Knowledge Bank Blog, Pricing & Promotions, Range & Portfolio

The Wall of Product

Are you encouraging shoppers to make active choices?

Can you remember the days when suits used to be standard office attire for men?  Dressing for work was easy.  Buy 3 suits, a few shirts and ties.  Rotate the combinations.  Job done.

Then dress down Friday was introduced.

Suddenly Friday mornings became hard.  You actually had to think about what to wear.  What did ‘dress down’ or ‘smart casual’ mean?  What did you wear last Friday?  Can’t wear the same thing again.  Now, all the women reading this will be thinking ‘about time, we’ve been living with this challenge for years’.

Thinking about what to wear requires some decision making.  Wearing the same thing each day doesn’t.  Mark Zuckerberg apparently has 20 grey T shirts and hoodies.  President Obama said in an interview with Vanity Fair ‘You’ll see I only wear grey or blue suits.  I’m trying to pare down decisions.  I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m wearing or eating because I have too many other decisions to make’.

Admittedly, there is not much else a President could wear.  You wouldn’t want the leader of the free world wandering around in a skinny purple suit.  But the point is a good one.  Why waste energy on small decisions, when you have plenty of big ones to make?

This blog is about decision making, not male fashion choices.  It is about helping shoppers invest their time and energy into making active choices about what to buy, not into searching for products or trying to make sense of what is available.

This is a big issue (or opportunity) in most retail outlets we visit – in the UK and globally.  In most categories, shoppers face a wall of product.  Look down the aisle and, depending on the category, you will see a wall of tins, bottles, boxes or rolls.  Lots of similar looking products, sold in a similar way.

So, as a shopper, how do you deal with this complexity?  Spend 2 or 3 minutes in the aisle trying to make sense of the choice available?  Or just filter most products out and buy what you normally buy, or buy the cheapest or buy whatever is on deal?  Probably the latter, in most categories.

Many categories are implicitly encouraging shoppers to behave in this way.  Is it any wonder that many categories, and Grocery as a whole, is struggling to grow in many countries?

So, what are the things you can do to change this – to break up the wall of product?

Simple, crystal clear signage.  One of the focus areas in UK retail in recent years has been range.  Discounters have been successful with very limited ranges.  The bigger retailers have responded by cutting range.  This is a good first step.  However, many retailers and categories haven’t made the second step – clarifying the range.  Helping shoppers understand which products are where in the aisle.

A big part of this is about simple, clear sub category signage.  Are all crisps the same or do you want to direct shoppers to premium, sharing or better for you segments?  Is Tea all the same or do you want to direct shoppers to speciality, green, fruit & herbal?  Less range is good.  Less range, clearly organised and signposted is much better.

Visual Hooks.  Shoppers shop visually.  It is how they navigate around store, recognise brands and process information.  Lots of research has shown the importance of the visual element in any POS communication.  Visuals capture our attention.   Therefore visual signposting is likely to be much more effective than written signs.  We call them ‘visual hooks’ because they should ‘hook’ the shopper and draw them in.  They increase the speed of navigation and can trigger demand.  See a visual of someone enjoying an ice cream and shoppers are much more likely to want an ice cream.

Clear price & quality hierarchies.  A true value for money decision is based on the quality (or performance) of a product vs the price of the product.   However, the volume of promotions in recent years has led to many shoppers making a decision on price rather than value – which brand is at £1 / £2 / £3 this week.   We are not asking shoppers to make an active choice on value.

Lots of studies have show that when they are given a clear choice, most shoppers don’t buy the cheapest product in the range.  They often buy from one of the middle tiers.  There used to be a very clear good / better / best way of merchandising products at shelf.  It allowed shoppers to make a clear, active choice.  In a way, that shoppers sometimes couldn’t in a discounter with limited tiering.  This should be good for the shopper.  Good for the retailer.  Good for brands – providing they can give shoppers a clear reason why their brand is worth paying more for, than lower priced competitors.

To grow categories we need to change shopper behaviour.  To do this, we need to make choices clearer and more compelling for shoppers.

President Obama spends less time thinking in the morning so he can spend more time thinking during the day.   Wonder if Donald Trump should do the same?

On a separate note, our monthly article in The Grocer goes out in tomorrow’s edition .  There is a link to it on our website….

Have a great weekend and speak to you next week.