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September 22, 2015

IPDA Research Delves Magazine Buying Dynamics, Areas of Opportunity

By Karlene Lukovitz

New consumer research commissioned by the International Periodical Distributors Association (IPDA) probed the factors that influence magazine purchases in order to identify opportunities to reach consumers and place them on the path to purchase.

The research firm Field Agent used mobile survey technology to capture feedback as close to the moment of influence as possible from U.S. consumers ("agents") who identified themselves as being magazine buyers.
Two types of studies were conducted in June 2015:

*Mission-based, aided study: 400 consumers (69% female, 31% male) who had reported, as part of an overall profile, that they typically buy magazines at retail at least once per month, were tasked with going to a Walmart, Target, major grocery store or major drug store to shop and purchase a magazine.  182 chose to visit  a Walmart or Target, 98 a major grocery store, and 114 a major drug store (six instead visited a  dollar or club store).

At the conclusion of their shopping trips, these consumers filled out a survey of up to 15 questions. (They were also asked to take two photos of magazine displays  of their choosing while in-store.) The survey explored both their magazine experience during the current shopping trip and their typical behaviors around shopping  for and purchasing magazines outside of this study. Data from the research trips were analyzed by retail channel, purchase point within the store, and gender. 

*Organic, unaided study: 100 consumers who had reported, as part of an overall profile, that they buy magazines at least once per month, typically in mass, grocery or drug retail channels, were asked to take a survey the next time that they visited one of these stores.

These consumers were not directed to buy a magazine, and were not informed that magazines were the subject of the study; the purpose of the organic study was to capture spontaneous behavior and purchases. Before leaving the store, these subjects also answered a survey of up to 15 questions and took two in-store photos (in this case, of any subject they cared to photograph). 
"The ultimate objectives for the newsstand channel are, of course, to attract new buyers, as well as encourage more sales among existing magazine buyers," says IPDA president Jerry Lynch. "For this initial research, the thinking was that we could learn more and glean more actionable insights from focusing first on consumers who participate in the category, and have experienced a range of magazine shopping environments and in-store presentations over time."

Overall, the research confirmed that a number of long-understood core dynamics continue to influence magazine shopping and buying. It also provided more specifics on the triggers and behaviors of today's magazine shoppers, and their reasons for choosing the print magazine format, or seeking desired content online.


While the findings span the two studies, the specific results and percentages cited here are from the mission-based study, except where noted.

*Most magazine purchasing decisions are made in-store.

Nearly three quarters  (72%) of mission study participants said that they typically make the decision in store.

Males were slightly more likely to make their purchase decision prior to going into the store (33% versus 24% of females).

*The mainline played a key role in mission study shopping.

The shoppers were nearly equally likely to buy their magazines from the front end and the mainline (50% versus 48%).

To select their magazines during the research trip, two-thirds (64%) of the subjects said that they had shopped or browsed the mainline; 50% had shopped the checkout lane where they bought their items for magazines, and 25% had browsed other checkout lanes for magazines.

*While the front end is generally most important for unplanned purchases, the mainline plays an integral role in planned magazine purchases.

Three quarters (76%) of mission subjects who selected their titles from the front end during the research trip reported that they typically make their magazine purchase decisions in store, versus 67% of those who purchased from the mainline during the research.

Males were more likely to shop from the mainline (79% versus 57% of females) and to purchase from the mainline (64% versus 40% of females).

Drug channel shoppers were more likely to shop for magazines from the mainline (73% versus 58% of mass channel shoppers) and to purchase from the mainline (65% versus 40% of mass shoppers).

*During browsing, cover images/graphics;  the dominant cover story; and the specific magazine subject category/genre were the most influential drivers.

Mainlines draw those looking for certain genres and encourage browsing.  Fifty-five percent of those who browsed the mainline looked for a certain category/genre and 42% skimmed through magazines, versus 32% and 29%, respectively, of those who only shopped the checkout.

Half (49%) of females looked at the cover story/cover lines, versus 38% of males.  Males more often looked for a specific title (43% versus 32% of females).

*When it comes to actually making a magazine purchase, overall content ("it contained articles/information that I wanted to read") was most influential (cited by 48% of all mission study shoppers).

That was followed by "liked the magazine category" (44%), and "interesting cover stories/cover lines" (41%). Cover images, loyalty to a particular title, the cover price and the celebrity featured on the cover were also frequently cited.

Other reasons (cited by 5% or fewer in these open-ended responses) included: "the cover celebrity promoted the magazine"; "the magazine was discounted"; "I heard or read about a story in the magazine prior to my store trip"; "my friend recommended the magazine"; "I saw an ad for the magazine"; and "I had a coupon for the magazine."

More than half (52%) of females cited the content/articles they wanted to read as a factor in the purchase, versus 40% of males. Males more often preferred a specific title (38% versus 25% of females).

*Shoppers expect and want to see magazines located at both the front end and the mainline.

When asked to rank their #1 magazines location preference, shoppers were nearly split on the checkout versus mainline (44% vs. 41%). And both the checkout and the mainline were ranked in the top two desired locations by nearly three-quarters of subjects.

Females more often ranked the front end #1 (48% versus 36% for the mainline). Males more often ranked the mainline #1 (50% versus 37% for the front end).

