Retailing Consortium Launches PRISM To Collect Data On Shoppers' Behavior

A consortium of retailers and consumer suppliers are working with Nielsen Co., famous for its nonsensical television ratings system, to launch a large-scale study of consumer behavior in stores. The program is called PRISM, which stands for “Pioneering Research for an In-Store Metric,” and it uses infrared sensors and manual counting, as well as genetic clones of our loved ones, to monitor not just what we buy but how we go about buying it. “About 70% of final purchase decision are made at the shelf,” says a Procter & Gamble rep. “The store has always been important – we just didn’t know enough about it.”

Some early findings:

Only 13% of food shopping trips are with kids but shoppers put more in their baskets overall when kids are with them. But the presence of kids in a shopping trip didn’t have any effect on candy sales.

The article says that Nielsen plans on syndicating and selling the data to non-participating businesses in the next year, and that PRISM in the future may be used to help plan store layouts. We thought they’d been doing that for years—we remember reading an article back in, like, ’93 or ’94 about the science behind shopping mall layouts (it was in “The Atlantic” maybe?). But apparently Nielsen has managed to convince retailers that the data they collect is valid, so, um, good luck with that.

“Consumer Companies Look For Insights On Shoppers’ Behavior” [CNN Money]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. NeedsMoreDitka says:

    I’d think people with kids with them would buy more stuff because they have more people to feed. I don’t think the presence of the kid has anything to do it.

  2. liquisoft says:

    “Only 13% of food shopping trips are with kids but shoppers put more in their baskets overall when kids are with them. But the presence of kids in a shopping trip.”

    When people shop with their children, they tend to buy more food because THEY HAVE CHILDREN. See, if there are 2 people in my family, I buy food for 2 people. But if there are 3 people in the family, I might buy more. See how that works? Crazy, I know.

  3. TechnoDestructo says:

    @liquisoft: When I saw this comment on the main page the word “more” that you typed/pasted was replaced by the “click here for more” “more”

    Anyhow…re: children…maybe they should rent children to accompany single shoppers around the store?

    Also, I recall reading something some years back that the AI used in the mid-90s Artificial Life game “Creatures” (which was kind of like the Sims, but WAY better, with AI just MILES ahead of the Sims, and 4 years earlier) was also used for modeling shopper behavior for store design.

  4. XTC46 says:

    @NeedsMoreDitka: @liquisoft:

    so according to your logic, only 13 percent of people who shop have kids?

    since we know thats not true, we can assume the amount people with kids has been averaged with the people without and the 13 percent they speak of is above that average. people with kids buy more because they have kids who say “I want I want I want” or who run around and put stuff in the cart. They also buy more because they are either rushing to get out and not paying attention to what they are buying or shopping longer because they are trying to track down their kids who are running around.

  5. Scooter says:

    Um, yeah actually retail companies have been doing it for years, especially retailers like Walmart and Target. Maybe Nielsen has some sort of revolutionary way of going about it, but I really doubt it.

  6. CumaeanSibyl says:

    Maybe people who shop with their children make fewer shopping trips on average — that is, they shop once or twice a month, instead of once or twice a week, because it’s better to keep the number of shopping trips to a minimum when your circumstances make it necessary to bring the kids along.

  7. nardo218 says:

    If mom is going to be away from home long enough to bring the kids, then she’s going for the Big Weekly Shopping Trip. It’s not whether or not they have kids at all, it’s that shopper with kids at home are just stopping for a few things.

  8. BigNutty says:

    I remember back in the 80’s working for a grocery store and the vender’s setting up shelves according to a layout that was developed by psychologists.

    I just would like to know about anything more than a camera that is being used when I shop.

    I would hate to have a brain scan device pointed at my head to read my thoughts, that would be embarrassing.

  9. TangDrinker says:

    Back in grad school I took an information organization class where half of the readings were about how grocery stores laid out their products from the general layout (which is why milk is all the way the hell over the other side of the store from the entrance) to product layout on shelves. Oh, and this was for an MLS degree, not an MBA degree.

    I think Nielsen is just worried that they’re losing money on TV ratings since no one watches TV live any more.

  10. 13743an says:

    There is a book called “Why We Buy” that came out around 2001 and it is all about this stuff. Definitely not a new idea. This is also why bathrooms in department stores are almost always in the most obscure, far locations, so you have to walk through the whole store to get there.

  11. bohemian says:

    I thought the new mantra was to frustrate and annoy shoppers so they end up buying with less decision because they just want to get something close to what they came in for and LEAVE.

  12. Trai_Dep says:

    The way I look at it, the more small kids there are in stores, the less there are packed in jets. So shop ahoy, my lil’ consumers, shop ahoy!

  13. loueloui says:

    This is so fucking disturbing. I for one just can’t wait to be marketed ‘from couch to shelf’.I’m really not surprised, but I am astounded by the depths to which marketing scum, and retailing idiots will lower themselves to.

    Hey guys here’s a new flash why not use good prices, courteous service, and clean stores to sell your products instead of resorting to brain washing the public. Pavlov’s dogs never bought anything. I guess that’s too quaint of an idea though.

  14. etinterrapax says:

    Hey, if our only means of production is going to be selling crap, you’d better believe people will invest as much time and technology as possible in selling more crap. This is what “always low prices” has wrought.

  15. Trench says:

    I’m thinking Mozilla should probably think about renaming it’s new software release.

  16. JustAGuy2 says:


    Here’s why they use these techniques: they work. Period.

    Retailers don’t exist to make you happy, they exist to make money.

  17. hapless says:


    Well, if brainwashing makes me as happy as clean stores and courteous service, I don’t really see how it’s a problem.