Differentiate… or else

Back in June I was lucky enough to co-chair an Esomar event on Shopping Experience. As always when you get a bunch of like-minded people in a room, all sorts of ideas and perspectives crop up, some of which are slightly tangential to the session objectives. When you take stock a few days or weeks later, however, some of those tangents start to have a new meaning.

That was the case with a thought that came up during a workshop session we held in the afternoon. It’s one that has been around for a while, but it is often stated but not tackled: when categories lack differentiation there is a risk that shoppers purchase decisions default to price or promotion.

Now I’ve typed that out it sounds obvious! And yet so often products are shoved on shelf to fit a planogram that has some logic to the retailers and brands, but only a cursory thought as to how well the category sells itself or fits shopper needs. For shoppers there is a huge difference between a category that actively sells its products vs one that is much more passive.

Think of all those aisles in supermarkets where the only way of homing in on the category you want, let alone the specific product or brand, is through the visual cues you’ve learnt yourself. I’ve literally just come back from a top up shop in Waitrose. I had honey on my list, so I knew which aisle I needed – it’s opposite soft drinks (of course?!), and next to tea / coffee (marginally more logical). I could see jars after the boxes of tea, so was clearly getting close, but once in front of the 2-3 bays of glass it’s then the product colour which gets me to honey. At no point was the fixture helping me to navigate, let alone consider the honey options. So, no great surprise that I reached for one that is familiar, whilst also checking the price. I hardly noticed the alternatives, as there was no prompt to do so and therefore no value to me in spending any more time at the fixture.

Now you could argue my choice was loyalty driven – certainly it might look that way from the data on MyWaitrose! But loyalty suggests an active decision whereas the reality is that much as I like honey mine is a passive decision as it makes my life easy to stick to what I know. It’s a safe option. Did the honey in by basket sell itself to me? Absolutely not! Do the other brands attempt to persuade me to switch? Nope. Does the fixture do anything to encourage me to trade up (I buy the cheapest by the way!)? I’m afraid not. The only aspect of the fixture that briefly caught my eye was an adjacent honey which had money off…

Compare this to the new gondola end in the chiller that Waitrose have introduced, where they create a meal solution in one bay. Now you are talking active selling. Suddenly the retailer is showcasing products that I might not normally see, in a way that gets me thinking about the benefit to me, but also allowing me to pick and choose the elements I need or want.

In these days of slowing growth and reducing margins we need to be creative. Look at where you can differentiate your brand, range or category so that it not only catches shoppers’ attention, it gives them a reason to behave differently.

By Danielle Pinnington @Shoppercentric