Natural Foods Merchandiser

Merchandising magic

When it comes to merchandising, stores have to make choices. Identifying the best approaches to get your products from the shelves into shoppers’ carts can be a daunting task. You could go with a tried-and-true method, such as seasonal sales, endcap specials, shelf talkers or newsletter coupons. Or you could enter a brave new world and make use of cell phones and personal digital assistants, which allow retailers to post sales via Twitter or deliver instant-message coupons and recipes directly to shoppers’ handhelds. Combine these new technologies with the economic slump, consolidation in the manufacturing sector and changing shopper demographics, and it may be time to reconsider where merchandising dollars should go.

New wave catches up
Compared to printed materials, virtual merchandising via websites, Twitter and instant messaging cost next to nothing. “In the grocery world, more promotions are using texting, with codes on in-store displays so that shoppers can use their cell phones to get interactive information, including sweepstakes and instant coupons,” says Larry Flasterstein, editor and publisher of Creative, The Magazine of Promotion and Marketing.

Of course, not all customers respond to high-tech promotions. “Some shoppers, particularly older ones, might be a little daunted by phone and PDA tie-ins, but this is definitely a generational thing,” says Bridget Goldschmidt, managing
editor of Progressive Grocer magazine. “A lot of younger shoppers want the convenience of sales alerts, recipe tips, etc., in a format they use all the time—though some would rather not share personal information such as email addresses with their grocer.”

Coupons also can be instantaneous, so shoppers no longer have to save and carry them. “The newest thing we’ve implemented are IRCs, or instantly redeemable coupons,” says Monique McCurdy, vice president of operations for Maximum Marketing, based in Pompano Beach, Fla. “Customers don’t have to clip them—just peel them off the product.”

Old school still rules
Stores that rely on newsletters, in-store magazines, shelf talkers and other printed materials for merchandising are still a majority, and data indicates these approaches can work. Fifty-two percent of shoppers say store newsletters influence their purchases, while an even higher number, 57 percent, are influenced by signage, according to research from the Natural Marketing Institute’s Health and Wellness Trends Database.

Cutting-edge marketing has certainly not replaced traditional merchandising options, though the economic crunch and industry consolidation have changed the way some of these approaches are implemented in stores. Take sampling, for instance. “We’ve seen an increase in passive sampling—a table with a bowl of chips next to a chip endcap,” says McCurdy. “For manufacturers, it’s more economical to simply give away a case of product and not have to pay someone to demo it on top of that.”

Goldschmidt says numerous retailers she’s talked to “swear by sampling, and maintain it boosts sales and store traffic. Sampling has the advantage of being relatively cheap and easy, with no newfangled technology to install.”

Endcaps and freestanding displays will continue to play a critical role in in-store merchandising, though retailer approaches to these tools are changing as well. “There is an increasing trend to group multiple brands on endcaps,” says Flasterstein. “We’re seeing more major promotions, with multiple brands under the same ownership or even separate, complimentary companies, such as a beverage company and a snack company.”

Flasterstein says retailers—especially chains—have more power in this market, and manufacturers are often willing to do retailer-specific promotions with customized displays. “As it grows harder to get display space, manufacturers are doing fewer but more impressive programs.” However, smaller retailers may need to band together in order to negotiate the promotional opportunities that chains routinely receive, he says.

“Endcap and off-the-shelf displays are consistently successful, but they have to be shoppable and attractive,” McCurdy says. “One or two items won’t work, and 30 is confusing.” She sees an opportunity for retailers to do more merchandising around holiday items, including Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Easter.

But even those committed to tried-and-true approaches need to consider the changing landscape of retailing. “People are information-hungry,” McCurdy says. “There’s a new wave of technology, and more manufacturers have Facebook pages and even full-time bloggers. Younger customers have iPhones, they use social networking sites, they Twitter, and it would behoove retailers to participate.”

Michell Clute is a Fort-Collins, Colo.-based freelance writer.

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