Let’s talk promotional offers: shoppers discourse on the influence of offers available in grocery stores.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Aim: Accompanied shops can provide insight on the decision-making processes by observing first-hand how an individual responds to a promotional offer, what they are thinking about while the experience is happening and provide recall information on the reasoning for their choices in the moment. Few studies have focused on the relationship between the individual decision-making, store environment and processes when buying grocery items on promotional offer highlighting a need for more studies conducted within the real-life supermarket setting (Liberato et al., 2014; Andreyeva et al., 2010; Ni Mhurchu et al., 2010). Previous supermarket studies have shown a link between individuals who act impulsively and their likelihood to purchase food higher in calories (Tetley et al, 2010; Guerrieri et al., 2007) while Nederkoom (2014) proposed that highly-impulsive individuals would be less likely to resist sales promotions of food items.
The influence of price promotions on the healthfulness of one’s purchase decision has been highlighted in the literature (Stead et al. 2017; Ravensbergen et al., 2015); however, the rationale for availing of or avoiding a promotional offer within the context of a grocery shop remains under researched. Waterlander et al (2014) emphasised the need for more research on how pricing strategies can influence an individual positively by forgoing unhealthier options for healthier alternatives. To the authors’ knowledge, no studies have been undertaken to investigate consumers’ thinking while choosing foods on promotional offer in a supermarket setting, thus the current research provides insightful, original evidence in this field exploring consumer attitudes and perceptions towards promotions.
Methods: This study formed part of a larger project examining the way in which food retail promotions are depicted in the context of a grocery shop in Ireland. A total of 50 participants aged 18 years and over were recruited onto the study by a market research company. Efforts were made to ensure the diversity of the sample based on geographic location, age, gender, socio-economic status and household size. Due to a recruitment error by the market research company a final usable sample of 48 participants was achieved. All participants received a telephone briefing to inform them about the study (e.g. date, time, location, incentive, etc.). All participants were offered a monetary incentive (50 Euro) in recognition of their participation. Written informed consent was obtained from all participants on the day of each accompanied shop. Permission to conduct research in-store was granted from the retail chains of each of the stores in which participants shopped. Characteristics of the final sample (n=48) are displayed in Table 1.

Table 1 Sample characteristics

Dependent Children
1 child
2 children
3 + children
Household composition
1 person
2 – 3 people
4+ people
Promotional propensity score

Study design
All data were collected between March and April 2017. The study design consisted of three elements: (1) a pre-shopping interview (2) the accompanied shop; and (3) a follow-up post shopping telephone interview. This paper will present the results from the accompanied shop only. The accompanied shop employed a ‘think-aloud’ technique which was used as a process tracing method which requires the participant to verbally describe all the items they were looking or searching for as well as describing anything they were doing while shopping. This technique has previously been used in shopping studies to trace the conscious process of food choices an individual makes. Prior to commencing the accompanied shop each participant were trained in the ‘think-aloud’ technique by being asked to choose between two products (e.g. a toaster) and asked to explain the reasoning behind their choice. Each participant had a digital recorder discreetly attached to their clothing while they shopped. All participants were observed by the researcher, acting as a shadow companion, as they shopped. Only if the participant fell silent during the shop the observer, when appropriate, used prompts to remind them to think aloud; “What are you looking at? Where are you now? What are you thinking?” When participants has finished their shopping they went to the checkout to pay and the observer asked them some final questions relating to the task. Each accompanied shop lasted between 20 – 90 minutes.

Data Analysis
Data from the accompanied shop was fully transcribed and inputted into NVivo (v11) and was then analysed; themes were derived using inductive analysis whereby the researcher (LH) coded key quotes and grouped them together to understand the role of food retail promotions within a grocery shop. Verbatim quotes displayed within the results section are coded using participant numbers, gender, age and location in which the participant resides. A second researcher (UMB) reviewed and agreed the codes and themes.

Results: Overall, shopper discourse identified a positive attitude towards food retail promotions with the majority of the sample (n=36) claiming that they do typically buy items on promotion during their grocery shop. In general, the majority of shoppers (n=42) did avail of at least one promotional item during their grocery shop and stated that they would typically avail of promotional offers (n=36). Among the shoppers (n=32) who bought or made reference to promotional offers during their shop, six themes relating to the influence of health on promotional buying behaviour were identified: (1) Bargains that benefit the household budget; (2) The buzz of a bargain; (3) Savvy Stockpiling; (4) Active avoidance of available offers; (5) Reliance on regular reductions; and (6) Using deals to dictate dinner.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEIRASS conference, Madeira, 16 – 19th July 2018
Place of PublicationMadeira
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Jul 2018


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