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The final marketing frontier? Aisle 5, next to the tuna

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Last year, customers in Toronto-area Metro supermarkets could read thousands of recipes at digital kiosks in grocery aisles. If they saw one they wanted to try, a pressed button saw the recipe printed along with a map of where the ingredients were in the store. They could also download coupons and get health tips.

"Often people only have nine or 10 go-to recipes in their heads, so this inspires people to try out new ones," says Jason Dubroy, vice-president of consumer and shopping strategy for Spider Marketing Solutions, a marketing firm based in Toronto. Although Metro is not a client of Spider, Mr. Dubroy admires how the grocery chain used technology in its efforts to reach out to shoppers.

Marketing to retail customers is mushrooming, says Mr. Dubroy. In fact, over the next three years it will grow faster than other types of advertising, according to a recent study published by the management-consulting firm Booz & Co.

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Ad agencies, consumer marketers and retailers are all getting into the game. "They're all retooling their marketing, sales, merchandising and research departments to really take advantage of what's going on in shopper marketing," says Mr. Dubroy.

While researchers have studied people and how they use or consume products, comparatively little exists on how and why people buy these products, he says. Spider Marketing studies the mindset and behaviour of shoppers, then works with manufacturing clients such as Maple Leaf Foods and Mattel to shape shopping behaviour.

"What we're trying to do now is affect purchase habits," he said. "Nobody ever really thought about doing that before."

Marketers are studying how consumers learn about things they're going to buy, what their activities are before they get to the store, what happens once they get to the store and how their decisions can be influenced while inside the retail environment.

"Lots of different things will influence people's buying decisions - whether it's coupons or inserts that come in your newspaper with some product information of something you might not have heard of before," says Mr. Dubroy. "It could be experiential marketing, so that once you're inside the store, getting a sample of a product makes you go 'Wow,' and you buy it. It could be something as simple as a temporary price reduction."

Insight into how moms choose between product A and B has changed how household-goods manufacturer Procter & Gamble works with advertising agencies and retailers, says Mr. Dubroy. Now, rather than starting with a campaign or idea, they start with the products inside the store - where they're shelved, what's on the package. To explain what a product can do, one approach is to install a video monitor and encourage people feel the product or try it on. Eighty per cent of purchases are made by mothers, and Canada has 9 million of them.

"What is mom doing?" asks Mr. Dubroy. "Is she cutting out coupons, is she cutting out ads, how does she plan for her grocery shop? It's about taking all of those things into consideration. Rather than focusing on getting people to consume more, we're now asking them to shop better."

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The newest insights are coming from the Web, says Mr. Dubroy. More than 80 per cent of Canadians search the Internet before they shop.

"We're seeing a unique level of collaboration of manufacturers and retailers working with companies like Google," says Mr. Dubroy. "More people are going to retail or micro-sites to learn how products work or more about those products rather than the actual manufacturers' websites themselves. That insight alone is driving a tremendous amount of rethink."

His advice to retailers is to embrace their vendors and bring on a new spirit of collaboration. "It's all about understanding the customer and what matters most to them."

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