LONDON: More marketers are placing an emphasis on shopper research and marketing as they seek to drive growth in a challenging economic climate.

According to a survey released by Shoppercentric, the consultancy, 94% of executives believed they should enhance their overall levels of engagement with shoppers.

Some 55% of respondents were now dedicating between 10% and 30% of their research budgets to this area, compared with just 28% who said the same in a similar study published in 2008.

In keeping with this trend, 59% of contributors had seen their shopper marketing budgets expand over this period, while 57% were planning to boost their outlay in this area over the next two years.

The onset of the downturn had contributed to this process, as 71% of participants agreed the changes in behaviour which accompanied the recession made understanding customers more important than ever.

With regard to leveraging these insights, 81% of the panel intended to employ the information gained to shape their approach to merchandising and category management.

This figure fell to 47% for modifying their channel strategy and 25% for determining which promotions would provide the greatest payback.

A further 19% of the sample argued that the findings from their research among consumers were likely to have an impact on their packaging, as did 13% for their market mix and pricing models.

However, only 11% suggested that the views of shoppers should have a role in deciding how to extend their brands, falling to 9% for both new product development and communications.

Looking forward, many of the clients featured in Shoppercentric's analysis believed these insights should have a more pronounced role in each of these areas.

This included a plurality for sectors where influence was currently relatively low, such as packaging, promotions and price, and also stood at 43% for communications and 36% for innovation.

"It certainly feels that shopper marketing has achieved 'buzz' status over the last couple of years as brand owners have increasingly realised the potential of retail as a marketing medium," Danielle Pinnington, managing director of Shoppercentric, said.

"The tough economic climate has limited the propensity to engage for some businesses, but for others it has been the trigger to developing a more intimate knowledge of their shoppers, and their needs today."

Unilever and Procter & Gamble were recently voted as the brand owners which were making the most effective use of shopper marketing in a poll by The Hub Magazine.

PepsiCo has also announced its intention to focus on this emerging discipline as part of its ongoing Pepsi Refresh Project.

Data sourced from Marketing Week/Shoppercentric; additional content by Warc staff