The Death of The Primary Shopper

Retail lingo like “heads of household” and “primary shoppers” have long been marketing shortcuts for identifying research prospects, targeting loyalty efforts and tracking success. And until recently, these terms have usually been synonymous with moms.

Now, news headlines like “U.S. Fathers Are Rolling Up Their Sleeves at Home” and “Supermarket Bromance” have prompted some brands to chase new dad targets, shifting their focus to a male stereotype.

Meanwhile, people’s networks are growing by the minute, and all those voices of influence are no more than a swipe away. We aren’t in the habit of making decisions in isolation because we hardly ever have to. And with everything we’re juggling, we rarely want to either.

So how is it then, we still rely on identifying a single “primary shopper” for targeting? Especially when it comes to household products, which by definition will be shared. The question we should be asking is, how do different households share decisions and how can we make that process easier?

In my house, we pick up responsibility wherever we can because we have to. I rely on my husband for those weeks when I can’t get home in time for errands. And he counts on me to notice when we’re low on K-Cups or light bulbs so we remember to grab more. If we didn’t work as a team, we’d have an empty pantry and compromised sanity. And we don’t even have kids yet.

The idea of “team shopping” (the unspoken process of dividing planning and shopping responsibilities across a couple) was sparked from real life anecdotes just like mine. We all do it, we just don’t realize it. In a recent study, we learned that 76% of married parents say they do all the grocery shopping and planning themselves, when really 90% of their spouses take grocery trips, browse coupons or make shopping lists. It’s no wonder shared shopping apps haven’t taken off–people don’t know they need them.

We discussed this topic with Jonah Berger, Author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, and he reinforced the importance of understanding and facilitating team decision-making: “How can we create tools, where if one person is in the store, but one person is at home, we make it easy for that connection to happen?” (Currently, 38% of shoppers admit they call or text their spouses from the store for help!) When we forget a secondary or “second primary” shopper (aka the team), we risk fragmenting the team’s share of wallet, or even souring a potential brand relationship. Household responsibilities are a source of pride – a badge of honour – and being le out of the process can lead to feelings of guilt and disappointment. Not to men on, shopping can become habitual (vs. exploratory) when one person is opera ng on auto-pilot. For all these reasons, 63% of people would shop with their spouses more often if they could.

Imagine the impact it could have if stores encouraged shoppers to add their spouses into the mix, and better yet, customized offers to their team roles (e.g., I like deals and he likes experimenting, send me coupons that can be shared in our app, and send him product ideas that can be added to a shared wishlist). “When you’re targeting at a household level, you really have to say, ‘What does a household that has one of these people and one of those people together look like?’ Our role should be understanding what people are doing and giving solutions, whether hi-tech or low-tech,” says Berger.

“Targeting Primary Shoppers makes no sense. We live in a culture of influence, and nowhere is shared responsibility more prevalent than household purchase decisions.”

Marketers are so focused on getting customer loyalty, we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture–household loyalty. Our study showed that couples who shop as an effective team are at least 20% more likely to love shopping in a given store. Shopping teams are less rushed throughout the process, and two heads are likely contributing to new and more frequent purchases. For household retailers and brands, it’s time to think beyond gender stereotypes and help the household unit function as a winning team. That’s how we’ll take customer relationships to the next level.


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Saya Heathco is VP, Group Strategy Director at 22squared in Atlanta, GA, USA

Article taken from thenetworkone’s Shopper Marketing Essay collection. Information provided from 22Squared’s report into Team Shopping. To read the full report, visit: