Dick van Eunen

Not so long ago, I was doing my weekly round of grocery shopping in the supermarket. I'm still very much a traditional shopper, the breed threatened with extinction, with a written shopping list to guide me around the shelves and gather my weekly groceries. I do however use the scanner, that's a development I've embraced. My shopping list also features articles marked with a cross, which are on special offer. Nearly every week, the special offers will also include a number of non-food articles. Not that they're really needed at home at the moment, but it's better to have bought them on special offer than to have to pay the full price when you do need them.

I'm certainly not alone in applying this shopping strategy, as many people buy non-food articles such as washing detergents and toilet rolls only when on special offer. Though it's hard to discover figures to support this, I would hazard a guess that more than half of the shoppers only buys such articles on special offer. In fact, effective offers of these types of articles will tempt secondary and tertiary customers to switch (one-off), so that such special offers actually become 'destination offers'. Such strong offers are generally presented on aisle ends and in the special offer aisles so that customers can locate them easily, and also to give the necessary impulse for those people shopping without a list.

Useless metres
And so they are a great traffic generator for the supermarket, but I can't help noticing the huge mass of square metres of products that are not on special offer! Is this not a little OTT?
Of course I know that there are agreements with manufacturers, that there are strong brand preferences in these types of products, that the special offers are also on these shelves, that shoppers have a set shopping route, that the products simply take up a lot of space, that, that, that. But it's no longer relevant!
In an age in which customers enjoy being surprised during a shopping trip, and the technological developments of kiosks and endless aisles offer boundless solutions, these square metres are becoming obsolete. They could at least be used more effectively.

For the sake of convenience, let's assume that the well-known 80/20 rule also applies to turnover from special offers versus non-offers on non-food. Would it then not be more logical that the product not on special offer also only takes up 20% of the space? But what if a customer is looking for his or her 3-layer, velvety off-white toilet paper that has been evicted from the shelves thanks to this new calculating rule? Will they not run off to my competitor, I hear you think? It's a possibility of course unless you do actually offer the product, but not physically on the shelf. Imagine you install a POS monitor here, enabling the customer to request their favourite toilet rolls. A store employee can then supply the customer directly from the warehouse. Sounds like a great service to me. And the time taken to fetch the products may well be compensated by no longer having to rearrange and refill the shelf in question. Because honestly, only a limited percentage of shoppers buys non-offer toilet paper.

The square metres saved in this way, and there may be many of them, can be deployed flexibly and creatively. Store concepts such as Story in New York are proof that shoppers love variety and surprises. Why not use the leftover shelf to showcase a manufacturer through a pop-up experience? Or maybe there are opportunities for hyper-seasonal offers? Or possibly an even more radical approach: allowing the store staff to determine what should be displayed here, they know their store inside out and this is a local opportunity within the global concept.

There are possibilities galore to make use of the otherwise useless square metres and to surprise me as a customer. Because even a traditional grocery buyer like myself appreciates change!