CHICAGO -- The supermarket checkout doesn't meet the needs of the majority of consumers, according to results of a study conducted at five major retailers.
The study, called Front-End Focus, is a joint effort between M&M/ Mars, a unit of Mars, Hackettstown, N.Y., and Time Distribution Services, a subsidiary of Time Warner, New York. It is being conducted by Dechert-Hampe & Co., a consulting firm in Northbrook, Ill.
The goal of the report, one of the first of its kind, is to develop best practices for front-end merchandising. Results from the first phase -- in-store intercept interviews conducted at 500 stores -- show that the front end is in need of a face lift. Of 565 consumers polled, 68% agreed with the statement "the checkout counter contains a lot of products I don't need."
"This confirms the mindset of the consumer. They want to de-complex their lives," Steve Collins, national sales manager of category leadership at M&M/Mars told SN.
M&M/Mars and TDS declined to identify the chains, saying only that they are major retailers representing the East Coast, West Coast, Midwest and South. They are described as being a mix of high-low and everyday-low-price operators. They all needed to provide front-end sales data to participate.
Collins said M&M/Mars got involved because it wanted to increase consumer satisfaction at the checkout.
"The checkout is important because it's the last category a shopper sees," he said. "It's their last impression of the store."
Initial results are being released at the M&M/Mars and TDS booths at the Food Marketing Institute's Supermarket Industry Convention and Educational Exposition here, which began yesterday and will run through Wednesday.
The preliminary findings also show that 46% of consumers buy at the checkstand at least once a week; confectionery and magazines are the categories purchased most often; and heavy checkstand buyers tend to be younger, with lower income and education.
The consumers were asked about the frequency of buying key product categories at the checkstand, and about attitudes toward checkstand merchandising and product availability. The research also included profiles of heavy checkstand buyers by demographics and product usage,
One of the goals of the report is to encourage retailers to think of the front end as one category, rather than several, said Ray Jones, managing director at Dechert-Hampe & Co. "If you look at how consumers are shopping and how retailers are merchandising, there's a substantial difference, and that difference spells opportunity," Jones said.
The consumer research is the first phase of the research, launched one year ago. Phase II will include analysis of the retailers' point-of-sale data to determine checkstand product sales and movement in the 500 stores. It is expected to be completed by July.
Findings expected from Phase II include checkstand performance variations by store, such as impact of store size and format; factors that can influence overall sales and productivity (impact of planograms and checkstand merchandising); and ways to maximize key category performance at the checkstand (availability of products on all lanes verses selected lanes, or on express versus regular lanes). Phase II also will include the development of a set of best practices.
"The retailers involved have given us detailed item-level information that we are matching up to stockkeeping units so we can see which products do better," said Jones.
The third phase will test different merchandising solutions to drive the industry toward the appropriate mix.
While confectionery, magazines and soda are checkout staples, over the last few years additional categories have been merchandised at the front end, including plush, books and even produce.
Of concern to confectionery companies like M&M/Mars is the growing trend of candy-free lanes. As reported in SN, many retailers are removing candy from one or more lanes in response to customer requests.
Also, many retailers use the same planograms for all their units, rather than micromarketing like they do in other areas of the store.