Last Updated: November 27, 2020

Today’s stores set the stage for a carefully refined shopping experience, designed to stimulate parts of a customer’s brain to purchase goods or services.

Some stores use special scents to create a calm, relaxing environment, while others use in-store soundtracks to set the mood for shopping. Even the lighting in a store can have a powerful effect on how much a customer buys while inside. All of these subtle factors combine to influence the customer at the moment they reach for their wallet.

According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, as many as 70% of a customer’s purchasing decisions are made in the store. This is a powerful statistic when one considers all the money spent on advertising outside the store. Billions of dollars are spent on marketing messages that might be completely disregarded by customers as soon as they actually see a product on a shelf. Today’s marketers must consider their advertising efforts from the moment a customer is introduced to a product to the moment they actually pay for it.

Many manufacturers and retailers employ consumer psychologists to better understand the myriad factors that affect purchasing decisions. Purchasing decisions are rarely a purely rational choice, but are rather based on a number of environmental and psychological factors that transcend simple statements about quality or value. Marketing professionals must understand the mental process behind the decision to buy if they want to connect with customers in the place where it most matters. (See also Consumer Psychology)

What is shopper marketing?

Shopper marketing focuses on the customer at the point of purchase. It tries to make last minute appeals to customers at the moment when they are actually prepared to buy something (See also Point-of-Sale Marketing). Unlike print, radio, or TV ads which can linger in the minds of customers for months, shopper marketing tries to make an immediate impact and directly influence behavior.

Marketing Stimuli

Shopper marketing uses a variety of techniques to make an impression on customers. The main factors and sub-factors are listed below. Any successful shopper marketing effort has to consider the overall effect of all factors on the minds of impressionable customers.


  • Size
  • Color
  • Packaging
  • Language


  • Coupon Dispenser
  • Circular advertisements
  • Personal check-out coupons


  • Music
  • Lighting
  • Display
  • Personal check-out coupons
  • Circular advertisements


  • Sampling demo
  • Floor advertisements
  • In-store TVs
  • Cart/basket advertising
  • Shelf signs

This kind of last minute appeal to the customer takes many forms depending on the product and the retailer. Grocery stores have long offered free samples, hoping to whet a customer’s appetite at the very moment when it is easiest for them to buy food. Beer and chip makers construct elaborate display ads inside stores at the start of football season. High end stores use careful calibrations of light, space, music, and ambiance to put customers in the mood to shop.

While it was once assumed that shopper marketing only took place in brick and mortar stores, the rise of e-commerce has required marketers to reconsider how they influence shoppers online (See also E-Commerce Marketing).

One common technique is to point customers toward other products they may like based on what they’ve bought. If they are buying a DVD, the online store will recommend other films with the starring actor. This is a simple but effective way to encourage customers to spend more than they had intended.

Who implements shopper marketing?

There are two groups that will be most invested in shopper marketing. Manufacturers want to maximize the chances that customers will pick their product over another when presented with both on a shelf. To help persuade shoppers, manufacturers will consider the price, packaging, and special arrangements with retailers to make their product stand out.

Retailers are the other group interested in shopper marketing. Unlike manufacturers, they are trying to emphasize a store rather than a product. Retailers want customers to choose their store over another, spend as much money as possible, and return for repeat business. They consider location, signage, store layout, lighting, and a range of other factors when trying to refine the shopping experience.

Examples of shopper marketing

  • Maxwell House – After the coffeemaker introduced a new brew, they initiated a massive shopper marketing campaign. They handed out over 2 million sample cups along with a coupon for the coffee in over 8,400 retail outlets. The redemption rate for the coupons was the highest the company had ever seen.
  • Wal-Mart – Wal-Mart sells more cold/flu medicine than any other retailer. But they discovered that when people are sick, they often don’t want to navigate a gigantic store to buy medicine. The retailer worked with manufacturers to design in store ads encouraging customers to “stock up” on medicine and tissues before the flu season hit.
  • Target – When Target was looking to increase sales of baby clothes, they started to reconsider the layout of their stores. Analysis showed that mothers place a lot of weight on the transition from diapers to training pants. It is seen as a major transition for both mother and child. Traditionally, diapers and training pants had been stocked next to each other. When Target moved training pants to their own dedicated aisle they were able to emphasize the feeling of transition in consumers with young kids.
  • Cravendale Milk – The UK dairy came up with the slogan “Tastes so good, the cows want it back.” When customers entered a store, they saw ads designed to look like ransom notes featuring the slogan. The ads appeared at the front of the store and in the dairy aisle. The milk maker also redesigned their packaging to make it distinct from other brands. By the time the customer was ready to buy milk, they were thinking about Cravendale and able to pick it easily off the shelves.

The Growth of Shopper Marketing

Even the largest companies have limits to the amount of money they can spend on advertising. They have to carefully consider how they will make the best use of a finite advertising budget. The chart below, based on data from a survey conducted by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, illustrates how the respondents planned to spend their marketing budgets in the coming year. It shows clearly that more respondents plan to increase their spending on shopper marketing than any other form of marketing.

How is a shopper marketing plan developed?

Shopper marketing often involves a number of small efforts spread across a range of physical locations and marketing channels. Keeping track of all these efforts requires a careful plan that can inform every marketing decision.

Marketers must carefully analyze products and their target customers. Wal-Mart, for instance, segments their customers into a number of categories based on their needs, ranging from price/value shoppers, to one-stop shoppers and consumers with a brand aspiration. Each customer visits Wal-Mart for a different reason and has a different experience in the store (See also Database Marketing).

Once the plan has identified the features that it will emphasize, the company designs marketing materials that reflect this message. Marketers examine how a product is packaged, the way it is placed on the shelf, the products around it, and its overall place in a store. For example, gum makers sell more gum when it is next to the register than stocked in the candy aisle.

The final step of the plan will be to study and evaluate its effectiveness. As the plan is being developed, metrics should be identified that clearly define the goals of the campaign and the measures of success. This could mean anything from increasing sales, to gaining an advantage over a competitor, or shifting the perception of a brand. The campaign should be evaluated at multiple times throughout its duration, and if targets are not met, the campaign should experiment with new marketing strategies.

Careers in shopper marketing

Packaging Designer

What do they do?

Salaries of Shopper Marketers

  • Packaging Designer
    entry level – $35,000-$50,000
    after 10 years -$60,000-$90,000
  • Interactive Designer
    entry level – $40,000-$60,000
    after 10 years – $80,000-$120,000
  • Store Designer
    entry level – $50,000-$80,000
    after 10 years – $80,000-$120,000


Packaging designers create the packages that products are sold in. In many ways, the packaging is a miniature advertisement. It will emphasize the product’s most appealing features whether that is price, quality, or reputation. The packaging designer will try to communicate brand messages to the customer while maximizing the visual impact of the product.

Education and Skills

A degree in marketing is helpful, but not absolutely necessary to become a packaging designer. Many designers enter the field after getting degrees in graphic design or fine arts. The packaging creators need to understand how a product’s appearance affects a customer’s decision to buy.

Interactive Designer

What do they do?

Interactive designers create the interfaces that allow customers to interact with companies using technology. For instance, the ordering process on is created by an interactive designer to be as fast, easy, and intuitive as possible. Online shopper marketing relies on interactive designers to make the ecommerce experience as easy as possible for customers and as flexible as possible for marketers.

Education and Skills

Interactive designers are not required to have a degree in marketing, but it can be extremely helpful. They have to understand the complicated process behind influencing customer behavior. Ultimately, their goal will be to align the needs of the retailer and the customer as closely as possible. Many enter the field after getting degrees in programming or computer science.

Store Designer

What do they do?

Store designers create the layout and other physical features of a store. They will be responsible for identifying new locations, tailoring the space to the retailer, and maximizing the experience the customer has inside. They will consider everything from the music in the store, to the number of cash registers as they try to design a retail space. Their goal is to create an experience that makes customers want to shop.

Education and Skills

A degree in marketing will be necessary for any store designer. Many have advanced degrees in marketing as well as training in interior design, psychology, and architecture. This is a senior marketing position that can only be done successfully after years spent working in marketing and analyzing a company’s brand.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

Shopper marketing uses a wide range of marketing strategies to make a subtle, but substantial impact on the customer. Shopper marketing is often a leading driver of sales because it targets customers when they are most willing to spend money. Understanding the complicated psychology of a consumer at the point of purchase is crucial for leading successful shopper marketing campaigns. The best way to understand this mindset is to earn a four-year degree in marketing from an accredited institution.

Only in recent years have companies developed the tools thoroughly study the minds of their customers. Some of the most common techniques for shopper marketing were unknown just 10 years ago. A degree in marketing will teach students how to market products based on new discoveries about consumer behavior. Much of this research has come from academics in marketing departments who can dedicate the time and focus needed to psychoanalyze wide swaths of customers. New marketers hoping to influence today’s customers must get formal training if they want to succeed.