*Many shoppers—nearly a third, in this research—feel that there is not enough magazine variety in stores.

Purchasers from the mainline more often felt that the store lacked magazine variety (37% said this, versus 24% of those who purchased at checkout).  Drug channel shoppers more often felt that the store lacked variety (39% versus 28% for mass and grocery channel shoppers).

Also, males more often felt that the store lacked variety (38% versus 27% of females).

*Lack of variety or inventory poses high risks for lost sales.

A third (34%) of those who were looking for a particular magazine said that they would forgo buying any magazine if they were unable to find the desired title; 20% said they would look for the magazine in another store; and 4% said they would look for the information or article online instead. 

Just 26% said that they would instead purchase another magazine while in the same store.

The sales loss potential was also underscored by the responses when shoppers were asked to cite potential reasons that they might not purchase a magazine (open-ended answers):

*Ease of shopping magazines at retail is significantly short of optimal.

While nearly half (47%) said they found browsing magazines in the sections from which they picked their magazines "extremely easy" and 37% found it "very easy," nearly 20% found it only "somewhat easy" or "not very easy."

"This might sound positive on the surface, but in the retail arena,  anything less than an 'extremely' easy shopping experience in any area of the store means lost sales opportunities," points out Lynch.

*At checkout, magazines' biggest competitors for attention are mobile phones.

Asked to indicate all of the activities they engaged in while in the checkout line, more than half (55%) of mission study subjects—who were, again, specifically tasked with purchasing a magazine—reported that they had browsed magazines  while at the checkout.  At the same time, nearly half (47%) reported that they had used their phones, followed by 42% saying they had glanced at other items for sale in the checkout aisle.

Apparently affirming males' lesser engagement with the magazines available at checkout, 38% of males reported browsing magazines at checkout, versus 51% of females.

Within the drug channel, more shoppers (49%) reported glancing at other items for sale than within the grocery channel (37%); and fewer (43%) reported browsing magazines compared with grocery (62%) and mass (58%) shoppers.
Shoppers in the mass channel were most likely to talk with others or attend to children while at checkout. Twenty-one percent talked to someone (versus 13% for drug channel shoppers, 14% for grocery channel shoppers); and 19% attended to children (versus 8% and 11% for drug and grocery channel shoppers, respectively).

*Asked to cite (open-ended responses) why they would buy a physical magazine, 50% of the mission and organic study participants (combined) said that print magazines allow them to "unplug" from electronic devices; 44% said that they provide access to unique content, and 18% said that they enable them to keep articles/recipes for future reference, among other benefits.

*Asked to cite (open-ended responses) three reasons that they might look online for information in a magazine article or issue, 56% of (combined) mission and organic study shoppers cited  convenience or "not in store"; 46% cited "free/inexpensive"; and 40% cited speed or timeliness.


With its limited overall sample size (100), the organic study was intended only to provide some directional feedback on spontaneous (including impulse) magazine shopping behaviors.

*Out of the 100 shoppers in this unaided study, six, or 6%, spontaneously purchased magazines.  (Five were purchased by females, and five were purchased at the checkout).

*Percentage-wise, this was about on par with these shoppers' incidence of purchasing from categories including candies (8%), gum or mints (7%), and frozen vegetables and deli cut items (each 5%), among other items.

*Organic shoppers who had purchased a magazine cited very similar answers to the mission shoppers when asked what they looked at before they selected a magazine (cover images, cover stories, cover lines, genre, cover price); and why they purchased the magazine they selected (cover lines, cover story, cover images, contained articles/information that they wanted to read; liked the featured celebrity).

*Among organic study participants who did not purchase a magazine, the main reasons cited were lack of interest  and lack of time (echoing the primary reasons cited by mission shoppers.


Based on these research results, Field Agent identified several areas action points for industry consideration:

*Explore ways to get magazines on the shopping list as a planned purchase, particularly for females.

*Work to drive awareness of the mainline and the variety available at the decision 'moment of truth' and in-store.

*Ensure that mainlines clearly highlight the available genres and titles.  Evaluate space allocation and variety to ensure that titles match shopper interests and demographics (particularly for males).

*Continue to merchandise variety at checkout to capture impulse purchases and capitalize on shoppers’ browsing while in line. Consider including titles appealing to men to encourage engagement and spur impulse purchases.

"Given that retail research consistently shows that more men are doing some or most of the grocery shopping for families, males' relatively low incidence of shopping and purchasing magazines at the checkout versus the mainline, and their dissatisfaction with the variety offered even on the mainline, it would seem that our category might benefit from reassessing variety with the male shopper in mind," adds Lynch, who notes that, by and large, checkouts still offer very few male-oriented titles.

*Explore the reasons for high basket penetration in the drug channel and seek opportunities to replicate those in grocery and mass.

*Evaluate checkout pocket placement in the drug channel to maximize browsing while in line and impulse purchase decisions.

To access a PDF with more of the results, click here.

More About the Research: All consumers for the IPDA studies were drawn, through pre-screening, from Field Agent's standing pool of consumers or "agents" (600,000 worldwide), who opt in and are paid to participate in research projects when their profiles fit a project's requirements.  Field Agent's current clients include Walgreens, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson.



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