The Best Kept Secrets in Marketing: Retail

Illustration by Richa Arora

How often have you found yourself at the supermarket billing counter, eyeing the items in your cart, with mixed emotions of surprise and guilt?

“Two-thirds of what we buy in the supermarket we had no intention of buying,” says Paco Underhill, consumer behaviour expert and author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.

Brands and modern retail have put their heads together to prompt their customers to give into impulses and indulge in the last mile in retail: Shopping. However, this development came about only after someone pointed out the elephant on the store floor: the fact that the consumer and the buyer are not necessarily the same person.

While the consumer looks at the attributes of a product, the buyer focusses on variety, convenience, and the shopping experience itself. Advertising and other channels of promotion often focus only on the consumers’ personas and decision making processes. But once brands are dropped off on retail shelves, they need all the in-store marketing support they can get to woo the buyers themselves.

The path to purchase has become also much more complex since the advent of digital channels. Now, the zero moment of truth or a decision to purchase a certain brand happens much before the journey to the store is made. While this gives greater insights to marketers into factors that influence a consumer before purchase, it increases the effort required in communicating with the buyer within a retail space.

On top of that, the ecosystem of retail itself has expanded and evolved. There are multiple formats spanning across hypermarkets to specialty stores. The competition among them is as real as the war among brands. Everyone is fighting for more footfalls and bigger basket sizes.

As the plot thickens, here are some of the marketing strategies both retailers and brands have up their sleeves to make buyers add more items to their cart.

Retail Packaging

Yes, it is essentially about a book asking to be judged by its cover. In a supermarket, a buyer comes across hundreds of products in a matter of few seconds. One sure shot way to grab their attention is through innovative packaging.

For a long time packaging was considered to be an inevitable expense. But now, when you have hundreds of other brands vying for eyeballs and shelf-space, it is mandatory to have packaging that sets the product apart. Today’s retail packaging printing processes transform cardboard and plastic into design marvels. However, the challenge of coming up with the most attractive packaging is not just about making it look good. Before deciding on the appearance, manufacturers have to take into account cost, safety of the product within, environmental impact, and compliances along with the practicality of transportation and bundling.

You can find a bajillion listicles on examples of creative packaging. One of the emerging trends in retail packaging is essentialism. Unlike minimalism which strips away details, essentialism focuses on keeping only the necessary details. A great example of this trend is Tylenol’s Care+ line of medicines. The bottles are shaped like pills and the labels in the front simply proclaim ‘I have a fever’ or ‘I have a cold’. They also carry other essential details like recommended age and symptoms that will be treated. The design is clear and the message is direct. It stands out on a retail shelf.

Store and Shelf Layouts

Layouts are how retailers make sure most brands and products get a chance to woo the buyer while maximising their revenue. Staples like dairy and meat are usually kept at the very end of the store. Customers have to traverse the entire length of the outlet, passing aisles and aisles of other products to reach them. It is but natural to pick up a few other items on the way.

Similarly, much thought goes into shelf layouts of each category. Usually the top shelves are occupied by smaller and regional brands that cannot pay for the prime spot. The second and third shelves from the top are what you call a Bull’s Eye. They are in the line of sight of most customers, and are usually occupied by leading brands and best sellers. Needless to say, this is the most effective spot to make a sale. Immediately below it, you can find similar products that are priced cheaper.

The lower shelves are the ‘kids’ eye-level’ shelves. Here you can find products that appeal to, well, children. The bottom shelves usually carry private labels and bulk items. Store brands usually have their own loyal following and can afford to stay at the bottom where people will come looking for them. As for bulk items, it is more convenient to pick them up from the lower shelves.

PoS Displays

Point of Sale displays are where product packaging and shelf layouts launch a combined assault on the shoppers’ senses. According to Underhill, it is the most profitable area in a store. This is where impulse buys like candy, cigarettes, and magazines are placed. These grab the attention of the shopper who has been waiting in line for some time, and is done with staring at the back and into the cart of the customer standing ahead in line. Brand loyalty does not matter here. Brand shoppers would have already purchased that item from the shelf where it is normally found.

Items at the POS move several times faster than the same product placed on shelves elsewhere in the same store. These are mostly low-ticket items and are often displayed on offer or as ‘Items of the Week’. Retailers use PoS displays for several reasons. Sometimes it is to highlight new or seasonal items in the store. At other instances, it is to move overstocked products.

So the next time you are at a checkout counter see if the product displays are making you feel impulsive. Watch out for great packaging that makes you reach out, and store displays that act as in-store billboards for brands. Finally, check how many extra items you bought over the ones you originally planned to shop for.

Read Part 1 of the series — The Best Kept Secrets in Marketing: Fast Food.

(This was originally published on The Marketer’s Last Mile — The PushCrew Blog)