Understanding the Auto Pilot Shopper

Understanding the Auto Pilot Shopper

August 8, 2018
Annette Maggi
Business SkillsRetail Industry Insights

By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

My local grocery store recently went through a remodel.  Even thought it’s been a few months now since the remodel completion, I still can’t find items when I shop.  They’ve moved.  All the aisles are reconfigured and products are now shelved differently.  I find myself annoyed, seeing grocery shopping as more of a chore than ever before.

This scenario is not uncommon and highlights that most individuals shop for food primarily on autopilot.  We open the fridge to empty shelves and head out the door to the store.  We grab the same brands, the same package sizes, the ingredients for meals we can make without a recipe.  We are on autopilot.

Habit is defined as a repetitive behavior that has essentially become involuntary.  The Power of Habit, coined by Charles Duhigg, indicates that individuals respond to a cue (we’re out of milk and bread) and respond in routine (head to the local store and purchase regular brands of milk and bread).  Individuals are then rewarded for this behavior (my family has breakfast food and are happy), which causes repetition of the behavior.

For retailers and brands alike, this mode of shopping is a blessing and a curse.  Retailers can predict how often, when and where we purchase our groceries, improving inventory planning and staff scheduling.  If a brand is the go-to brand, they have guaranteed sales and can lessen budget allocated to advertising.  Experts suggest brands in this fortunate position do little to change their packaging, as it then becomes unfamiliar to the autopilot shopper.  

But new brands, private label brands, and healthier products must break this habitual purchase pattern to gain sales. As retail dietitians engage shoppers about making more nutritious purchases in the store, breaking the cycle of the autopilot shopper is crucially important to your success.  In next week’s article, Disrupting the Auto Pilot Shopper, tips on changing the habit loop to encourage purchase of healthier products will be examined.