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BELLEVUE, Wash. -- As competition continues to hammer food retailers, and consumer shopping habits change, the Hartman Group here is offering retailers "six tough tips" in its latest HartBeat report.
"The bottom line is that to stay relevant as a food retailer in today's competitive climate, you must become an expert in the arena of food," the consulting and market research firm noted. "While this fact would seem painfully obvious, we are continually struck by the number of grocers who choose to crowd their freezer sections with lawn furniture, automotive parts, or hula hoops."
Following is the group's take on the six critical things that every retailer must execute if it wishes to remain competitive and relevant to today's food consumer. But first, a warning from the Hartman Group: "We are aware that some [of the critical six] will obviously require rethinking critical revenue streams with an eye for the future. Here we urge marketers, managers and analysts to remember something we call the 'dental paradox': As painful as it may prove in the short term, it's always wiser to fix your cavities now rather than waiting until they fester into a root canal, potentially bringing down the entire ship in the process."
Item 1: Remove all vending machines. "Nothing signals membership in the arena of downtrodden public spaces (bus stations, gas stations, the DMV, etc.) better than a rusty vending machine," the group said. "Do not ever forget that you are striving to be a first-class food retailer staffed by passionate team members. Vending machines tell your customer that you care so little about food that you would allow an anonymous machine to sell it."
Item 2: Reclaim critical POS space to truly engage the consumer. "One of our most powerful and consistent research findings is that the exit experience is the most critical evaluative moment of the overall customer experience,"the group said. "This is the moment that resonates with your customer long after they've left your store. And to think that for the better part of 50 years most retailers have been content to infantilize their consumer by offering a wondrous selection of commodity candy, tabloid newspapers, and random household knick-knacks near checkout stands."
Ideas of items to add include food books and magazines, specialty chocolates, and healthy-living and travel publications.
Item 3: No restocking or resets during critical operating hours. "Again, this one should be self-evident, but we continually see shoppers navigating carts around dismantled product displays. From roughly 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. or so, you are operating an engaging food experience, which is (ideally) designed to delight, interest and amuse. Nothing destroys that ambiance quicker than a gaggle of young, often disinterested team members stacking cans on shelves."
Item 4: All department and specialty counters are always "open" and fully staffed. "As of late we've encountered a number of retailers that go to the trouble of building impressive counter displays of premium selections (meats, seafoods, cheese, prepared foods, etc.), but then fail to adequately staff them during routine operating hours (i.e., 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.). Consumers are left to stare wistfully at impressive premium selections that remain off-limits due to staffing issues."
Item 5: You should strive for at least one heralded new product arrival each week.
Item 6: You should seriously reconsider all nonfood offerings that may distract you from your goal of delivering high-quality food experiences. "Today's consumer is increasingly not interested in one-stop-shopping locales that pretend to be all things to all people," according to the Hartman Group. "Moreover, on the rare occasions in which they do pursue a generalized, one-stop-shopping experience, the chances are consumers will favor a mass retailer or big-box format."