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Improve Your Checkout Aisle

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With $5.5 billion in sales and representing 1.6% of store profits, the front end isn’t something health and wellness marketers should ignore. The problem is, how do you incorporate better-for-you products into an area typically reserved for anything but?

costco_checkout.jpgA new study of the checkout aisle sheds some much-needed light on the subject. The report, funded by a group that includes Masterfoods USA (Mars), the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company (which recently completed a merger with Mars) and others, outlined best practices that might help change the rules a bit.

First off, researchers from Dechert-Hampe & Co. make the point that the front end is the one location in the store that everyone passes. What’s more, consumers typically spend 5-7 minutes on line at the checkout. In other words, there is plenty of time for the impulse itch to get scratched (as evidenced by the lines at a Costco, pictured here). The study concludes that improvements in merchandising could yield retailers an additional $2 billion in sales.

What role could health and wellness play in a successful front end? Take a look at the current top sellers purchased by the study sample over the past year: Gum/Mints (63%), Candy (58%), Magazines (34%) and Soft Drinks (29%).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, health-minded items like nutrition bars, lip care and oral care were pegged as “low penetration/low frequency purchases."

No matter. While none of the bestsellers was called out as “healthy” there are good-for-you options in each of the top categories, including magazines. Even most of the gum I see at checkout these days is sugarless and sweetened with friendly xylitol.

Part of the challenge might be that the aisle relies on placement fees paid to retailers, and these could be too exhorbitant for some smaller manufacturers. Even if the vig ensures you get a spot on the rack, poor performance might get your product bounced. On a positive note, the study found that the most total profit dollars are driven by selling product, not from the fees, so there’s some negotiating room there.

And let’s not forget beverages. Researchers determined that grab-n-go coolers should be located in a quarter to a third of the active checkout lanes.

The survey covers a lot more areas (for instance, it points out that it’s not the number of magazines displayed, but the variety of titles that drives sales). Suffice to say, reading through it with a critical eye will reveal potential strategies for manufacturers and retailers alike who are looking for ways to raise the visibility of their wellness offerings at a critical consumer intercept point.

(Photo credit: Michael Lehet)

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