Offering fast-moving consumer goods such as cold beverages, magazines, candy, gum and mints at checkout is the tried-and-true formula for ensuring quick turns on low-margin items with high consumer demand.
Chain drug stores have traditionally offered a predictable and low-maintenance assortment of merchandise that reliably has done its job: attract shoppers’ attention and contribute penny profits. Everyone wins.
What could go wrong? In a word, smartphones.
Most of us have queued up behind a loud cellphone talker as she grabs impulse merchandise and adds it to her other purchases on the counter. A magazine cover adorned with a Kardashian, a bright red pair of earbuds and a candy bar are easy to select without diverting attention from a phone conversation. Penny profits remain unharmed.
But a library-like silence is beginning to settle over the checkout line as smartphone holders no longer communicate by voice. Candy bars and magazines can’t compete with the urge to read and send text messages.
Texting and shopping is a consumer behavior the industry did not quite foresee. The smartphone screen distracts from the one sense — sight — on which the effectiveness of impulse merchandising most relies.
Retailers must therefore remember that shoppers have seven senses.
For the moment, let’s concede that the sense of sight is no longer the primary means of driving impulse purchases. Let’s also consider that other retail channels must be experiencing the same challenge of the texter who is disengaged from the act of shopping. What solutions are they employing?
• Appeal to shoppers’ sixth sense of entertainment. Retail giant Stanley Marcus is credited with inventing the fictitious news headline “Shopper found dead in local store; cause of death — boredom.” Shoppers check their phones because they’re bored, so give them something to play with. Engage shoppers’ sense of touch with an irresistible display that invites interaction. Reward their efforts with a nominal coupon for a small impulse item to give them a taste of victory.
• Appeal to shoppers’ seventh sense of value. Offer irresistible discounts on unique merchandise at checkout. If you can’t beat the lure of the smartphone, you may as well give in to it. Offer fashion cellphone covers — sometimes the more sparkle, the better — displayed on peg hooks.
And don’t exclude the non-iPhone users. Comscore’s recent study of all U.S. smartphone subscribers shows that Android leads the pack at 52.3%, with iPhones at 37.8%.
If all else fails, lead them by the nose. Convenience stores are masters at engaging the sense of smell to attract even the most distracted shopper. A lunchtime patron catching up on e-mail while waiting to pay for fuel can hardly resist the aroma of freshly made food.
It’s long been advised in the real estate industry to bake a loaf of bread before an open house. The same principle applies to impulse purchasing. Food fulfills basic needs, even beyond hunger.
A rushed shopper feeling anxious about the workday can find a moment of relaxation while enjoying an easy-to-grab sandwich or a chocolate chip cookie from a portable warmer positioned at checkout. While the convenience store format thrives on cheeseburger and Taquito sales, chain drug can differentiate with healthier fare that offers nutrition as well as sensory enjoyment.
All things considered, the texting-while-shopping challenge is good news in at least two ways.
First, it is becoming far less likely that the in-store experience will be ruined by hearing one side of a shopper’s loud cellphone conversation as she browses the greeting cards section. Second, while shoppers’ line of sight is trained on their phones, retailers still have six other senses to work with.
AMY KASZA is an industry writer and researcher with Hamacher Resource Group Inc., a research, marketing and category management firm specializing in consumer health care at retail.