There are a lot of factors that contribute to the success of a retail display program. First and foremost, the economics have to work. That is, the display must generate an attractive return on investment since, after all, a POP display is an investment that should generate a positive return. But beyond economics, a successful display must be visually attractive. It must capture the attention of your target audience in the face of intense competition and a lot of visual distraction. It must be easy to set up and easy to maintain. It needs to be durable and stand up to abuse. It must be placed in the right location, incorporate clear and simple messaging, have the right capacity and support the right product mix, be easily shoppable, and portray an image that builds your brand. The list of success factors goes on. While all of these success factors are important, there is one thing you can do to make sure you are hitting the bullseye on as many of these critical elements as possible. The majority of customers we work with don’t do this one thing. OK, so what’s the one thing that will increase in-store retail conversions? Read on.
The one thing is to conduct store visits. It seems simple enough: just go visit some stores of the retailer you are targeting. That doesn’t sound very hard, but you might be surprised at how few people who are planning display programs actually do it. Just walking a store can provide good competitive intelligence and give you a sense for the layout, traffic patterns, and merchandising approaches. But, it’s not enough to just walk some stores. Where you will get valuable information is by talking to store employees. It’s free information and easy to do. We’ll give you an example of how store visits helped us on a recent project with Side by Side Pet.
Side by Side Pet is a relatively new entrant into the crowded pet food space. They approach pet food differently than a lot of industry incumbents by offering an Eastern food therapy approach that delivers functional benefits by matching a diet to your pet’s unique nutritional needs. They use human grade, whole food ingredients which puts them in the premium pet food category.
When we first began working with Side by Side Pet, they were very hot on incorporating a touch screen capability into a POP display. They knew that their proprietary dietary assessment tool would be a key differentiator for them, and it seemed logical to offer shoppers the opportunity to take the assessment at the point-of-sale and then purchase the product on the spot based on the assessment results. This thinking set the early design direction for the project. Although we were worried about the cost of this approach, we developed numerous concepts that included various sizes of digital media players with touchscreen capabilities. Below is just one example of an initial render that featured an embedded 54” touchscreen player.
Despite our understanding that the assessment tool was a key product differentiator, we were not convinced that that the design direction was correct so we decided to conduct a few store visits on our own. What we learned was extremely valuable and provided the basis for a change in design direction.
It only took 3 Petco store visits to validate our hypothesis that it would be difficult to get a reasonable payback on a very expensive POP display with a large touchscreen player. During those visits, we interviewed multiple store employees and store managers to get their perspective on how customers approach the buying decision and what works from a merchandising standpoint in their stores. What we heard was so consistent, we had our answer after only 3 store visits. Here’s what we learned:
- Video players and Touchscreens are Seldom Used by Customers– We looked around and saw a few video players like the ones shown below. This particular video player seemed to be well conceived with a simple push button to engage the shopper to learn more about the product.
The video player had been in the store for a year. During that year, neither the store employee we interviewed nor any of her colleagues had ever seen anyone attempt to activate the player- not a single time. When we asked why she thought that was the case, she said people want to get in and out of the store quickly and that they usually stop by after grocery shopping and already know what they want. When we asked how do customer already know what they want, she said a very high percentage of people go to www.dogfoodadvisor.com and do their research at home. She indicated it was a trusted source. She said www.petmd.com is also referenced by shoppers but far less.
We found exactly the same story at the other two stores we visited. The bottom line is for this category, people are not doing their research instore, and therefore a touchscreen does not really match consumer buying behavior. We discovered that customers do rely fairly heavily on Petco store associates who have pretty detailed knowledge of all of the pet food products they sell, and they appeared to us to be relatively well trained and trustworthy. We recommended to our customer that they take the budget that they had allocated for the touchscreen and put it toward an incentive program for store associates to complete their online assessment so they could speak with authority and recommend that shoppers do the assessment online at home. Store employees said many people will do that kind of home research and then come back and buy.
We also asked about a video player that played a continuous loop, and the answer was the same: people won’t take the time to watch it in store. They would prefer to go ask for guidance from a store associate. There were no other videos playing during our visits, and the employees we interviewed said if the video played sound, it would likely be turned off in a short time. One employee gave us an example of an end cap for cat food that would “meow” to get shoppers’ attention when they walked by. Sounds like a great idea that someone sketched up on the whiteboard, but we discovered that store employees thought it was annoying and disconnected it after a couple of weeks. Our conclusion on the media player led us to recommend to our customer that they take the investment they would have made in the video player and spend it on figuring out how to get positively positioned with the Dog Food Advisor website. That meant a smaller project for us, but it was the right answer.
2) End cap vs. freestanding display– Early into the project there was a lot of debate about whether to push for an endcap or a freestanding display. We argued that our customer needed to have both options available. Some of the stores we visited had relatively small footprints. These stores had very little room for freestanding displays so to achieve maximum store penetration, we argued that our customer should consider a solution for small format stores that are space-constrained as well as a solution for larger stores that have the space for a freestanding display. Our store visits also helped us rule out a corrugated display option and conclude that permanent displays were the only way to go. One store employee said whenever they get corrugated displays, they just put them in the back room and don’t even put them out on the floor. We also concluded that having an endcap or freestanding display was absolutely critical because pet food is a very crowded space, and it is too easy to get lost if you are stuck inline next to dozens of other brands.
- Telling their story– When we asked store managers and employees about how a new product can stand out, they agreed that the way to go was to have simple and compelling graphics or a take away whereby people can become aware of the product and then go do their research at home. They confirmed that shoppers tend to go for promotions so we thought it made sense to explore a way to incentivize shoppers to take the assessment (e.g., get a discount coupon). We concluded that giving further thought to how to really educate and co-opt store employees to push our customer’s product was also something that deserved further consideration.
We found that our store visits and market research were incredibly important in determining the ultimate direction of the display project. We ended up going with a simpler, more cost-effective display that had higher carrying capacity and a generous allocation of trial size product packages to get customers to try the product. The trial sizes provided a low-risk way for shoppers to try the product to see if the dogs would eat the dog food before making a larger purchase. The display we ended up with is shown below.
Before starting your next retail display project, take the time to visit a few stores and talk to store employees who have direct contact with your target customer. You will find it to be a worthwhile investment.