Losing out in the In-Store Chaos?
By Pauline Tingas
A strategy to simplify the shopping experience is the key to building your brand at retail.
You’re a seasoned brand marketer—you’ve covered your bases. Right product? Check. Right place? Check. Right time? Check. So why do so many of your customers have difficulty finding your brand, shopping your brand and, sometimes, even giving it consideration?
Maybe the prospect of shopping itself overwhelms them. The typical grocery store is cluttered with an abundance of messages, narrow aisles and more than 30,000 products (up to 100,000 in a super center)—not all of which are unique. Brand marketers seem only too happy to churn out painfully similar line extensions as a way to garner more shelf space.
Nestlé SA’s chief executive recently came clean on the matter, saying in an interview that the consumer packaged goods company was putting out 130,000 variations of its brands, and, perhaps more surprisingly, that 30 percent of them weren’t making money.
Departments are also difficult to decipher. Most of the time, they’re organized according to retailer and manufacturer business needs, not shopper needs. And while products have become more complex, their packaging doesn’t always do a good job of readily communicating a point of difference.
It all amounts to significant challenges for shoppers and for you as a brand marketer. Retail is not exactly an optimal setting for brand impact when your customers are finding the experience to be stressful, confusing and time consuming.
There are signs of change, though. The CPG industry is looking at the in-store experience with renewed vigor, combating a difficult media climate by reallocating budgets more heavily toward store marketing.
“[Retail] has become an overall storytelling opportunity for brands,” says Jonathan Ford, creative partner at Pearlfisher, the design agency in London.
But it doesn’t mean the experience has to be dramatic. “It can be about the store ‘understanding me and my needs’, making the shopping experience as simple as possible,” he says.
To be sure, while there’s great talk about experiential retailing and sensory branding as key in-store marketing strategies, there is much more to support the idea of simplicity as a retail priority instead.
Consider, for instance, 1999 shopper research that found 45 percent of consumers saying their stress was related to the in-store environment (long lines, can’t find desired product, messy shelves, pushy or slow personnel, parking hassles), and another 32 percent saying their stress was choice-related (too many brands, deciding which brand is best, unclear product information).
In a 2003 shopper report by Chain Store Age/Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, two-thirds of consumers said shopping problems caused them to abandon or shop less often at a particular store; they also said they cut back on the time they dedicated to shopping, spent less on discretionary purchases and procrastinated longer when they needed to buy something.
“Consumers have become increasingly demanding and frustrated by their in-store shopping experience,” the report concluded.
Even if you’re convinced, you still need to recognize the role you and your brand play in creating retail chaos. Procter & Gamble, for instance, is combating the problem with a 15-person department dedicated to the “first moment of truth”, the point at retail when shoppers are making up their minds about a product.
Other brands are doing it by practicing merchandising restraint. An IRI report, CPG Merchandising Trends: Growing Demand for a Consumer-Centric Approach, found that merchandising activity in all categories declined by more than half in 2006, in large part because marketers are beginning to recognize that they’re contributing to retail environment clutter.
That said, there’s clearly still more to be done. “There is dire need for simplification of the consumer shopping experience,” the report said.
Retailers have a head start
Retailers are certainly working on that objective. For years, Wal-Mart, Home Depot and others had focused on building bigger stores with more merchandise. But that “big box” strategy seems to have backfired somewhat, overwhelming consumers with cavernous shopping environments where it’s difficult to find exactly what they want.
Wal-Mart recently enlisted Saatchi & Saatchi X as its in-store agency of record to focus on this and other shopping problems.
“A shopper might spend 21 minutes in a store, but, of that, only six minutes involves shopping—the rest of the time she’s trying to find stuff,” Saatchi X’s chief executive Andy Murray told the Financial Times last year. “The core thing we’re trying to do is for the customer to spend less time searching and more time shopping. Most in-store experiences have ignored the factor of time.”
Murray’s firm is also looking at the total retail environment for Wal-Mart, and working to reduce clutter on-shelf and with point-of-purchase displays; sounding off on the development of in-store promotions; and trying to understand how product categories should be sited, whether store navigation is comfortable and intuitive and how different store areas should look and feel.
“If you’re in the baby department and it feels like the laundry detergent section, that’s not good,” he explained.
