Organizing for consumers

Yesterday I went to a Giant food store in my locality. I don't normally go there. But it's owned by Ahold, a Dutch Company, and I'd just met someone who works for them, so I wanted to see for myself what they'd said about it.

Giant is the same distance from where I live as my other choices of food stores: Safeways, Wholefoods, and Yes Organic so I have a several choices when it comes to food shopping. Thinking about the four I wondered how I compared them. Why did I choose one over another, why hadn't I gone to Giant before?

Right around this time an article dropped into my email How Categories and Environment Create Satisfied and Well-Informed Consumers. It's a summary of a new Pitt/USC study to be published in the June issue of Journal of Consumer Research .

It suggests that expert consumers like to be surprised by unusual product presentation, while novices crave familiarity and tackles the question "How can retailers help consumers become more informed about the products they use while also making them happy?" ask authors Cait Poynor, Pitt assistant professor of business administration in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, and Stacy Wood, University of South Carolina professor of marketing. The answer seems to be in organizing products tailored to customers' knowledge levels. Their research indicates that simply organizing a store's existing stock in different ways can improve consumers' learning and their degree of satisfaction."

It is true in my case that I am influenced by the organization of the stores. Wider aisles, good signage, logical (to me) groupings of items make me happier to shop there. But following the argument about categorization here's an example of an illogical grouping in my view. Canned vegetables, excluding canned tomatoes, are in one aisle. So where are the canned tomatoes? In one food store I go to (Kroger's). They are in 'international foods' being classified as Italian alongside pasta. Does his make me an expert canned tomato purchaser or a novice one? I consider myself an expert as I buy them a least once a week and have done for the last 30 years or so. In that case, according to the research, I 'like to be surprised' by 'unusual product presentation'.

Authors of another article on categorization Categories Help Us Make Happier Choices argue that consumers are happier with their choices if their options are categorized, even if the categories are meaningless.

"People confronted with highly categorized large selections are happier with their decisions because they experience a sense of self-determination as a result of perceiving differences among the available options."

Going back to the wide aisles that I prefer, I read another article Feeling Cramped While Shopping? Variety Provides Relief "When consumers find themselves in stores with narrow aisles, they react in a surprising way: they seek variety. "Our results suggest that in larger, less crowded stores, manufacturers should be less keen to deliver a wide variety of products in a category, and should instead focus on stocking a few of their better-known or dominant product offerings," the authors write. "In contrast, manufacturers should prefer to deliver a greater variety to more crowded stores, as customers in those stores will be more likely to diversify their choices in a category."

None of the articles really answered my question about why I choose one store over another. But thinking back over my last trips I'm weighing price (for specific items), convenience – some are marginally closer than others, time of day (to avoid standing in line), "look and feel". I rarely think about categories except when I'm unfamiliar with the store and trying to work out their logic. That's one of the interesting things about research. It makes firm statements that don't stand up in individual situations (and it turns out that both categorization articles were simulated in laboratory settings). Nevertheless it provides another take on organization design to mull over.

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