our basket is often dictated by what’s on our lists. But Greer and I also found we welcome pleasant surprises and unplanned ways to treat ourselves.
Greer sometimes treats herself to a pretty bouquet of flowers if they catch her eye, or spontaneously grabs swordfish if it looks particularly good. She distinctly remembers being excited one spring when her store’s typically uninspiring produce section had fiddlehead ferns.
Jason and I typically “allow” ourselves one or two surprises when we do our weekly shopping. This could be, like Greer, a spontaneous bouquet of flowers, a fancy candy bar or pastry, or a new flavor of protein bar or ice cream (usually one with eye-catching packaging!). Another welcome surprise is when large grocery chains begin carrying beloved brands from the Northeast. Just the other day, we happily discovered coffee from our favorite roastery in Maine, which we typically had to purchase on-vacation or online! It’s moments like this that infuse a trip that could feel like a chore with a sense of fun.
Brand Takeaway: Basket-building moments center around beauty and reward. While the idea of grocery shopping is quite beautiful – fresh, colorful produce, nurturing loved ones, etc. – grocery shopping in practice is often anything but. Finding small opportunities to encourage customers to treat themselves to something beautiful is a reward for an accomplished store trip.
PROXIMITY ISN’T THE ONLY FACTOR
Greer: It seems obvious that where we grocery shop is dictated by where we live, and to some extent this is true. But within a person’s grocery options, several factors might trigger them to buy at one store over another:
- The List: Jen’s list dictates where she’ll shop that week, and she doesn’t decide where to shop until it’s complete. If the recipe’s she’s making calls for hard-to-find produce, or she’s craving the fancy yogurt she likes, she’ll drive a little farther to get to a store where she knows she can find what she needs.
- Physical size of items: Greer gets all her bulky items like diapers, paper towels, dog food, and toilet paper via Amazon so she can avoid carrying heavy items home from a physical store.
- Price: Both Jen and Greer have price compared the stores in their area, and make the less expensive store their go-to for staples.
- In-store experience: Both Jen and Greer sometimes go out of their way to find an experience that offers elements of fun, beauty, and excitement.
- “Type” of grocery visit: Different grocery occasions call for different stores. Greer does her weekly, well planned trips to one store, but goes to a smaller, closer store for an unplanned mid-week trip.
- Season: In the summer, both Jen and Greer completely switch up their routines to incorporate farmers markets and CSAs where they can get fresh local produce. This means less trips to the grocery store overall, and meal planning driven by in-season items.
Brand Takeaway: The need for food drives a grocery visit, but many factors go into where and how you shop. While shoppers may have a default routine, they are open to deviating from it – or redefining it when it will make their lives easier or more enjoyable. Brands should consider how to meet the needs of multiple types of grocery occasions.
AMP is on a quest to humanize the total customer experience. This article is a part of AMP’s Customer Experience Deep Dive Blog Series, where we take a first person approach to understanding the modern shopping experience.