How shelf placement impacts retail buyers, shoppers

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In a multipart series during the balance of the year, our team will examine key product attributes and marketing tactics from two different perspectives: the retail buyer and the consumer/shopper. We believe readers will benefit from an objective picture of the viewpoints that contribute to a product’s success at retail. This column explores the ways shelf placement impacts buyer and shopper ­behavior.

What does “shelf placement” mean to shoppers versus ­buyers?

Buyer Vantage Point: For the buyer, shelf space represents a complex chessboard of financial risks and rewards. Buyers face the daunting task of filling the finite limitations of shelf space with a rotating array of products that will generate optimal profit. Buyers must consider where these products will be positioned on shelves in order to weigh potential for sales against shoppers’ purchasing habits.

Shopper Vantage Point: In its most simplistic form, shoppers think of shelf placement as “where the product is.” But there is considerable science to support the notion that shelf placement yields instinctive responses from shoppers and can greatly impact purchasing decisions. Research has demonstrated that shoppers shop in the same manner in which they read — at eye level, horizontally from left to right. Accordingly, products placed at eye level sell at a faster rate than products on higher or lower shelves.

Bottom line: Shelf placement is a complex endeavor that is driven by a push and pull between buyers and shoppers. Buyers want to stock a maximum assortment of profitable products within the limited space available. And shoppers, driven by innate responses to products on certain shelves, have limited engagement with the total variety of products available.

Where is the best shelf ­placement?

Buyer Vantage Point: Prime space — the so-called bull’s-eye zone — in the eye-level shelves second and third from the top is given to large manufacturers who make arrangements to stand front and center and who leverage the power of their brand recognition to assure sales to the retailer. Yet buyers must also consider the best placement for other products, which must be well merchandised to engage shoppers despite being outside of the bull’s-eye.

Shopper Vantage Point: The best shelf placement for shoppers makes finding their items easy — again, the bull’s-eye is this spot. Destination shoppers are prepared to purchase, and products placed here are easily recognized and selected. Impulse shoppers who may not be viewing mid-level shelves with premeditated intent are still likely to purchase from these shelves because their response effort is low. They do not need to reach up or look down, and they will make their decision quickly based on products in front of them.

Bottom line: Buyers and shoppers both respond positively to products positioned on mid-level shelves. Buyers recognize the high sales potential for products placed here because they understand that shoppers are most likely to purchase items from this shelf area, regardless of planned intent.

How does top and bottom shelf placement influence buyers versus shoppers?

Buyer Vantage Point: Knowing that new brands may not get noticed amongst the established brands populating mid-level shelves and understanding that new brands may not have the financial fortitude to acquire mid-level shelf position, buyers look to the top shelf to position new products or specialty items. Buyers and retailers alike prefer to reserve the bottom shelves for large, bulky items, well-known but slower-moving destination items that shoppers willingly bend to reach or strategically placed children’s items to capture the attention of children at their eye level.

Shopper Vantage Point: Shoppers may perceive “top-shelf” items as superior in quality, or more expensive, than products populating middle-to-lower shelves. Private label items may attract budget-conscious shoppers who reliably purchase these products from lower shelves in order to enjoy savings in price. Lowered fixture heights may solve this challenge by improving shopper access to all shelf areas.

Bottom line: Middle shelves are the most desired placement of products for both buyers and shoppers, but unique shoppers will purchase from top and bottom shelves and require a fresh and robust assortment of products in these shelf areas.

Location, location, location — at shelf, it has a huge impact on potential sales and shopper ­engagement.

JENNY KOSEK is an industry researcher and writer with Hamacher Resource Group Inc., a research, marketing and category management firm specializing in consumer health care at retail.


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