Supermarkets can take housewares online

March 22, 2012

The rise of showrooming gives supermarkets an opportunity to rethink how they sell nonfoods.

Some retailers may whine about consumers using them to showroom products, and then using technology to find their best deals. But the trend is only growing—and stores that develop omni-channel strategies will be more competitive than those who fight it.

NPD Group reports, for example, that 15%-20% of consumers in 2011 behaved this way when purchasing housewares categories such as stand mixers, electric knives, sewing machines and floor cleaners. One related result: 20% growth in dollar sales of small appliances and home improvement online sales in 2011, added NPD. That brought online category share to 13% in small appliances and 5% in home improvement.

Perry James, president of NPD’s Home and Office Supplies division, said “the prevalence of smartphones provides consumers with the ability to do price comparisons in real time while still in the store, increasing the challenge retailers are faced with to offer the best price.”

This may pressure housewares sellers further. Perry Reynolds, vice president-marketing and trade development at the International Housewares Association, told UPI half of the 100 biggest housewares retailers from 1995 are gone—though some were merged and small independents today are “doing really well now.”

For supermarkets that sell housewares beyond the cross-merchandisable tools and gadgets, The Lempert Report urges selling them online only at sharp prices, for two reasons. First, supermarkets are getting smaller and second, most food stores merchandise housewares as a convenience rather than to win; they typically lack wide assortments to match those of specialty housewares stores.

It will be better to get ahead of this trend—to become known as sharp online housewares merchants that differentiate with promotional programs tied to their core food categories, especially at heavy seasonal times such as holidays and setting children up in college dorms.  Social media can build the right buzz.

Could this be an example of less is more on the selling floor? We think so, with the right integrated assortment, pricing and messaging strategies.