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    Using Themed Events to Drive Supermarket Sales

    Displays of complementary products connect with consumers

    By Jeff Weidauer, Vestcom International Inc.
    Smart snacks themed end cap display

    Supermarket operators have been wringing their hands of late over the many ways consumers have changed their behavior when it comes to shopping for food. Gone are the days of weekly stock-up trips, with a midweek fill-in for milk and bread. Gone also is price obfuscation; mobile-driven transparency has made price claims useless for most.

    Then there are the concerns over online shopping, and the loss of volume to Amazon and others for many of the replenishment products like diapers and coffee that people can -- and do -- have shipped right to their homes on a regular basis. Rumors of the decline and fall of brick-and-mortar stores still abound as well. Running a supermarket has never been for the faint of heart, but today, it can be downright depressing.

    As with most dark clouds, however, there is a silver lining. Recent studies have shown that a large majority of consumers prefer to shop in a local store when they can. This is especially true for food purchases. And more people claim that they actually enjoy shopping, which is a nice change. While weekly stock-ups may be down, overall trips to the supermarket are up, offering more opportunities for impulse sales and relationship building.

    Ongoing Excitement

    One of the best ways to connect with those shoppers more effectively is through the use of themed events. The concept behind themed events is quite straightforward: Gather a number of products that are complementary in some way and support a common theme, with the goal of driving increased shopper awareness, engagement and purchase behavior.

    Most retailers are already quite adept at pulling together themed promotions in-store: back-to-school, major holidays, Frozen Food Month, etc., are all examples. The opportunity lies in running these events much more frequently, but on a smaller scale than a typical holiday promotion. Shorter, smaller events, e.g., weekly or biweekly promotions that employ one strategically located end cap and some signage, create ongoing excitement for shoppers and can even become a destination for them.

    This short-term, smaller-scale mindset addresses the need for something new as shoppers come in more frequently. An eight-week promotion gets old much faster when shoppers are in four days a week, than if they visit only once or twice. Designating a standard location and a regular cycle teaches shoppers to look for the latest every time they come in.

    Manufacturers are also eager to participate in events like this, as such events require minimal investment, but can drive significant sales upside when well executed with integrated signage and a strong connection between external and internal marketing creative. And because these aren't massive, long-term events with lots of logistical hurdles, events can, and should, be locally relevant to shoppers. A basic theme like healthy eating can be switched up for many weeks with different products to keep it compelling for shoppers — not to mention lucrative for the retailer and manufacturer.

    A recent Dunnhumby study showed that so-called health-committed consumers, which comprise about one-quarter of all shoppers, are more valuable than others: they are more affluent, spend more and shop more frequently. Even those who aren't affluent are open to spending more on healthful products.

    Back to Basics

    Getting started is straightforward as well:

    • Create a list of themes that make sense by region or even by store.
    • Line up relevant manufacturers for each theme and offer them the opportunity to sponsor it, keeping in mind that the goal is to drive sales revenue, not grab more trade dollars.
    • Develop some simple but appealing creative to tie it all together, and sell!

    The toughest thing to do is get the first one off the ground, but after that it's just a matter of putting a process in place, checking the boxes and keeping it fresh for shoppers.

    With all of the emphasis on the challenges facing retail stores, it's all too easy to forget about the basics of offering solutions to shoppers who just want to pick up dinner, or need some party ideas. Getting back to the basics of providing more than just a place to buy stuff is what will keep brick-and-mortar stores alive, and themed events are a great place to start.

    By Jeff Weidauer, Vestcom International Inc.
    • About Jeff Weidauer Jeff Weidauer is VP of marketing and strategy for Vestcom International Inc., a Little Rock, Ark.-based provider of integrated shopper marketing solutions. He can be reached at [email protected], or visit www.vestcom.com.

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