Control the Impulse

CSP roundtable attendees discuss how, where and when to influence the purchase decision.

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

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Guess which item was a surprise hit for ac-store retailer:

A) Beer-pong balls

B) Private-label ice cream

C) Giant velvet flowers

D) Private-label candy and snacks

E) Silly Bandz

The answer? It depends.

Each of these items taps into a powerful consumer need and, depending on when and where a c-store offers them, have proven to generate sales. But as many retailers who witnessed the SillyBandz phenomenon can attest, catching the wave is a tricky combination of timing, psychology and placement.

Just ask Frank White, director of retail operations for Tri-Star Petroleum, wheeling, W.Va.-based retailer-distributor with 30 sites. His company passed nosily Bandz but thought it had a second chance with the follow-up product, Silly Rings. “We didn’t sell any,” said White, who joked that the stores lost more of the product to shrink than sales. “Just because one thing was a hit doesn’t menthe follow-up will work.”

Or it could just depend on the site dynamics. Landmark Industries’

Time-Wise Food Stores twice attempted a private-label snacks and candy offer—Wise Bites—that never performed as expected.“It doesn’t mean it doesn’t work well for others,” said Martha Flint, category manager for the Houston-based, 227-store chain. An example of it working: 7-Eleven and its 7-Select private-label line.TimeWise has had surprising success with beer-pong balls, dog treats and toys, and giant-size Rice Krispies Treat Sheets. And Tri-Star has found a winner with anew sunglasses and wearable’s program, and Polar Pipe aluminum straws for dispensed beverages.

Both White and Flint joined nearly other attendees of CSP’s 2013 Driving Impulse Sales meeting in Chicago in July to share, commiserate and strategize on the art of impulse selling. They learned about the potential of category management and consumer snacking motivations; caught up on the state of candy, meat snacks and nutrition bars; participated in a show-and-tell of retail concepts; and swapped war stories and best practices—all over two days. High-lights from the meeting show the range of impulse opportunities.

Plan for the Unplanned

Depending on which study you see, consumers are shopping inside a c-store for only about 2.5 minutes—a remarkably brief flash of time. As presenter Casey McKenzie, senior principal consultant for Impact 21 Group, Lexington, Ky., told retailers, that short window means they cannot leave the customer’s purchase decision to chance.

McKenzie pointed to the dictionary definition of “impulse”: “the change of momentum of a body or physical system over a time interval in classical mechanics, equal to the force applied times the length of the time interval over which its applied.”

“How do you increase the force?” he said. “What forces increase the impulse?”

According to the book “Shopper Marketing: How to Increase Impulse Purchase Decisions at the Point of Sale” by Markus Stahlberg, 68% of buying decisions are unplanned, and 70% of brand decisions are made at the store. To shape these unplanned decisions, retailers must harness all of the relevant data. This includes retailer’s own scan data, as well as industry and supplier research.

“When you combine these, it exponentially increases your chance of success, “said McKenzie.

For example, he cited NACS research showing the high-impulse nature of candy, packaged beverages, lottery, salty snacks and prepared food. In fact, data from Scientific c Games Corp., a provider of gaming services, reveals that lottery customers over index the average consumer in nearly all purchases: gas, candy, cigarettes, coffee and more. “How can you entice a lottery customer to buy an item they over index on?” he said.

While data helps direct the force, in-store execution actually applies it. Here, retailers must get multiple decisions right to hook an impulse purchase. Communicating pricing, posting signage at the point of decision making, solution focused displays, keeping product neat and in stock, effective adjacencies and coherent pricing strategy are all key.“You’ve got to give the shopper a reason to buy,” said McKenzie. “How do you close the deal?

Some categories, such as candy, have demonstrably higher chance of registering an impulse purchase, and when forces applied, the results can be phenomenal. Erin Slater, category manager for Travel-Centers of America (TA) LLC, Westlake, Ohio, shared the great success of a twofer-$1 candy bar promotion the chain launched with a large manufacturer. Store teams embraced the program, constructing big displays and even dressing in costumes. The result? TA sold 470,000 candy bars in two weeks.

Other seemingly less impulsive categories can also have surprise hits. Take the example of Circle Kiss private label ice cream line. As Jason Sklarek,category manager of snacks and candy, explained, expectations initially were modest. But 200,000 units sold later, with no cannibalization of other frozen confections and robust margins, the offer has proven itself. “What we thought was not going to be very successful ended up being big for a small category,” Sklarek said.

And then there are the successes that come from left field—often in novelties. Mary Ridout, category manager of HBCand general merchandise for Warren,Pa.-based United Refining Co., shared the surprising sales of giant velvet fl owersfrom her days at Sheetz Inc. “The shippers arrived, and we thought they were the gaudiest things,” she said. “But they were so gaudy and outrageous that people wanted them.” In fact, the stores sold out. Regardless of the category, it is those retailers with a plan that have the greatest bandwidth to pounce, said McKenzie:“If you stay disciplined and can stay on strategy, you can still take advantage of opportunities that come along.”

The When, Where and Why

Homing in on particular categories is one way of finding more impulse sales. Taking advantage of a purchase occasions another.

For example, grab-and-go eating on the surface appears to be a modest opportunity. According to research byte NPD Group, only 12% of snack oriented purchases are considered grab and go, or meant to be consumed away from home within one hour of purchase. But roll up the percentage of people wheat on the go each day—more than 28 million—and the opportunity is now considerably greater.

