Food and drug retailers may need to modify their approaches to get the most from their general merchandise outside of the big fourth-quarter holidays, according to a new whitepaper from the Global Marketing Development Center. The report is the second part of GMDC’s “Seasonal Best Practices for the New World of Shopping” series.
(For the full report, including charts, click here.)
From January to September, there’s still an opportunity in leveraging seasonal products to bring in big sales. According to GMDC, one of the paths to succeeding with seasonal general merchandise is using it to evoke the feeling of the season.
“When merchants excel in seasonal, they strike the right emotional notes with shoppers, and lift sales in key peak periods of the year,” the report said. When it comes to such seasons as spring and summer, this means capturing the feel of freedom that accompanies warmer weather and longer days. In terms of holidays, it means capturing the warmth of Valentine’s Day through displays, as well as the youthful energy of Easter and Passover.
With most of these holidays, appealing to shoppers still means one thing: candy. GMDC reported that candy is still the most commonly gifted item on Valentine’s day, with 83% of people giving it to their loved ones.
“We tie in what we know to be seasonally relevant,” Bi-Lo Holdings’ VP of general merchandise, Dewayne Rabon, told GMDC. “In January, when people resolve to eat smarter, we merchandise juicers, ... [and] leading up to Cinco de Mayo in early May, when people will be fixing frozen drinks, we promote blenders at $19.99.”
Though Cinco de Mayo may be an appealing holiday for general merchandise, the report emphasizes cultural sensitivity surrounding Cinco de Mayo merchandise, noting that it’s more a time that “parts of America have co-opted as a simple, fun opportunity to party and drink” than a meaningful day for Hispanic shoppers.
While seasonal food items seem to make up the bulk of general merchandise purchases, that doesn’t mean non-food items should be pushed aside. GMDC’s paper cited Nielsen, which found that some 80% of shoppers in supermarkets purchase impulse items. The key to increasing these impulse buys, according to Brookshire Grocery category manager Scott Shapiro, is turning shopping into “a treasure hunt for customers.”
“We push the limits of assortment, and sales are up across the board,” Shapiro told GMDC. “People may see a seasonal mug one day and many different items the next day. This creates urgency in the shopper to buy today, because there’s no guarantee they’ll see the same item in the store again.”
Beyond creating urgency as an impetus to a possible impulse purchase, the GMDC report also pointed out the importance of emphasizing non-food items alongside food items. Using Easter as an example — though candy purchases in 2013 amounted to $2.2 billion — flowers and decorations together brought in that same amount. For Passover, such tabletop accessories as candles and paper products are displayed alongside candy that’s Kosher for Passover.
“Fun and function in our cross-merchandising moves the needle on non-foods acceptance at our chain,” a non-foods and pharmacy director at a northeastern supermarket chain told GMDC. “We don’t only do it seasonally; we do it year-round. ... When we run cat food on sale, we also promote kitty toys on the front page of the circular and display the items nearby.”
Combining fun and function, a 7-Eleven in Fresno, Calif., allows children to borrow one of 200 books labeled by grade. They can return their borrowed book with a summary that is redeemed for a free hot chocolate or Slurpee, encouraging return trips.
The report also emphasized the need to promote seasonal merchandise through social media and promoting the store as the destination for seasonal needs — whether that’s grilling accessories for a successful Independence Day barbecue, or candy and gifts for Valentine’s Day. At Brookshire, Shapiro said tech-focused marketing has made a difference.
“We issue more seasonal non-foods deals via text and emails to frequent shopper cardholders,” he told GMDC. “We time these to the last week of major seasons to boost customer traffic and awareness, and we’ve seen benefits.”