Lowe’s is also moving to simplify shopping, taking a smaller but no-less-important step of installing “need help” buttons where frustrated shoppers can summon assistance. Target offers a “store within a store” concept for new moms, with baby clothes, baby food, strollers, diapers and maternity clothing all in the same department. And a relatively new grocery format called Bloom (a Food Lion company) is structuring its stores to be errand-friendly, with quick-shop items like bread at the front of the store and other groceries, like cereal and milk, clustered in the same aisle because “they go together”.
Retailers “get it”, that’s for sure. So what can brands do to help streamline the in-store experience? Where should you focus your efforts?
Understand shoppers (and their needs)
As with any approach, start by better understanding your targets before you try to align with their needs. Traditionally, brand marketers have sought to understand consumers demographically (by age or race) or, more recently, psychographically (through their attitudes or needs). And while these approaches have met with success, there is a growing movement at retail to swap consumer marketing for something called “shopper marketing”.
“This is based on the belief that advertisers are better off reaching the consumer while they are in the ‘shopping mindset’—a state of mind in which they are far more likely to take action,” says Jason Press, president of G2 Branding & Design in New York.
Brands are seeking to understand shopper motivations better—and many are finding success in segmenting shoppers according to their “trip missions”.
“A Neiman Marcus shopper is the same person as a Wal-Mart shopper, but their needs and expectations vary based on the purpose of the shopping expedition,” says Press.
“Effective marketing at retail is needs-based. It is designed not to create brand preference but to drive action by understanding shopper needs.”
That’s something Pearlfisher’s Jonathan Ford agrees with, saying that “shopping for groceries and shopping for indulgences are different, with different approaches required.”
At Woolworths South Africa, for instance, Ford is implementing a three-year shopper segmentation plan that will group the retailer’s products under one of five categories of food consumption; each segment will receive a unified look.
The initiative spans the retailer’s entire brand portfolio, more than 4,000 products strong, and will result in a packaging architecture that will help shoppers better navigate the store, according to the “food consumption” category their shopping trip falls under.
“It’s a huge project,” Ford says, “but simplification is a great way to cut through the clutter.”
Understand retailers (and their constraints)
With retailers enacting such massive initiatives to simplify shopping, it’s critical that you understand their differences…and work to become a partner in it all.
Start by figuring out how to align your brand with all these changing store formats. Streamlined store concepts, for instance, mean less display space, which will pit you more heavily against your competition and, as a result, will put more pressure on your brand packaging to perform than ever. You also have to consider how your packaging can fit within these simpler store formats from a graphic and structural standpoint. Then you must consider how your brand messaging can work more closely with a retailer’s own communications.
John Carroll, vice president of shopper insights and marketing solutions for Coca-Cola, recently shared information about the brand’s shopper marketing strategy, which not only divides shoppers by type but then identifies stores that align with this segmentation approach and works with them to create custom, store-specific solutions.
It’s a win for the brand, which better targets specific shoppers. It’s a win for the retailers because they receive the “right” product assortment for the “right” people with the “right” messaging. And it’s also a win for shoppers when they find that retailers and brands are collaborating in ways that simplify their shopping missions.
Coca-Cola, it should be noted, is uniquely qualified to implement such an initiative—the brand’s direct-store delivery system means that 67,000 brand-affiliated people (drivers, merchandisers, etc.) are walking through retail stores multiple times a day. They have the “clout” and reach to make it happen.
That’s not exactly a feasible plan of action for most brands. But you can take something from the way the brand is implementing its strategy: rather than develop one-to-one solutions, Coca-Cola is identifying and clustering groups of stores that are similar in their strategic and tactical requirements. For any brand, that makes implementation more realistic, but still a very smart tact.
There’s also the way P&G is looking at its oral care business. The company is offering retailers the ability to customize display pieces with an assortment of P&G brands around themes of “health,” “beauty” or “back to school”.
“The idea of bundling products together that complement each other is something that we have talked about with retailers for a while, but we are just now launching these new concepts and these customization capabilities in a way that is making it easy for [retailers] to execute,” said Mike McCracken, category associate director for P&G oral care in North America, in an interview earlier this year.
So why isn’t every brand following suit? It’s likely because retailers are notoriously tight-fisted with their shopper segmentation plans and insights. The challenge will be in convincing your customers that your experience across multiple retailers is as valuable to them as their deep shopper insights are to you.
