For everything else manufacturers and retailers do to promote products, and incite sales, it’s always come down to what the determined shopper finds in the store, at the point-of-purchase, that closes the deal. Selection, product information, unadvertised discounts or close-outs, sold out products and availability of knowledgeable sales associates can all be determining factors in what a shopper walks out the door with, and whether they turn somewhere else with their purchase dollars.
There’s little room for debating the primary importance of the point-of-purchase for sell-through. But the location hasn’t always been given its due as a marketing venue. When advertising mavens talk about multi-media campaigns, it’s print and broadcast media which often get the most attention as vehicles for brand building and creating awareness of products. The store’s importance plays into the mix, with sales aids, signs and displays often offered as a way of reminding shoppers what they’ve learned elsewhere, or introducing them to products from companies which simply don’t have the budget for a national campaign.
It’s a good model and it worked well when marketers could cast a wide net with advertising, and confidently assume, whatever you had to sell, with smart buys of print and broadcast media, you’d reach your target. Think of the pre-Web, pre-cable consumers: they had a handful of TV channels or radio stations to choose from; they got their news from the daily paper or a newsweekly magazine; if they were passionate about anything, their best source for the latest information was a hobbyist magazine.
Shoppers of today might watch one channel for local news, then a cable channel for national news. When they want to be entertained they may have more than a hundred channels to choose from, and will cherry-pick among them for their viewing pleasure, if they’re watching broadcast television at all. As far as radio goes, the same wealth of options are open to them. By the time they open their local paper, they may already have a better idea of the latest headlines from browsing the Web. And if they’re really serious about that hobby, they have access to the latest information, as it becomes available, from many Web sites, including those maintained by those hobbyist magazines that have served them for years.
Message & Medium
So put yourself in the marketer’s chair: With so many venues where they can get their information or entertainment, how likely is it that Jane and Joe Consumer will hear and see your message in any of them? And where is the money best spent? Everything about the traditional approach to advertising can be debated except the primacy of the store, the point-of-purchase, as the place where the consumer meets the product. Its importance for sell-through has always been recognized; its potential as another media channel has been relegated to a lesser stature than broadcast and print.
Until now. Last year a consortium made up of the In-Store Marketing Institute, major product manufacturers and retail chains embarked on a project called The Pioneering Research for an In-Store Metric or P.R.I.S.M. (http://instoremarketer.org/articles/details.php?id=6000). The goal is to reach some standard and a way of measuring it, to predict how many shoppers would be exposed to any in-store marketing message, be it P-O-P signs or displays, in-store TV or radio broadcasts, or digital signage.
That number could be used to determine the reach of an in-store advertising campaign, just as gross ratings points are used to estimate the audience for commercials which run on TV. Announcing the program, the In-Store Marketing Institute explained adoption of this proposed model would “deliver a common language for retailers, manufacturers and media buyers to assess the value of retail as a marketing channel and compare its effectiveness to other media, such as TV, radio and print…putting the store on a level playing field with other forms of mass media.”
Some heavy hitters are involved: retail chains include Wal-Mart, Kroger, Walgreens and Albertsons, while the manufacturers involved include 3M, Coca Cola, P&G, Miller Brewing, Kellogg and Walt Disney. Nielsen In-Store, part of Nielsen Interconnect, a division of VNU, has signed on to measure consumer exposure to an array of in-store marketing vehicles. Although the project has heavy leanings towards consumer goods—food-drugs-mass market stores—the In-Store Marketing Institute is confident that what it learns and the model it develops will have applications for all retail channels.
Measuring In-Store Efforts
In the broadest sense, the project will provide insight into which in the growing selection of P-O-P advertising is most effective; how placement within the store directly or indirectly impacts purchase decisions; and how effective an in-store campaign is in reaching a brand’s target, compared with other advertising vehicles. Manufacturers will be able to use the information for greater precision when planning their media buys and in developing the next generation of P-O-P. Retailers will be able to take what’s learned from the P.R.I.S.M. project to rethink store layout and traffic flow patterns, to fine tune product placement and cross promotion, and as leverage when seeking the kind of support from manufacturers which can help build their brands and move products off their shelves.
It will be a while before the P.R.I.SM standard is reached. Already, any specialty dealer with a good point-of-sale (POS) system can already embark on a project to gauge the effectiveness of different P-O-P strategies, what works and what doesn’t. The software, and its ability to identify sales activity by product or customer, day or week, is a real asset for determining what works, and what doesn’t in store. Mine the data deeper and you can glean such information on what types of customers are shopping when, which camera brands or models generate the most accessory sales, etc. All that information can be useful for evaluating and planning effective strategies at the point-of-purchase.
Before undertaking such research, though, consider why a shopper even steps into your store. Today’s imaging customers can buy whatever they need, products or prints, online. They visit a specialty store because it offers them something else, something more, a shopping environment they will never find browsing Web sites and viewing products on their monitor.
Think of them as two types— the over-informed and the uninitiated— and address the needs of these extremes, and you’ll have all shoppers covered. Even customers who don’t buy online, may use the Web to keep themselves informed about all the latest details of their imaging choices, right down to specs and pricing on specific cameras. Then there are those for whom digital imaging seems an overwhelming endeavor. Both groups, and everyone in between enter looking for a shopping experience which promises to make it easy as possible to enjoy digital imaging in all its aspects.
The critical role of a knowledgeable staff at the point-of-purchase cannot be overstated. If that sophisticated buyer senses she knows more about her options than the person answering her questions, she quickly loses confidence in the store. At the other extreme, if sales associates can’t patiently explain new step-up camera features, and the benefits of each, both the store and customer may be undeserved. Of course it’s not easy to gauge how personnel impact sales in general, but when they are taught to talk up specific products or offers on specific days or sales, the impacts are measurable and identifiable in sales reports.
For other types of point-of-purchase promotions, it’s easier to monitor their impact with a POS system, or keen observation, then plan accordingly. Suppose you learn a certain class of buyers, PMA’s “Jennifer” for instance, are more likely to be in the store on certain days or at certain hours. Roll out the signs and displays which address their identified interests, and see what, if any effect, that has on business.
With floor and shelf space at such a premium, make sure vendor sales aids warrant the commitment with simple tests, monitored with POS software. Highlight a nationally-advertised brand one day, but play it low key the next. Is there a discernible difference in sales? Play with product placement as an advertising vehicle. When you place two unrelated items near each other, do sales of either benefit? When shoppers have to walk around a display to get to a popular item at the back of the store, does it boost sales of items in that display?
By continually experimenting with what shoppers find at the point-of-purchase –– the “touch point” as its been described –— and tracking the results through personal observation or a POS system, you can find the magic mix that makes most effective use of the store space.
Manufacturers have always recognized the store as their last opportunity to shape the purchase decision. With consumers so overwhelmed with information these days, from so many media channels, they may learn it is also the best place to maximize the impact of their ad spending. Until they have those numbers and a standard for measuring in-store impact in hand, specialty store owners can learn and tell them about bringing more pop to the P-O-P.