re-imagining front-of-store design to capture the attention of impulse shoppers

re-imagining front-of-store design to capture the attention of impulse shoppers

New research technology has finally confirmed what many marketers have long-suspected – most shoppers shop on autopilot and what they say they do in-store rarely reflects what they actually do. In reality, most in-store decisions are habitual and typical shoppers’ recollection of their purchase choices is less than 50 percent accurate.

A recent front-of-store and impulse category study undertaken by Nielsen utilised a range of new research technologies to quantify the true size of the impulse category, identify and understand high potential shoppers and pin-point the opportunities to drive growth in front-of-store impulse purchasing. Use of technologies such as eye tracking glasses, tablets, virtual store testing labs and neuroscience avoids any reliance on shopper recall, and this passive approach is providing insights not previously accessible via traditional methodologies. Thanks to these emerging research technologies, we are now able to unlock the autopilot part of shoppers’ decision making in-store and use these insights to develop messages which connect with shoppers in a far more effective way.


Today’s retail landscape is becoming increasingly complex. Self-scan checkouts, scan-as-you-shop handheld devices, online shopping and click-and-collect options all allow shoppers to speed up their checkout process, however, these systems mean it is becoming harder to gain insight into and achieve growth in front-of-store impulse purchases. Adding to this challenge, most impulse items also retail in aisles, and are typically consumed immediately after purchase, resulting in low recall.

In fact, if front-of-store was a category it would rank as one of the top 10 grocery categories. Eight in every 10 supermarket shoppers buy an impulse item from within the store, one in three purchase impulse categories from front-of-store, and one in five baskets contain an impulse purchase.


Few shoppers remember much about their supermarket visits. What they bought, the time of day, whether it was a top up or daily shop, if they used a self-scan or operator checkout, length of the queue – most details quickly fade from the memory as shoppers move on with their busy lives. Capturing the attention of these time-poor and attention-short shoppers is no mean feat, especially given the average shopper spends 15 seconds at the supermarket shelf per category, notices less than 40 percent of products, focuses their attention on point-of-sale materials for 1.6 seconds and typically compares prices between just two products.

It is generally acknowledged that there are two touchpoints at front-of-store – joining the queue and scanning and paying for items – and today’s front-of-store design is based on this premise. In reality, however, these two moments combined account for just 45 percent of front-of-store purchases. Nielsen’s front-of-store and impulse category study uncovered three previously untapped opportunities to connect with shoppers:

  1. On entering a store shoppers, especially those on short top-up or emergency trips, are more likely to skip the fresh food aisles. Often shoppers enter the store via check-outs, offering an opportunity to connect through front-of-store displays designed for ‘reverse entry’.
  2. During their shopping trip, shoppers are more likely to pick up an impulse item they can easily see from the aisle, demonstrating a need for more visible and eye-catching displays which can be seen from as far as 10 feet away.
  3. The final opportunity to connect with shoppers at front-of-store comes when they have completed their shopping trip and do a quick mental audit of whether they have everything they came for. There is a sweet spot at front-of-store between when a shopper ticks everything off on their list and the moment they join a queue.


Neuroscientific studies tell us that our brains take in up to 11 million bits of information every second, including both visual and auditory information, although visual is the primary sense for humans. Our conscious minds, however, can process only 40 bits per second. Our brains process the remainder, but non-consciously, and studies confirm unequivocally that this ‘non conscious information’ impacts our shopping attitudes, decisions and behaviour. With an overload of products, colors and promotional offers, shoppers’ brains tire quickly from navigating the array of aisles and brands, and stop processing effectively after 15 to 20 minutes of shopping. To hone in on opportunities to drive front-of-store impulse purchases, it is critical to improve the layout of displays and merchandising to remove barriers, so that shoppers relax and are open to shopping at front-of-store:

  • Open up shelving to increase engagement. Sharp, squared off shelving is a turnoff. The brain is more comfortable in environments without angles and sharp edges, and shoppers are more likely to engage with fixtures with curved edges.
  • Adjacency flow which is based on the direction a shopper’s eye travels in is critical. Impulse categories positioned above magazine displays are more likely to achieve positive engagement than items positioned below the display.
  • Be part of the solution, not another step in the process. Obtaining a direct positive connection with shoppers is always important, and even more so at that final point in their store visit. Develop messaging which helps rather than hinders shoppers.

Develop messaging which helps rather than hinders shoppers
  • Engage shoppers with effective point of sale materials. Long hail to the age-old belief that there’s no need for pack shots at point-of-sale since the pack is there, pack shots prime shoppers to want to buy. A strong face and eye-to-eye contact are also important elements in point-of-sale material to help build a connection with shoppers, along with a short, action-oriented banner with a clear message.

The impulse category has huge potential for growth in front-of-store sales – as much as 150 percent – but in order to realise this growth, retailers and manufacturers must take the time to understand the key drivers, shopper behaviours and most effective influencers in order to capture and maintain shoppers’ attention. Do you know your impulse shoppers intimately and are you innovating to grow your front-of-store opportunity?

For more information on Nielsen’s front-of-store and impulse category study contact Connie Cheng or your Nielsen representative.