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How Unilever has refined its understanding of today’s sophisticated online buyers to enhance performance by channel and category
As a global FMCG player, Unilever has been at the forefront of the growth and development of all forms of retail. While buying ‘online’ may once have been considered one channel, today the format is fragmented into many unique landscapes and so shopping patterns and behaviors are more complex. In an increasingly crowded landscape, Unilever Netherlands constantly evaluates its current and future e-commerce strategy to ensure its brand availability, assortment, profile, and positioning are always optimized to the best advantage. They are regular users of GfK’s Consumer Panel solutions to help understand changing behaviors and attitudes.
Unilever challenged GfK to run an extensive piece of research encompassing 16 categories and four online channels. 7,000 online FMCG buyers were questioned about their behavior and attitudes and how they navigate the developing e-commerce landscape. Respondents were asked where and what they purchase, and who does the shopping. The research probed the ‘why’ of e-commerce to understand the drivers and barriers of channel selection. The customized survey probed the choice of sub-channels, focusing on the different needs being fulfilled and asking consumers to rank them in order of importance. Motivations for buying missions including occasions and specific trips were investigated. By probing what people like and don’t like, what they look for in particular, and combining these results with consumer panel data, the Unilever and GfK team used the findings to build very detailed profiles of the e-commerce shopper.
The research revealed that every online platform triggers a different shopper trip, and it identified which platforms offer the most potential for Unilever brands to appeal to new customers. A key insight was that online platforms are not all the same, and put simply, there is no one solution to online shopping for Unilever. Buyers are more mature in their habits today, and their behavior is constantly evolving. In fact, as Tamara Vieveen says: “There are many layers to e-commerce and that needs to be reflected in our strategy.”
The findings in this piece of research are used by the Unilever market research team, the category management team, marketing and account teams to understand current channel dynamics. They are important insights to be used for portfolio planning, product positioning, and ultimately, of category channel strategies. The findings are used as input for conversations with retailers and at a top-level, they have fed into strategic thinking across the market research team.
Unilever and GfK have a long-standing working relationship that can be counted in decades, not years. Described as ‘two-way’, the Dutch division of the global FMCG player relies on the team at GfK Consumer Panel to alert them of new developments in the market and in consumer behavior that they should know about. At the same time, the CMI team knows they can contact GfK whenever they have questions, issues, or challenges, or want to focus on a particular project.
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