WHAT DRIVES SHOPPERS' DECISIONS

Convenience is primarily what lures a grocery shopper to a particular supermarket, while price generally guides which items that customer will purchase, according to a national consumer study by A.C. Nielsen, Schaumburg, Ill.Shoppers also are turning more to store-brand items, seeking out new healthy variations on their favorite foods and choosing environmentally friendly products, the survey found.Nielsen's

Convenience is primarily what lures a grocery shopper to a particular supermarket, while price generally guides which items that customer will purchase, according to a national consumer study by A.C. Nielsen, Schaumburg, Ill.

Shoppers also are turning more to store-brand items, seeking out new healthy variations on their favorite foods and choosing environmentally friendly products, the survey found.

Nielsen's Attitude Segmentation Survey polled the primary shopper in 40,000 demographically and geographically dispersed U.S. households, asking their opinions to questions on grocery shopping attitudes, views about supermarkets and personal traits and lifestyles. While the survey was conducted in June 1994, the results were not previously publicly released.

Convenience relates to a supermarket's proximity as well as the products purchased, respondents said. It is paramount to these shoppers that a food item be easy to prepare -- so much so that some will knowingly incur additional costs. More than 67% of consumers polled said they prefer foods that offer convenience in preparation, and 42% said they are willing to pay higher grocery prices for those shortcuts.

That does not mean, however, that shoppers are not price-conscious -- far from it. More than 64% of the respondents have a budget in mind before they set out to shop, and they try to stick to it.

What's more, shoppers are keenly aware of price differences between different supermarkets. About 48% said they know which store offers the lowest price on the brands they buy, and roughly the same percentage said they sometimes shop at different stores to get the best price on a product.

Still, most respondents said they're fairly store-loyal. More than 68% said they do the majority of their grocery shopping at the same store.

To get certain items, though, they will go to stores other than supermarkets. For example, 40% said they usually shop at grocery stores for health and beauty care products, while 48% said they typically don't buy HBC items at supermarkets.

And supermarket operators -- ever concerned about controlling the number of stockkeeping units -- apparently aren't boggling shoppers' minds with too much selection. According to the survey, only 25% of consumers think supermarkets offer too many product choices.

Before heading to the supermarket, most consumers plan which products they will purchase, the Nielsen study found. About 80% of the respondents said they usually know which brands they'll buy before entering the store.

Mass media help fuel such "preselection." About 66% of consumers read the newspaper to find out what's on sale before their grocery trip, the study reported. Television advertising is even more effective. Nearly three-quarters of shoppers said they are influenced by TV ads and have purchased a new product after seeing a commercial for it.

But many said they also will add impulse items to their shopping cart, noting that they're heavily influenced by in-store displays and fliers.

Nearly 80% of the shoppers said they notice special displays while shopping. Roughly 55% said they often buy an item on the spur of the moment when they're in a store. Also, 61% of the consumers surveyed said they'll pick up a store flier to scan for savings on additional items.

And when looking through those fliers, brand names flag product choices. In the survey, 78% of shoppers said they are brand-loyal. Most respondents also said they trust nationally advertised brands. Yet their views on routinely buying a product's leading brand were mixed: 37% did, 39% did not, 24% did not cast an opinion.

Although many consumers hone in on well-known labels, a good number of them believe that a store's own brands offer quality that's just as high and taste that's just as good. Half the shoppers polled said they were purchasing more store brands than they had in the past.

Brand decisions also are guided by a search for savings, the survey showed. Two-thirds of the respondents said they are looking for low-priced brands now more than ever. Almost 66% said they would buy a new brand if it were on sale. About 60% said they would try a new brand if they had a coupon for it.

Regarding coupons, 64% of shoppers said they almost always use them, the Nielsen study reported. Some customers clip them from magazines and newspapers, but more shoppers -- 82% -- said they use coupons gleaned from the selection they receive in the mail.

Most of those polled thought that coupon-collecting was not too time-consuming, considering the savings that coupons offer. But in-store coupon machines did not seem to be a hit with many respondents; more than half said they did not use the devices. Two-thirds of consumers surveyed said they plan which coupons they'll use before they enter a store.

Once they in the supermarket, three-quarters of shoppers deliberately stock up on items to cut the number of shopping trips they'll have to make, the survey found. About the same number of people will take advantage of sale prices and buy large quantities of a particular product. Others wait until their favorite brand is on sale to fill up their cart. Also, instead of buying a lot of the same item, 65% of consumers said they will buy products in larger sizes to save money.

Shoppers are taking note of products' nutritional value -- as well as healthy alternatives to favorite items -- and are being influenced by what they learn, according to the study. Nearly 80% said they are trying to eat healthier than they did in the past, and half said they choose snacks based on their nutritional value. Furthermore, 42% of the shoppers polled said they're willing to pay more money for low-fat versions of regular products.

Besides being health-conscious, many of the shoppers polled said they are environmentally conscious. More than 60% said they try to buy environmentally friendly products, and more than three-quarters of them said they are troubled by excessively packaged items.

About half of the primary shoppers surveyed said family members' preferences and opinions influenced their grocery decision-making. And although the study's respondents are the main grocery shoppers in their homes, they are not the only ones: 44% said that other family members help with food shopping.

Shopper Preferences [chart]

ON SUPERMARKETS:

I do most of my grocery shopping at one store.

Agree 67.8%

Disagree 23.9%

Neither 8.3%

ON CONVENIENCE:

I prefer food products that offer convenience in preparation.

Agree 67.3%

Disagree 14.1%

Neither 18.6%

ON BRANDS:

I usually know what brands I will buy before I get to the store.

Agree 78.3%

Disagree 10.6%

Neither 11.1%

ON COUPONS:

I almost always use coupons.

Agree 64.2%

Disagree 23.3%

Neither 12.5%

Source: A.C. Nielsen

A.C. Nielsen supplies a wide range of services that help the packaged goods industry screen, plan, test and evaluate marketing and sales programs. A.C. Nielsen provides comprehensive information on sales volume, share, demographics, trends, consumer-based analytics, pricing, promotion, distribution and inventory levels to the grocery, health and beauty care, tobacco, snack foods and beverage industries.