Break through clutter with packaging
Regardless, there’s much you can do to simplify shopping without retailer participation, starting with a good hard assessment of your brand architecture and your packaging.
Visual simplicity—think Method, Innocent Drinks or SmartWater—is generally seen as a good tactic, and it’s an approach that has been gaining popularity for some time. When every other brand is screaming “look at me,” these brands seem to reach out to consumers from the shelf with their quiet simplicity.
Structure is also an incredibly powerful way to alert shoppers that they’ve found your brand—a simple, yet distinct physical shape can do just that from 20, 30, even 60 feet away. Coca-Cola is a fine example.
Visual codes are another packaging element to consider. Take the water category. If all of your competition is using imagery of mountains and gently trailing springs on their bottles, why pander to those conventional cues with your own packaging? You might flag a shopper over to your brand simply by branding in a different way.
Strong copywriting, color cues and other on-pack elements can also go a long way to make the decision-making process easier for a shopper.
And don’t overlook the opportunity to have all of your packaging elements work together to alert shoppers to your point of difference. Pearlfisher’s Jonathan Ford cites an eco-friendly, all natural skincare client, nude, as an example. “The logo is working with the physical shape of the packaging, which is styled to serve as in-store display units. There’s synergy not just on the label on the bottle, but with environmental materials and the in-store presentations,” he explains. “Everything fits together so well.”
You should also think about simplifying your product organization and aiding the selection process with specific strategies. Look at the wild success of the Campbell Soup Company’s gravity-fed shelving system, which made soup varieties easier to find for shoppers, helped retailers keep product in stock and is credited with a “dramatic turnaround” of the brand’s condensed soup business.
HP looked at the organization of its inkjet portfolio and developed a new packaging system with three color-coded product categories—standard (blue), value (green) and specialty (red packaging)—to help shoppers easily scan their options and find the right cartridge for their needs. HP has also extended the color-coding concept to point-of-sale materials, to attract attention in retail aisles and direct shoppers to appropriate products.
No matter the exact approach, with retailers and brands paying such close attention to their marketing at retail strategies, it’s clear that one group is sure to benefit: the shoppers.
For the rest, it’ll depend not only on how well you identify shopper needs but also how you connect those needs with available products and packaging to streamline the in-store experience—that, in fact, will be the ultimate driver of who wins in the growing fight to build stronger brands at retail.
Where to go for more information...
• Sources of Consumer Stress and their Shopping Strategies available via European Advances in Consumer Research, volume 4, 1999.
• CPG merchandising research. IRI’s CPG Merchandising Trends: Growing Demand for a Consumer-Centric Approach report can be found at http://us.infores.com/page/news/times_and_trends .
10 ways to enhance shoppability
Ray Burke, a professor at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, identified 10 principles that enhance retail shoppability, a term he coined to describe how retail environments can convert consumer needs and desires into purchases. The list is full of valuable nuggets for brand marketers as well:
1 Show the product: make the product the focal point of the shopping experience, i.e., develop windows or other packaging elements, so consumers don’t have to open the package to view or interact with the product.
2 Provide effective navigational aids: work with retailers to enhance navigation in-store and within your category.
3 Simplify product organization and presentation: communicate real product differences with your packaging and organize products according to the way people shop.
4 Minimize clutter: help shoppers visually navigate your brand with a simple brand architecture and streamlined packaging; limit sign, hang tag and other “pollution”.
5 Maximize product affordance: convey product benefits clearly through packaging; provide information to enable shoppers to make decisions.
6 Showcase what’s new: marketers don’t need much of a push here, but practice restraint on the number of violators and other devices on your packaging; instead, offer samples and work with retailers to better merchandise your new products.
7 Make the shopping experience convenient: merchandise products with their natural counterparts, i.e., products for mothers and babies should be grouped together.
8 Make the experience enjoyable: provide an experience by showcasing your brand’s personality, offering shoppers sensory stimulation, etc.
9 Speak with authority: be authentic, develop an assortment of goods that conveys “variety” not “redundancy” – serve as the editor of the shopper experience.
10 Maintain flexibility: go beyond seasonal merchandise, and consider ways to manipulate your product offerings to keep the experience “fresh”; technology is a big enabler here.