CHICAGO — While improved customer service, shorter lines and greater shopper choice are among the benefits reported by retailers that install self-checkout (SCO) lanes, a commonly noted drawback is a reduction in overall impulse sales.
Many times SCO lanes lack beverages, candy and magazines because they could easily be missed by shoppers who are busy checking out. But a new study based on an analysis of eight Supervalu locations finds that when effectively merchandised, these lanes are ripe with opportunity.
The study, conducted by CMG Consulting in partnership with The Coca-Cola Co., The Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. and NCR Corp. finds that merchandising the SCO increases impulse item purchases by 30% to 75%, vs. no-impulse merchandising.
“With the consumer engaged with checking themselves out, there is less of a tendency for them to shop the [self-]checkout area,” noted John Richards, director, national category management, Wrigley. “To capture those impulse sales, we need to provide eye-catching displays the consumer passes as they enter the SCO courtyard or lane.”
Developing the most effective merchandising strategies and solutions at or near the SCO was the objective of the study. Its results were originally presented at the Food Marketing Institute show here last month.
Three types of self-checkout configurations — courtyards with more than 13 feet between SCO pods, belted lanes at SCO and courtyards with less than 13 feet between SCO pods — were included in the study.
During a four-week pre-test period of courtyards with more than 13 feet between SCO pods, impulse purchases of items merchandised in two to three small beverage coolers and four magazine pockets were noted. These sales were compared against those made during a subsequent four-week test period that involved two full-size coolers, and an integrated merchandising unit featuring 20 magazine pockets, the top 11 chocolate items, the top two candy items and 28 of the top gum and mint items.
“Moving from two to three smaller coolers to two full-size coolers increased impulse beverage sales [of 20-ounce bottles] by 18%,” noted Randy Heaton, director of client services and research, CMG. “The combined fixture increased total impulse sales [of confections, snacks, beverages and magazines] by 57%.”
Similar tests were conducted with the other two SCO configurations.
To gain feedback about the SCO merchandising solutions and layout in the test stores, researchers conducted exit interviews with adult shoppers who purchased at least one beverage, magazine or candy category item at self-checkout.
Items placed within users' line of sight, as well as those easily accessible during the transaction process, proved successful. One-third of all respondents noticed a new-product display.
Twenty-five percent of SCO impulse purchases were triggered by seeing the product at the SCO, researchers learned. Magazine buyers were twice as likely as beverage and gum buyers to report they shopped the SCO because an item caught their eye.
The No. 1 impulse item purchased at SCO were 20-ounce beverages, according to the study's results. “Thirst” triggered half of all beverage purchases. Beverages represented 36% of impulse dollar sales, confections represented 35%, magazines accounted for 23% and snacks contributed 6%.
“Most beverage purchasers bought the beverage solely for themselves (95%) and for immediate consumption (77%),” said Ron Hughes, director of channel strategy and solutions at Coca-Cola. “Seventy-seven percent of the people expected to finish the beverage in less than an hour from the time it was purchased.”
Merchandising SCO lanes was actually found to increase their usage.
“We found this very interesting,” said Richards. “The consumer may have more easily recognized that location as a checkout, as they're used to seeing confections, beverages and magazines merchandised at the checkout. A shopper who wanted to buy an impulse item would normally need to go to a regular lane to find it. With those items located at the SCO, they simply selected the item from the location and used the SCO.”
Merchandising the SCO lanes also increased the traditional lanes' impulse sales per transaction by 4%.
“A consumer passing by the [SCO] display on their way to a traditional lane [may have seen] the product and simply picked it up from that location,” said Heaton.
Best practices were developed based on the findings.
When it comes to merchandising courtyard-style SCO configurations with less than 13 feet between registers, retailers should install a small beverage cooler that can be shopped at each entrance of the courtyard, according to Heaton.
Confection merchandising units should face the rear of the store at each entrance to the courtyard and should feature a minimum of 60 linear inches of chocolate/candy, 10 inches of mints and 60 inches of gum, according to the study's findings.
A minimum of seven to eight magazine pockets that are visible to each customer were also found to be most effective.
SCO courtyard configurations with more than 13 feet between units should feature two beverage coolers at self-checkout, with one at each endcap facing the rear of the store, the study advises. With these configurations, confections and magazines should be merchandised on island displays, featuring a minimum of 100 linear inches of chocolate/candy, 20 inches of mints and 100 inches of gum “shopable” from each side of the island display.
Shopable means that a customer will pass that item within six to eight feet at some point during their self-checkout experience. Lighted confection displays are necessary to maximize sales, the study noted.
Belted self-checkout configurations should feature a beverage cooler that can be shopped at every self-checkout; whether it's a pass-through cooler or a cooler at every other endcap. These aisles should also feature confections that face the rear of the store, with a minimum of 70 linear inches of chocolate/candy, 20 inches of mints and 70 inches of gum shopable from each self-checkout station. A minimum of 15 to 16 magazine pockets that are visible to each lane are also recommended.
More than 800 Supervalu stores feature SCO lanes and most of these aisles are merchandised, according to spokeswoman Haley Meyer.
It's uncertain whether Supervalu will implement these practices, as it just received the study's results a few weeks ago, Meyer said.