Profile: Yelena Idelchik, Shopper Insights Team Lead, RB
Yelena Idelchik believes that to excel in shopper insights one must be curious and eager to learn. Those traits have propelled her through a career that began in brand management and grew to include experience in category management, instore activation, shopper marketing and shopper insights. “I can walk the walk and talk the talk,” Idelchik says. Her category knowledge includes everything from personal care and fragrances to household cleaners, snacks and vitamins. “Because I’ve worked in all these functions, I can talk to people in their language,” she says. “It makes me more effective overall.”
How do shopper insights fit into your organization?
IDELCHIK: Shopper insights is a starting point for all we do. The team feeds the information and the insights into the planning process from the beginning, so all recommendations and programs are substantiated and tangible. The shopper insights team acts on business priorities by category and then fills in the info gaps with the tangible and actionable facts. We interact across all functions daily – from the brand teams, to trade marketing, shopper marketing, sales and category management.
What are some of the key skills required to excel in shopper insights?
IDELCHIK: The starting point is curiosity and hunger to learn. It is also followed by the ability to synthesize a lot of information (connecting the dots) and the ability to tell a story. We then “code” the information into the language that each function needs – each element of research could be applicable to each function but in a slightly different way. So in a way we are internal and external consultants. The ability to ensure the information is valuable, easy to understand and actionable is what makes the teams come back to us and trust in our work.
How do consumer insights differ from shopper insights?
IDELCHIK: Consumer insights focus on how people consume products at home and become loyal to brands. Such methodologies as brand equity studies, ad copy testing or package/claim design support consumer insights. On the other hand, shopper insights focuses on how people buy in-store and how would we influence their behavior and make their experience easier. In this case, we would focus on defining planogram principles, build new at-shelf education solutions, or define the key drivers of retailer choice within our categories.
Are the two disciplines complementary? If so, how?
IDELCHIK: We have to remember that in many instances, the shopper is a consumer, and if not, they are still linked. As such, we look at ourselves as “cousins.” Some research and reports are very helpful to build general category understanding and both functions use them simultaneously – for example, attitude and usage studies. When we research in-store behaviors, they are still highly critical for our brand and consumer work and are always shared.
How does RB use research to develop shopper insights?
IDELCHIK: We define our research into three levels. The first two are general shopper understanding (foundational studies like pathto- purchase or planogram principles work) and specialized studies that zoom in on a particular business question. An example of this would be a study of one segment or learning about a particular product attribute that can redefine a shopper approach in-store. The third level is the ultimate strategy work that sets us up as true thought leaders – work on category vision, work on a “retailer perceptor” study, and omnichannel education for the future. All work gets shared across the organization and with our customers for the ultimate ongoing engagement. Finally, we monitor category and industry trends via third-party reports on an ongoing basis. We are big fans of Field Agent, WSL, Drugstore News, Kantar, Mintel, Euromontor and, of course, the Path to Purchase Institute.
What emerging technology and techniques do you leverage to develop shopper insights at RB?
IDELCHIK: For the last five years, we have put a lot of value into validating our hypothesis via virtual reality research. We found that validation of planogram options, education, signage and even packaging is highly reliable and impactful. This methodology has given us a lot of measurable conclusions that have resulted in further store test validation or immediate store adaptation, or has fueled further solution development. Mobile research, when structured properly, has delivered very interesting and unique results as well.
Are any recent trends significantly impacting your team’s work in insights?
IDELCHIK: The evolution of the omnichannel behavior is one of the top ones. We no longer focus on brick-and-mortar in isolation but weave in the online behavior into every one of our studies. Online influence (from research, to promo and price seeking, to actual shopping) is manifesting itself quite differently across our categories and retailers, and the new white spaces keep us quite busy. To further build on that, the way Millennials shop and research today is starting to reshape the way we approach our business challenges all together.
What recent work by the RB insights team stands out to you?
IDELCHIK: First of all, our insights have to deliver actionable changes in stores. We recently partnered with CVS/pharmacy to help evolve how shoppers educate themselves about the vitamins category. This resulted in us working together to develop new signage and navigation materials that are now in most stores and supporting a very positive sales momentum for the customer. At Kroger, we recommended changes to enhance the pediatric OTC set and make the experience easier for moms – both with the layout and product assortment. Our recommendations were adopted and are being rolled across the chain.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your work?
IDELCHIK: Positive reactions and energy from my team when you provide them the information to both make their work easier and make them look better in front of the customer. The other highly rewarding element is to be able to share the information with the retailer partners and help build the trust for RB. Knowledge is power, and if we can make both our teams and our partners more powerful in the process, it is a win-win. Additionally, it is extremely rewarding to be able to go to a store and actually see the results of your work manifest themselves. Those are the selfie-worthy moments.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the insights discipline?
IDELCHIK: The industry is transforming and changing very rapidly – from mergers to new technologies, the behavior shifts quite a bit. As a result, there is a constant need to learn about new trends, methodologies and retailer dynamics, and also keep our teams informed. This has to be done in a very methodical, disciplined and consistent way. Also, the changes are rapid, but we will never fill every info gap. Being choiceful and identifying fewer, bigger, more impactful opportunities will continue to be a priority.
What’s next for the insights discipline?
IDELCHIK: This area will never go away. I project that this will become a greater focus for companies in the future. Unless a recommendation is truly substantiated, the risk to execute is high. The most impactful insights, no matter how simple, do not occur overnight and require deep category and shopper knowledge. I also expect that at some point colleges might teach this subject as a course to ensure that their students are exposed to the new angles of business and are prepared early.