By understanding the when, where, what and why of this occasion, c-store retailers and suppliers can better line up their stores and promotions to trigger an impulse sale, said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for NPD, Port Washington, N.Y. And they are in a great position to do so.

“This is one area [in which] c-stores can say they are fairly dominant,” he said, citing that 22% of grab-and-go eating occasions were served by c-stores, gas stations and mini marts, the largest share offal of the channels.

Overall, 35% of grab-and-go eating occasions take place between lunch and dinner, with the next largest share—18%—between breakfast and lunch, according to NPD. Nearly 80% of these occasions serve as a snack, with the rest as a meal replacement.

More than 60% of consumers eat their grab-and-go food item while in transit or at work. “We’re busy when we’re doing this,” said Seifer. “It stresses the need for portability.” Indeed, 58% of grab-and-go“eatings” come from single-serve packaging, according to NPD research.

And what are they eating? “There is a strong preference for sweeter foods,” said Seifer, citing NPD data showing 59% of grab-and-go occasions involve sweet food. These include chocolate candy, gum and doughnuts, which rank as the top three grab-and-go consumption categories, followed by potato chips and chewy candy.

With consumers eating healthier, it’s worth asking where fresh fruit falls in the ranking. The answer: toward the bottom, representing only 4% of grab-and-go eating occasions.

“While health is making inroads, we are not seeing a need during this time frame, “said Seifer. “It’s more about indulgence.”

Grab and go is also highly conducive to bundling promotions, considering that 61% of grab-and-go eating occasions include a beverage, most often carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) and bottled water.“It’s very important you don’t think of categories in time frames, in isolation, “said Seifer. “It’s not just about what they are eating, but what they are drinking as well. How can you rearrange your stores to tap into this?”

And while NPD research shows most grab-and-go eating takes place during the morning or midday, there is very little seasonality and very little variability byway of the week.

As for who is the core grab-and-go consumer: 18- to 24-year-olds (with 13- to 17-year-olds indexing second highest), who are choosing their snacks mainly by its taste, their level of hunger and cravings. Hispanics also over index non-Hispanics by annual grab-and-go eatings per capita.

While sweet categories tend to be most popular regardless of the time, many retailers at the meeting were interested in the potential of fixtures that can be adjusted to display particular grab and-go items by day-part. McKenzieof Impact 21 pointed out that one client is considering a four-sided, rotatable display that can be turned to offer doughnuts to coffee bar visitors in the morning, for example, and candy bars in the afternoon. Regardless, retailers need to be ready to serve the occasion, from store open to close, said Seifer. “Items need to be ready, paired with beverages and kept in stock, “he said.

Avoiding the Seasonal Slump

In the candy category, seasonal items have been a hot topic as of late, as the c-store channel just begins to explore this opportunity. Vastly outpacing competitive channels, c-stores enjoyed a 17.2% jump in dollar sales from seasonal candy in the 52 weeks ending April 20, 2013, according to Nielsen data shared by The Hershey Co.

Of course, this is off a very small base—c-stores generated less than 2% of total seasonal confection sales—but it highlights the room for growth. Seasonal confection sales hit $100.6 million inc-stores in 2012, up 19%. That said, 66% of c-stores do not offer seasonal count goods, according to Nielsen. This is despite the fact that average margins on seasonal candy range from 46% to 53%. “Retailers are still identifying the size of the opportunity,” said CesarDel Carpio, manager of category insights for Hershey, Hershey, Pa. The seasonal shopper is more engaged during holiday time frames, he said, and suggested “bold, in-your-face displays that make a statement “to best present the product. Considering its growth opportunity and margins, why are only 44% of retailers offering seasonal? Del Carpi said it is partly a fear of cannibalization of everyday items, but countered that Nielsen data shows sales of Hershey’s Reese’s seasonal count goods were 100% incremental to everyday standard and king-size items.“The key for seasonal is it’s 100% incremental,” said Del Carpio. “If you execute early, you will get good sell throughat the end of the season.”

“It’s the fear of having Cadbury eggs in October,” said James Ingot, advertising manager for Speedy Stop Food Stores, Victoria, Texas, voicing many retailers ‘concerns over post-season spoilage and write-offs.“Spoilage is part of the plan you have to go into this with,” said McKenzie of Impact 21. “Vendors are getting better with the right products and package sizes for the c-store channel.”

Alec Rome, in charge of business development for premium confection manufacturer Lindt & Sprüngli (USA), Stratham,N.H., suggested retailers dedicate a space in their store for seasonal that encompasses all categories. For example, during back-to school season, a fixture could carry crayons, paper and snacks; before Mother’s Day, it would feature candy, flowers and cards.“Think of it as a yearlong, in-and-out section, “he said.

“You’ve got to think of seasons beyond the holidays,” said Lenny Walker, director of direct floral programs for Chicago-based flower supplier Kennecott Bros. In the case of flowers, he advised retailers to enter the category on a seasonal basis—Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc.—and keep at it to build the expectation among customers.

Dave Arensdorf, vice president of sales and marketing for trial-size-HOB supplier Convenience Valet, Melrose Park, Ill., and former retailer, emphasized the need to have an exit strategy for seasonal items. He urged retailers to use scan data to see how much of what items sold the previous years a gauge for the new offer. “You really need to use the tools you have for seasonal promotions,” he said.

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