Deal or no deal?
That's the simple question driving shopper purchase decisions for the past few years. But over time this question led consumers to view stores and products as commodities chosen by price alone.
That won't be the case going forward, at least not to the same degree, given gradual improvements in the economy and a consumer base ready to loosen the purse strings, albeit only slightly.
So while prices still need to be sharp, this is the time to optimize the in-store experience.
It needs to happen across all of retailing. Recently the consultancy Mintel predicted a “Retail Rebirth” for next year. It emphasized the need for more creativity to “lure consumers into stores, offering more than just retail and be a venue, not just a shop. Service may extend into advice and demonstrations, while exclusivity and environment may also be key aspects to engage consumers with real life, not virtual, shopping experiences.”
Mintel's observations are on target for food retailing, even though grocery is somewhat different from other retail segments.
This week SN's “Strategic Planner” issue offers suggestions on initiatives to pursue in 2011, including ways to enhance the in-store experience. Here are some of those ways:
• Demos: This classic tool of merchants will be enhanced next year. Wegmans is already taking the demo concept to a higher level with cooking demonstration classes called “Seafood at the Holidays.” Kings recently launched a multi-event program for its seafood and departments at its flagship store in Short Hills, N.J., which includes chef demos, educational talks from suppliers, and sampling.
These kinds of programs involve more strategy than might be apparent. At ShopRite of Medford, N.J., Meghan Locantora, registered dietitian, recently outlined to SN her three guidelines for such events. Make the program and name fun; make it interactive so it's more than just a walk-by, and make it educational so it's more than just a freebie, she said.
• Storytelling: The more you learn about a product, the less it seems like a commodity. Consumers react positively to descriptions about where products come from and how to use them. Even better if the stories came directly from those responsible for creating or producing items. Call it romancing the products or just simply educating, either way it's a differentiator for retailers including Kroger and Kings.
• Programs for Kids: Retailers that draw kids into positive and fun programs may be on their way to having loyal customers for life. Weis Markets' dietitians probably realized this when they created a mystery store tour to teach children about nutrition and health. It's a prime example of how a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
• Employee engagement: Consumers who are passionate about stores often credit engaged employees. It's very hard to create and maintain that kind of culture, but those companies doing it, including Wegmans and Kroger, can reap huge rewards.
So take a look at our 2011 to-do list, consider your own, and don't forget to devote a portion of efforts to improving things in-store. It will be recognized.