There is a growing need for marketers to evolve their promotional techniques to also focus on targeting shoppers in the 'pre-shopping stage' before they reach retail stores, according to Chris Boorman, product director for Coupons.com, who here explores how brands and retailers can put themselves on the customer's shopping list. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

With a continued squeeze on household budgets, consumers are being far more sophisticated. They are not only increasingly using coupons and money off vouchers to reduce the weekly bill but the majority are now proactively researching these offers online beforehand.

But, as Boorman suggests, there is now a huge opportunity for both brands and retailers to reach consumers as they plan the weekly shop with targeted, relevant online offers that can be redeemed in store. In doing so, they can establish a clear engagement with the consumer along his or her entire path to purchase and drive significant incremental sales.

Consumer Motivation
Consumer behaviour has changed radically over the past few years. Driven by a combination of economic pressure and more relevant retailer/brand marketing, when it comes to the weekly shop consumers are increasingly planning ahead. A recent survey of over 1,000 consumers indicates that 88% typically make a list before embarking on the weekly shop and growing numbers using smart phones as part of the pre-shop activity to track down relevant offers.

Consumers are becoming savvier about how and where they spend, with growing numbers keen to exploit money off offers, such as coupons - now used by 9 out of 10 shoppers on a regular or occasional basis. The vast majority of consumers - 8 out of 10 - choose as much as 30% of the weekly shop based on the savings and discounts on offer; while 6 out of 10 consumers are buying more of their food and groceries on promotion, up from 40% in 2008.

But while the majority of purchases (90%) still take place offline, an estimated 40% of people prefer to ROPO ('research online, purchase offline') according to Google. Indeed, the way consumers are using the Internet to search for and receive offers continues to grow in both volume and sophistication.

Almost three quarters (72%) chose online as the preferred channel for receiving money-off coupons; but they are also increasingly using social networks as a source of information on new products and offers. According to the latest figures from Experian Hitwise, Facebook receives an average of 40 million UK internet visits every single day, and social networks now accounts for 27% of all the time spent online in the UK in 2011.

Right Timing
There is a clear opportunity for retailers and brands to tap into this pre-shopping activity by targeting and engaging the increasing number of savvy, price sensitive yet value conscious consumers while they are in shopping mode, planning their shop and researching relevant offers online, yet not physically in store executing that purchase.

However, despite the use of loyalty cards, online registration and social networking to improve customer profiling too many of the offers remain impulse led. Few organisations have yet discovered an effective way of improving the timing of the offer and tapping into this critical pre-shopping planning phase.

Rather than rely upon the in store offer or till based/loyalty card coupon, brands and retailers can adopt a far more effective way of using coupons to target the consumer pre-shop. Indeed, while only 32% of consumers will use a coupon as part of a brand switch, over half (55%) would actually buy a product not normally on their shopping list if a coupon is available, providing a significant opportunity for brands to offer customers incremental value.

In doing so, brands and retailers can not only ensure they are on the list before the consumer goes shopping but also tap into the growing desire of individuals to share compelling and innovative offers via social networking - truly influencing and engaging with the consumer on his / her entire path to purchase.

Conclusion
So it is clear that both brands and retailers are currently missing out on a huge opportunity to exploit consumers' proven desire to both plan ahead and exploit the Internet to access the most relevant and compelling offers; as well as the extraordinary power of social networking to share up to the minute offers between peer groups at peak shopping periods.

As consumers get increasingly strategic about shopping, it is the organisation that can combine innovative use of offers that reflect desires for quality, quantity, price and relevance with the timeliness and ease of access that will be best placed to tap into the changing motivations that are affecting the weekly shop. Putting the right offer in front of the consumer as they pre-shop offers the chance to transform brand engagement and drive significant incremental sales.