By Alex Hunt, CEO, Behaviorally

Behaviorally LogoIt is an indisputable truth that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated significant and permanent changes in shopping behaviors. These changes are decidedly digital, and the consumer path-to-purchase has become definitively omnichannel.

In a recent article in Total Retail, Jennifer Conklin, vice president, Unified Commerce Sector Lead at Capgemini, outlined some of the facts behind this past year’s changes in the way consumers shop. She quotes an e-Marketer study that charts an unprecedented growth of 18% in 2020 of e-commerce spending in the U.S. The article goes on to outline the five factors that will define retail customer experience going forward with among the most important being the influence of omnichannel on shopper behavior.

She further cites a Nielsen study, pointing out an interesting extension of the impact of omnichannel: “For many (shoppers), online channels are a key means to compare prices, research new products and find physical stores, giving way to a full-blown explosion of true omnichannel shopping. In fact, new Nielsen Connect data shows that FMCG omnichannel shopping has increased by 50% this year, with nearly half leading to e-commerce purchases.” 

At Behaviorally, we have been acting on how this move to a digitally influenced omnichannel shopper journey is impacting clients especially in the FMCG and CPG categories like food and beverage, beauty and health care, and household products, as they struggle to make sense of profound changes in consumer behavior.  Shopping cart moving out from mobile phone

In the not-too-distant past, brands thought of retail as two separate environments and the old rules of shopper research were bifurcated accordingly: 

  • Brands made decisions based on research that examined how product (and packs) could be found, viewed and considered on the physical shelf.
  • Viewed as such a small part of the overall retail mix, if it was even paid attention to at all, research focused very simplistically around product on the e-commerce grid. Most often consequent learning was thought of as a UX exercise rather than a holistic analysis of the consumer path-to-purchase.

And market researchers rarely thought much about the overlap. It reminded us a lot of the division, which ultimately proved flawed, between television and digital in the advertising and communications world.

Now, in the same way as communications planning has changed, most of the old rules of shopper simply don’t apply. In a world in which digitization has only been accelerated because of the pandemic, consumers move seamlessly back and forth between digital and physical retail environments as they approach and make their purchase choices. The impact of pack, POSM, pricing and shopper marketing involve a complex set of influences that must be examined in context of an omnichannel 360-degree diagnosis of consumer behavior. 

It is in the overlap that we find one rule that does still apply: behavioral science. It is the only constant in the quest to define and diagnose the digital and physical behaviors that can drive shopper growth.

In the old brick-and-mortar retail store, shopping behavior was often influenced by the first place a consumer encountered your product, usually at the physical shelf. In the current shopper reality, digital behavior, even in surprising categories, is more than likely what draws consumers to products through multiple channels: pure internet search landing on a brand’s own website, the e-commerce grid of third party “click and deliver” services like Instacart, retailers that offer the increasingly popular BOPIS option (Buy Online, Pickup In Store), visits to online shopping sites like Amazon, adaption to shopping at DTC sites being created by many famous consumer brand companies and the interaction with digital advertising that pervades all internet and social browsing. 

Though increasingly less frequent, even a purchase consummated in a physical store is likely to involve digital behavior and an omnichannel shopper journey to get there. 

The question clients ask us is where, when and how across the omnichannel path-to-purchase is the optimal occasion to intercept shoppers in order to influence consumer choice and behavior to the advantage of their brands? Simply put: they want to know how to understand consumer behavior as the key to win in the digital shopper journey! 

In our OmniPath™ practice, we have applied a unique behavioral framework to diagnose the influences, causes, triggers and holistic factors, that inspire consumers to shop the way they do in the universe of omnichannel retail. We have taken a myriad of free-standing digital tools that allow us to observe digital and physical behavior, curating the results to develop in-depth diagnostics for success. Partnering with clients in a deeply collaborative and exploratory way, we are leveraging these tools and integrating the results to arrive at actionable recommendations around shopper behavior that drive tangible growth. 

Take our recent project with Colgate Palmolive, where the brand needed to finalize their online strategy to launch a new product, the Hum smart toothbrush. Through the use of clickstream analytics, we mapped consumer behavior and identified the most common online paths including top search terms and websites visited by consumers before encountering the category. Data was interpreted through a behavioral lens to pinpoint opportunities to influence and drive potential purchases, resulting in a successful product launch of a new category entrant from a revered brand. 

Applying a digital-first approach even helps brands optimize shopper marketing in their physical retail environments across all channels (mass, grocery, drugstore, convenience and specialty). In our ShopperFlash™ solutions, we have developed an online digital simulation of these environments in which we can observe behavior and rapidly test components of shopper marketing strategies, validating the impact of variations to Pack, POSM, Planogram and Pricing on shopper behavior. The results define the pathways for clients to achieve greater ROI on shopper marketing investments.

The Digital Shopper Journey presents new challenges for brands but also tremendous opportunities for those brave enough to embrace a new way of thinking with some tried and true principles: a digital-first approach to research coupled with a reliable behavioral framework to influence the consumer choice best suited to drive shopper growth. 


Based in New York, Alex Hunt is the CEO of Behaviorally (formerly PRS) and is a recognized pioneer in the practical application of behavioral science to shopper marketing in order to help clients develop consumer experience that drive business growth. Prior to his role as CEO of Behaviorally, where he has been the chief architect of the agency’s purpose, services and brand promise, Alex served as global CEO of PRS IN VIVO, having joined the firm in October 2018.

Before joining PRS IN VIVO, Alex spent a decade building System1 Research (formerly BrainJuicer). Latterly, leading clients facing teams across 14 global offices as well as serving as an executive director of the System1 Group PLC Board. Alex’s career began at Kantar Millward Brown working in both the U.K. and U.S.

Alex is acknowledged as an industry thought leader and a regular contributor to industry events as an advocate for the power of consumer insights to fuel commercial growth.