Subconscious processing in-store

smi-shopper-missionA great majority of our cognitive processing takes place at a subconscious level. This not only allows us to screen masses of data all day long, but is relatively effortless – unlike conscious processing, which takes a lot of energy and time. How does this effect the consumer’s shopping routine?

Let us look at the example of a traditional hypermarket with 40,000 SKUs. It appears customers are using some form of shortcut or heuristic; in order to cope with the size and complexity of modern stores, shoppers are using what psychologists call schemata. These are subconscious reactions to regularly encountered or stereotypical situations which we have stored in our memories. One example of the use of schemata is driving. When we first learn to drive, we consciously follow the instructions of our instructor. We practice and all those instructions become stored in our subconscious reactions – that is, they have become schemata or what we call autopilot. An experienced driver does the driving without thinking.

The same happens when we shop in a grocery store. On our first shopping trips to a new store, we shop consciously. During this phase, we find routines that work in terms of efficiently shopping in the store. If they work, we repeat them on subsequent trips – and just as in the case of driving, they rapidly become schemata.

The most important mission for Shopper Marketing is to make something unexpected happen in-store. This could be a non-stereotypical situation that breaks us out of autopilot mode. It could be an in-store demonstration, an in-store display or packaging that breaks through the clutter and the autopilot, making the brand seen and chosen by the shopper.


The Shopper Marketing article series from Ecolean shares interesting shopper insights from the FMCG world. We also share some tips on how to leverage packaging in the in-store battle.