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How product attributes impact buyers, shoppers

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In a multipart series during 2014, our team will examine key product attributes and marketing tactics from two different perspectives — the retail buyer and the consumer/shopper. We believe readers will benefit from an objective picture of the viewpoints that contribute to a product’s success at retail. In this column, let’s explore how a product’s attributes impact buyer and shopper behavior.

What are product attributes, and how do they impact buyers and shoppers?

Buyer vantage point: Simply put, attributes are appeal. What characteristics or features of the product will appeal to consumers? Manufacturers sell attributes to buyers, and buyers sell them to shoppers; to complete the cycle, shoppers may also demand specific attributes from manufacturers or buyers.

To buyers, a product’s attributes are the basis for its potential to sell. When considering attributes, buyers must also consider their shopper demographics and have a strong understanding of what their customers want. A successful buyer will source products that cater to the needs, interests and expectations of their core customer group and of shoppers specific to a particular category.

For instance, a recent Dechert Hampe study shows that baby boomers have a demonstrated interest in facial products with antiaging benefits. A buyer for a chain serving communities with large populations of baby boomers would consider this an important attribute when confronted with a new facial product.

Shopper vantage point: Different groups of shoppers seek different attributes in the products they buy. And with 76% of shoppers making purchase decisions at-shelf (as shown in a 2012 CPGmatters study), a product’s attributes play a prime role in their point-of-sale decision. Attributes that may entice shoppers include form, ingredients, proclaimed benefits and production methods. Age, socioeconomic status, ethnic background, gender and other factors shape the shopper’s perspective and influence his or her choice of attributes to seek in a product.

Bottom line: Understanding what different types of shoppers demand from products will help retailers and buyers optimize their assortment. Product attributes are often the chief factor in point-of-sale decisions for shoppers, and different shoppers seek different types of products. Buyers can select products that will motivate purchase by understanding what the core group of shoppers for their locations or a specific category demand.

What attributes are popular right now?

The popularity of “green,” probiotic and gluten-free products has been getting much attention. Growth of probiotic supplement sales is up 10% in North America in 2014 versus 2013, according to Euromonitor, and the gluten-free market is predicted to top $15 billion in annual sales in 2016, notes a February 17 article in The New York Times.

Lesser known but noteworthy trends include shopper interest in sulfate-free beauty and health products. L’Oréal is one big brand that has listened, and has developed the EverStrong and EverPure lines. As consumers become more aware of product ingredients and potential effects on their health, they will continue to demand products containing fewer chemicals and more natural ingredients.

Bottom line: Buyers must be one step ahead of shoppers in predicting trends and selecting products that meet various consumer demands, since shoppers quickly adopt and abandon changing health and beauty trends.

How do changing trends impact the attributes buyers and shoppers seek?

Buyers: Retail buyers carefully walk a line between maintaining consistent, proven offerings for current shoppers and selecting fresh items that will attract new shoppers. Buyers also must develop a rich understanding of diverse groups of shoppers and consider what attributes will encourage those groups to select a particular product.

Shoppers: Trends change, and shoppers change with them. In 2012 television health guru Dr. Oz touted the benefits of raspberry ketones to aid weight loss. Unprepared stores struggled to keep up with the demand as Oz’s followers flocked to stores to try the supplement. But physicians and the media fought back: An ABC News segment noted that raspberry ketones had not been tested on humans and did, in fact, present side effects, particularly in immune-compromised people. Sales have leveled off, and probiotics are now the hot-topic supplement for the health-conscious.

Shoppers are driven to make purchases by a variety of influencers, and the products that they demanded six months ago may not be the products they seek today.

Bottom line: An attribute or feature that may not seem particularly important to shoppers and, therefore, to buyers today can become a must-have characteristic literally overnight. Savvy buyers remain on constant “trend watch” to anticipate the next best-selling product to add to their departments.

What makes a product stand out at shelf? Unique attributes that cater to the changing tastes and evolving concerns of consumers.

JENNY KOSEK is an industry researcher and writer with Hamacher Resource Group Inc., a research, marketing and category management firm specializing in consumer health care at retail.


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