Have you ever played undercover shopper to check in on your products, or your clients’ products? Of course you have; it's fun, right? I often like to test the knowledge of retail staff on products I represent, or categories I'm researching. I also manage retail relationships for some of my overseas clients, so delivering current intel on how their products are merchandised is helpful.
Once I asked a butcher at a specialty food grocer where their organic beef came from. It's a pretty standard question that they must get asked multiple times a day. I knew exactly where that beef came from—it was beef from one of my clients in Australia. Unfortunately, the butcher incorrectly told me the beef was from the USA. While I don't think the butcher intentionally misinformed me, it's a serious problem for my client, who wants shoppers to know the organic beef on the shelf comes from family farms in Australia.
When store staff are not knowledgeable about your product, or don't even know it exists, this can lead to major confusion for shoppers and, worst of all, lost sales. I see consumer confusion and lost sales a lot as a result of store staff giving incorrect information to shoppers. Whether you know about it or not, this is likely happening on some level with everyone’s products.
Mostly I notice the issue coming up via brands' social media (another reason to be active on social), which I manage for some of my clients. Consumers will come to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram giving us useful feedback or questions, often in real-time, right from the store. I'll hear things like, "went to my local grocery store and looks like they no longer sell your product," or "asked if your product was kosher and was told it's not; I've been buying it for over 10 years thinking it WAS kosher, so I hope it still is?"
There are so many products for retailer staff to keep up with; it's impossible to know everything about all products on the store shelves. That doesn't change the fact that you need the support of store staff to help convey accurate information about your products and ideally even advocate for your products.
Recently I was doing a bit of research about probiotic products and chatted to a staff member at a Whole Foods Market store. I was happy to find that she knew A LOT and was able to articulately direct me to a fabulous product, inner-ēco Fresh Coconut Water Probiotic. She had used the product herself and recommended it to me. When I asked how she knew so much about this product, she told me that she had actually met one of the cofounders of the company. This personal connection kept this particular product top-of-mind, and that translated into a sale.
Wouldn't it be nice to connect in person with all the retail staff where your products are sold? Again, that's not possible either. There are, however, a few things that manufacturers likely CAN do to help create awareness and encourage brand advocacy among retail staff.
Make meeting store staff in person a priority. You won't be able to meet them all, but you can certainly try. Whenever you're in a store that sells your product, try to meet as many staff as possible. Go in the mornings when things may not be quite as busy. Introduce yourself and offer them a free sample or coupon if you can. Meeting the CEO, founder or a farmer can go a long way to make a memorable impression of your brand.
Ask retail staff about themselves. I've been on a store visit with a client before who is a fairly well known CEO. When he introduced himself to store employees, he was genuinely interested in them. He asked them things like, "How long have you been working here?" and "What are some of your best-selling products?" Basically he was giving them the chance to show off their knowledge and feel important.
Ask your category manager if you can host an educational workshop for retail staff that teaches useful skills while also showcasing your product.
Ask store staff to follow your brand on social media. I know for a fact that several retail staff follow some of my clients on social media. Some of the retail staff who are most passionate about natural and organic products want to be well-informed and take pride in being well versed in trends, studies and products.
Retail staff are often not factored into brands' marketing plans; it's usually all about consumers. But store staff are often your first line of defense—they can either help you or hurt you. It's an audience you cannot afford to ignore, and it's one that I counsel clients to get to know and engage with.
Have you had success in getting your retail partners’ staff to advocate for your products? Comment below or tweet to me at @LisaMabe to share some of your best practices or ideas on this topic.