The Challenging Road to Transforming the Buying Experience

Can you imagine a time when new products were developed and introduced with very little consumer research information to validate the introduction of that new product? And can you imagine there was no syndicated data to support the everyday pricing and promotional pricing, frequency, and depth strategies for that product? The buying experience was complicated.

In the absence of the extensive consumer research available today, CPG companies utilized consumer panels to “test” a product for its viability amongst its targeted consumers.

When I started my career in the grocery industry in 1983, the buying function was decentralized, and buying was done at the store level for independent retailers and many chain stores.

I had the opportunity to meet many other sales representatives from various manufacturers. This was when I learned men in every position along the supply chain dominated the grocery industry. Very few women in the business then, both in sales and store management, had buying responsibilities. I sold the Nestle portfolio of products to 65 independent grocery stores, and only one of my buyers was a woman. 

I found it so odd that at a time when most of the shoppers were women, most decisions about what products would be available for sale were made by men. Men were in buying positions and making the final decisions about what would be available on display and on the shelves. Men ideated the products, created the marketing strategy, and sold it to grocery retailers. 

Buyers made these decisions without any syndicated data used for fact-based category management.

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No syndicated data was available for this use until the late 1980s. The formal development of category management utilizing syndicated data began in the mid-to-late 1990s when many of us were trained in the category management process developed by Brian Harris with The Partnering Group

It was grueling in those days without the automated software we have today. Still, I will forever be grateful for the two years I spent in the category manager position with The Minute Maid Company. Decisions could be fact-based and no longer made on hunches, favors, or friendships; the numbers spoke for themselves.

While the syndicated data was growing to drive category management decisions, the ability to mine consumer research to develop products and validate their viability in the marketplace was also improving. At one time, manufacturers would utilize consumer focus groups to test a product’s likeability and probability for success with consumers. 

Suppliers used focus group information with sales reps to help sell a product to a retailer. Focus groups were made up of available consumers to test a product, again not necessarily representative of the consumer buying and using a product. However, what couldn’t be known about those focus groups is how well they matched up with the shopper’s demographics in any of a retailer’s stores. 

Sometimes employees of a company made up the focus group, and those employees were primarily men. They were giving input on products they most likely would never buy or use themselves. Today’s consumer research allows a retailer to have the ability to customize every store to its shopper base.

These scenarios may seem implausible given the plethora of syndicated and consumer data available to manufacturers and retailers today. It is also implausible that the experience women had while men, including product choices, store design, store layout, retailer services, store location, cleanliness, etc., mainly determined shopping. 

Thankfully, with the increase of diversity in the grocery industry, various thoughts have emerged. That diversity of thought, along with the syndicated and consumer data, has led to new and innovative buying concepts and distribution channels for the consumer to shop, experience, and enjoy.