This week, I want to share some thoughts about understanding shoppers and how you can use that to better influence key stakeholders. I will start with an example:

A friend of mine works for a food brand in a specific category. A few years back I was wandering around a supermarket and I found myself in that category. I had time on my hands and I was curious. I hung around a while to watch what was going on. I took some photo’s, took some mental notes and headed home. A couple of days later I sent him a few slides showing my observations.

The following day I got a call. The call went like this:

Him: I read your slides. Thanks for that. Out of interest, how long did that take?

Me: well… half an hour in store, an hour to reflect on it and about a couple of hours to put it down on paper into a presentation…. Half a day maybe?

Him: Hmm

Me: What’s up?

Him: Well… I just paid £10k for a research project and you have got 80% of the insights covered.

Me: oh…. Well… Sometimes it isn’t about how much time you throw at something if you know where to look. I am a retailer through and through remember and category management is what I do now. 

Him: Yeah, fair enough.

Me: Next time, call me up instead!


Don’t Waste Money On Research

In today’s competitive market, it is important to find those hidden insights. The one’s that might just be overlooked by most as an anomaly. There is a very powerful example that I can use to explain this. 

During the war, the allies were losing bomber planes due to enemy fire. The military looked at the planes and saw that the wings were full of holes. They thought that the way to improve things and prevent more losses was to add armour to the wings.

A statistician called Abraham Wald looked at the problem and realised that these planes were actually getting back. The data that the military had was biased towards survivors. It turned out that it was the planes that were hit in a certain part of the fuselage were the ones that went down. By adding armour to the wings, it would not have prevented the planes being shot down.

Source: Wikipedia

The point I am making is that powerful insights are not always obvious. Sometimes it takes a different perspective. 

Research in Travel Retail really does need to change, to go beyond the usual: 

  • Gender
  • Reason for travel
  • Did you plan to buy?
  • Did you visit the category?
  • Why did you buy? Gift? For yourself? Etc
  • How much did you spend?

If you have bought these types of reports over a period of a few years, you will notice that these statistics rarely see significant change.
So am I saying, don’t buy any research? No. I just think the time has come to question research and spend wisely when buying.

The Best Research You Can Do In Travel Retail

Are you the type of person that loves to sit with a cup of tea or coffee in the window of a café and watch the world go by? It seems that people watching is really popular. It appeals to people’s inquisitive nature maybe?
Watching people is fascinating. Apparently, I “spoil’ shopping trips because I go into Retailer Mode and I start inspecting the store, the merchandising, the staff, the dust on the fixtures… you know… all the fun stuff. Put me back into a Currys PC World Superstore now and I’d have it whipped into shape in no time. There would certainly be no idle chat when there are fixtures to dress that’s for sure!
I love to see how shoppers interact with their environment. There is a ton of useful stuff out there on the shop floor. You just need to know where to look.
I still believe that the best way to get a real understanding of the shopper is to get out there and talk to the shopper. Have a conversation. Watch them. See how they interact with your brand, your competitor brands, the category and store. Even better still? Sell to them. I mean it. 
We run a training course especially for brands to help them better understand retailers. We talk through a range of things from retailer metrics through to the challenges that retailers face. One thing that always surprises me is when we ask… 
‘When was the last time you actually spoke to a shopper? Every time we asked that question, we are usually met with blank looks and a deafening silence. What? They say. Speak to shoppers?? I don’t think so!! Excuses would roll out and there is always a reason why they don’t.
I cannot stress enough…. Shoppers are key, talk to them. 
So, with this in mind, I would love to set those who work in our industry a challenge. It is the….


Yes, that’s right, the Global Travel Retail 5 Customer Challenge. 
I want you to go and sell to 5 customers. If you are a brand, try and sell your products. If you work for a retailer and you work in the head office function, next time you are doing an airport visit, get on the shop floor and sell to customers. 
When I say sell to customers, I mean sell them what they want, even if it is not your brand. If the idea of walking onto a shop floor and selling a customer your competitors product is a problem for you, it really shouldn’t be. Why? Because it is a great source of information. Remember the plane story above? By understanding why customers are buying your competitors product you will learn something new.
One thing to remember, always ask permission. Let a member of staff know who you are and what you are doing. 
It might surprise you but retailers love it when brands help out to sell product. When we were at WDF, there was one person who would always be on the shop floor for the week before Christmas. She worked for a brand but during the busiest time, she rolled her sleeves up and sold product, clean shelves, re-stocked. It gave her a useful insight into the way the business operated, what customers were saying about her brand and why they were buying.
It doesn’t matter if you fail to close a single sale. What does matter is that you ask open questions and get into a conversation about the category and the products. Listen the their stories. Whatever happens, you will have 2 things happen:

  1. You will learn something from the customer
  2. The customer will learn something from you from through your brand stories

Next step – do something with that information. Write it up into a one pager and share it with colleagues, talk about it in your next meeting or catch up. When you do catch up, ask the following:

  • What are the common themes?
  • What did you know already?
  • What are the surprising things?
  • What are people asking for?
  • Why are they buying your product?
  • Why did they reject your product?
  • Why did they buy a competitor product?

This should then direct you in terms of your Shopper Research requirements. You can then focus on what you really need to find out instead of the generic research that you see out there today.
My most successful retail projects have occurred when I or one of my team have spent time on the shop floor to observe the behaviours.

My Final Thought

If you want a retailer to listen to you and I mean REALLY listen, you tell them what you found out while spending time on the shop floor. It will step change how they see you, your relationship and your ability to influence.



  1. Next time you are in store, talk to 5 customers.
  2. If they want to buy your competitors product, find out why.
  3. Write up your notes as a one pager and build a library
  4. Look for patterns
  5. Share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #GTR5CustomerChallenge
  6. Email me at kevin.brocklebank@oneredkite.comand tell me how you got on.

Enjoy the rest of the week and have a great weekend.

Thanks for reading.


Feature image: Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash