Meet the next generation of retail shopping

As reported this week in, IPG Media Lab along with our parent company, Mediabrands is joining forces with AOL to create the next generation of retail shopping tools. Our hope is to make it easier for shoppers to get the information they need to make smart choices while harnessing the best of traditional retail advertising with the latest in online and social media technology.

We want not only to build a better, smarter experience for consumer, but a more effective advertising vehicle for retailers themselves. With average circulation of larger newspapers on the decline (down nearly 8.7% according to an Audit Bureau of Circulations study) the media has spent much time wringing its hands over the future of print. What we don’t talk about is what that might mean for retail advertisers. Retailers have spent billions of dollars over the years teaching shoppers to look in the Sunday newspaper for the latest news about what’s on sale in their city. Retailers have relied on print because it has a focused immediacy that online can’t provide; it promotes timely sales, serves as a metaphor for the retail season and even educates sales people. Television, radio, and even banner ads have never been able to make up the difference from a low-tech free standing insert or full page ad in the daily and Sunday papers. As a result, for decades, very little has changed in the regular weekly newspaper insert, or the coupon mailers that go to American homes each week.

Despite the fact that print is ingrained in the shopping and retail process, the vast majority of retailer advertising – coupons, inserts, and online banner advertising don’t come close to fulfilling the true promise that the digital medium offers. Given nearly half of consumers today describe the Internet as the medium most essential to their life (April 2010 Arbitron and Edison Media Research report) and 92% of US Internet users say they use the Internet to help with purchase decisions (compared to 10% for newspapers in a recent Blogher study), the opportunity to reach shoppers through new, more effective means is growing in urgency.

To better understand what shoppers want out of the shopping process, and the tools they use to facilitate their purchase decisions, the Lab surveyed 600 shoppers—equally split between those who use newspaper inserts, those who prefer digital advertising, and those who use both. Our research revealed that shoppers want more than traditional advertising is giving them—in almost all cases, shoppers expressed interest, in large numbers for an improved version of retail advertising methods. The shoppers we surveyed still use inserts to look for information on upcoming sales or to compare prices (we were surprised to learn that even among online only users, 46% say they still use print inserts in their shopping process). We also discovered an extraordinarily motivated group of shoppers among the segment who use both print and online sources to inform their purchase decisions. But even among print shoppers, there was a clear desire for access to improved shopping tools. More than 80% of those we interviewed (and 92% of newspaper and digital users) expressed a strong interest in a new advertising system that combines the best of print and online channels.

These numbers tell us it’s time to develop a new approach to traditional retail ads. We’re excited to use the findings from the Advanced Shopping Influence Study to help us create an effective and simple consumer interface that will finally wed the tried and true strengths of print with the opportunities of digital—one that meets the needs of shoppers, retailers, and marketers.

Publishers like Wired magazine are reinventing the browsing and content consumption process on new technologies like the iPad, and it doesn’t take much imagination to imagine how a better retail advertising system could be created to generate faster, more powerful pre-shopping tools for consumers. Essentially, this is the Mediabrands / AOL charter: build a better retail advertising platform.