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The Cherry-Picker Problem

I’m a cherry picker, a shopper who targets a retailer infrequently, only to buy a few promoted items when I do visit. 

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This article originally appeared in the McCombs Today blog.

Ginger is spreading the news on the Savvy Shopping Moms Web site, “Walgreens has Blue Bell Ice Cream on sale for $4.99.” My instincts tell me to swing by the closest store on the way home and pick up a carton or two. I have a firmly ingrained approach to ice cream, I rarely buy any brand other than Blue Bell, and I never pay full price. After all, I don’t really need to buy it, and the brand is regularly on sale somewhere, often at Walgreens. So I space out my purchases and buy when Blue Bell is marked down.

There’s a problem in that formula for Walgreens, because when I visit I don’t shop for soup, or chips or actually, I can’t remember too much about anything else they have at Walgreens, I never look. I walk in the door, make a beeline for the ice-cream cooler, grab my purchase and head for the checkout.

I’m a cherry picker, a shopper who targets a retailer infrequently, only to buy a few promoted items when I do visit. These types of shoppers create a puzzle for retailers. They love the traffic that special promotions create, and don’t want to alienate cherry pickers, but wish they could find ways to better capture a wider share of their purchasing dollar.

Leigh McAlister, (photographed above) marketing professor at the McCombs School of Business, has been studying consumer behavior for the last three decades, and most recently turned to the question of cherry picking in a research paper with Edward I. George of Wharton, and Yung-Hsin Chien of the SAS Institute. “Grocery retailers believe cherry pickers exist,” she said. “People report doing it, but it has been hard to tease out of the data. It’s hard to see it.” Scanner data obviously helps, but McAlister explains that by nature cherry pickers are difficult to pinpoint.

“Some retailers have a discount card or other mechanism to track their consumers’ buying histories, but cherry pickers are unlikely to get picked up by these customer databases,” McAllister said. “Because cherry pickers are by definition not loyal customers, less is known about their history with a targeted retailer. The measuring instruments are too crude.”

Continue reading McAlister’s findings on cherry pickers.