Time to revamp the front-end

Smartphones distract shoppers from checkstand merchandising. New solutions that use technology could be effective.

May 17, 2013

Chalk up one more consequence of people shopping with smartphones:  They browse their screens while waiting to pay at the supermarket cash register, and largely ignore the painstakingly merchandised magazines, candy, gums and other temptations within easy reach for impulse sales. 

The revenue and profit streams that used to flow from front-end goodies are less refreshing to the P&L these days.  Single-copy newsstand sales of magazines slid 8.2% in the final six months of 2012, the Alliance for Audited Media told Bloomberg Businessweek recently.  Candy unit sales are down 4.9% in the 52 weeks ended April 13, 2013, according to Nielsen data for all outlets combined (prepackaged, UPC-coded products only).  Gum unit sales are down 7.8% in the same period, the Nielsen data show.

It’s time for a new-school front-end solution, says The Lempert Report.  It should be one that incorporates technology rather than avoids it—as some retailers are trying to do with outpost merchandise impulse displays that surprise shoppers in unexpected places across the selling floor.  These may work to some degree, but in our view they risk disrupting a planned flow shoppers may have; they could impede aisle traffic and ratchet up the annoyance factor.

A new front-end solution should also please customers who perceive more benefit from being able to pay quickly and leave the store.  Retailers should respect that desire.  We’d rather see artful use of iPads with credit-card readers as line busters.  Think about how they could improve aesthetics, offer more payment options and promotions on their appealing screens, and help speed customer flow.  That’s at the front end.  Deep in the store, where shoppers are still in a buying mood, retailers could also use iPads to help take orders at the deli, bakery and other service departments—and suggest companion items that present well on their screens.

In order to sell additional merchandise at the front-end, we urge retailers to aim for grace.  Don’t impede people from paying and exiting quickly.  Don’t obscure visibility where people need to see and move around.  Perhaps try “Second Chances” display areas near the approach to the front-end, where people might comfortably browse.   

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