(FNS) -- Today, technology allows food retailers to get up close and personal with their shoppers at the shelf.
While accurate pricing remains the prime concern of retailers, the availability of new shelf-signage methods and electronic shelf labeling offers retailers options to take shelf labeling beyond price to informational marketing and targeted promotions.
Yet, the delivery methods are still being debated.
A&P, Montvale, N.J., strives for simplicity with its shelf-edge promotions. The operator has recently cleaned its units of all extraneous messages.
"We want more quality with our signage," said Tony Gasparro, vice president, advertising. "We are very concerned with overcommercializing our stores. We want to make the shopping experience good and we don't want to badger our customers."
Many operators are using shelf-edge signage to tie in items with their frequent-shopper programs.
Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass., introduced its Rewards Card last fall. The operator estimates that about 86% of all transactions are now being made using the card.
The Rewards Card shelf POP messages are subject to Shaw's strict guidelines to present an uncluttered atmosphere. "At Shaw's stores, there are not a lot of signs," explained spokesman Bernie Rogan. "The ones we put up are exceptional. We keep a strong correlation from the flier to the shelf. The message is uniform and the hanging signs contain the image of the [Rewards] card."
Shaw's partners with Insignia Systems, Plymouth, Minn., on its shelf signage.
Keep It Simple
The desire to stay away from a circus presentation of shelf promotions is echoed by many industry observers.
"When consumers walk into stores today, they are on sensory overload," said Thomas Palombo, president, Merchandising Corp. of America, a Charlotte, N.C.-based third-party retail services organization.
"They want a good selection of brands and sizes. They want a store that is shoppable, one which can save them time. And they don't want to be overloaded with messages."
Scott Sommers, partner, Fitch Inc., a Columbus, Ohio-based design consultancy, agreed: "Shoppers are overwhelmed with information."
Shoppers will often complain about options and choices, said Sommers, "but they still want options and choices. The challenge is to present a shelf that is uncluttered yet friendly."
Jesse Aversano, senior vice president, News America Marketing, New York, noted that if one's shelf POP is too complicated, consumers will simply give up.
While electronic shelf-labeling may not be affordable for many supermarkets at present, such technology goes a long way in taking shelf labels well beyond accurate pricing and into inventory functions, planogram compliance and personalized messages.
"Improving merchandising at the shelf includes electronic shelf labels," said Rogan.
"It ensures accuracy for consumers and comes as close to 100% accuracy as possible."
"ESLs take barriers away, open up opportunities and let retailers be creative with pricing strategies and with frequent-shopper communications," said Pete Bartolotta, vice president of NCR's Atlanta-based DecisionNet division.
Customize the Message
Technology is also making the personalized message a reality at the shelf.
"The future wave is to customize messages based on purchasing habits," said Aversano. "Scanning a [frequent-shopper] card at the shelf can offer consumers a paperless coupon or other rewards."
Don DePlama, vice president, Idiom Technologies, Cambridge, Mass., a consultancy focused on business globalization, said such programs are reminiscent of the trusted grocer's treatment of customers in times passed. "It's moving down the path to recreate an experience consumers used to have where their trusted grocer greeted them, knew their family and what items they were looking for," he said.
"Now the only way for a supermarket operator to know a customer is with the [shopper] card. Some retailers are using these programs to present marketing messages expressly to singular shoppers. There is a great opportunity to achieve this with data mining and market-basket analysis," DePlama said.
Meanwhile, retailers continue to seek ways to pinpoint what shelf-edge POP methods will reap the best possible benefits.
Minneapolis-based Target uses information as a selling tool in its Archer Farms grocery set in supercenter formats. The top of the gondola is employed to deliver information about items and give usage tips. There are tips on olive oil and information on salad dressings, for example.
"This POP method builds a brand for the store," said Sommers. "It helps consumers make an emotional connection."
Achieving Pull Through
Some retailers are putting POP messages to work to encourage consumers to shop in other store departments.
"Creating a store-within-a-store or boutique area for various categories affords the opportunity to use shelf-edge messages to visit other areas," said Palombo. "When customers go to a destination department they are on a mission to select within that category. Once there, if a retailer offers product-usage information, gifts, rebates or coupons, chances are that customer can be moved into another area."
K-mart's Blue Light Special is a good example. Specials are announced to drive customers to categories.
While some operators gravitate toward traditional shelf signage, others are targeting more specifically.
Cincinnati-based Kroger has gone to a graphics approach in its shelf merchandising. The operator recently embarked on a program with News America Marketing, enabling them to showcase price signage with a four-color product image. This customized program is being launched in the operator's Columbus, Ohio, units. It is expected midsummer that Kroger-Delta and Kroger-Mid Atlantic units will become part of the network with the King Soopers/City Markets chain.
"Marketers want account-specific price signage at the shelf," said Aversano. "With short lead times, we can use technology to interface with a retailer's pricing files to promote certain SKUs and differentiate prices at various units within a chain."
Another traditional POP program is offered by Insignia Systems. Again, operator-specific colors and logo are presented along with a photo of the item, the price plus features and benefits. "Seventy percent of purchase decisions are made at the shelf," said Scott Drill, Insignia president. "Consumers may have an item in mind to purchase, but not a particular brand. Once they see the promotional signage with the benefits and the price, there is a 50% greater chance they will select the featured item with the sign than one without a sign."
Some time-honored point-of-sales methods are reemerging at the shelf. Here are just a few solutions on the horizon:
Changeable signs. Thomson-Leeds, New York, along with Xerox have combined efforts to form Gyricon. This partnership is creating a smart paper capable of receiving a radio signal. Beads are embedded that have an electronic charge that, at a signal, can rotate to change the message printed on the smart paper. This process can be applied to corrugated displays and liner-shelf labels to create changeable messages. The concept was tested earlier this year by Macy's department stores in its Bridgewater, N.J., unit to reduce the need to manually change prices for one-day-sale displays. The power necessary to rotate the beads comes from a watch-style battery positioned on the back of the paper. For supermarkets, an additional application might be to change the pricing message to a planogram message to restock or reset shelves.
New spin on traditional signage. News America Marketing, New York, is using display techniques at the shelf edge. One program involves a shelf extender that attaches to the back of an empty package. This can be used to introduce a new product or line extension, or as a cross-merchandising tool. Additionally, another program employs a frame to showcase a print advertisement or packaging.
Reducing shelf-edge clutter. Display Edge Technology, Dayton, Ohio, is introducing a device that can be affixed to shopping carts that, when combined with a frequent-shopper card, will signal on-shelf devices as a shopper approaches or is in the aisle.
Floor ads are being given more life. Interactive signs with touch pads are being developed by FLOORgraphics, Princeton, N.J., where shoppers can be entertained with audio, scent, light effects and real-time messaging.