Improving POS Efforts
Our in-store research often centers on uncovering the roles of the different touch-points along the path-to-purchase and on documenting shoppers' engagement with displays, signage and packaging. Across counties, categories and retailers, several patterns have consistently emerged:
- A great deal of POS investment is wasted.
Often, that’s due to poor store placement. In a recent beverage study in the U.S. and Argentina, PRS Eye-Tracking veiled that not a single shopper (of the over 100 people we observed) looked upward to engage with overhead promotional signage. This finding is largely consistent with our experience across studies: Shoppers use ceiling-based materials to guide store navigation, but once they are in the aisle, their focus is straight ahead or slightly downward. Thus, point-of-sale materials at eye-level or arm-level (interspersed with packaging) are far more visually impactful than materials positioned above the products.
In other cases, we’ve found that excessive in-store merchandising overwhelms shoppers, rather than helping them. In a recent study for a technology marketer (across several retail channels), we uncovered that over 85% of shoppers engaged that with product displays and fact tags, but other materials (including comparison charts and selector guides) were consistently ignored (under 15% visibility) – and most likely most likely represented a waste of resources. As a result, the marketer re-designed some materials and eliminated others, leading to an easier shopping experience.
- Packaging and POS materials typically have different strengths, “profiles” and roles in the shopping process.
Displays and signage can be valuable in creating visibility and attention (particularly for smaller brands) – and in helping brands to create a “beacon” or destination in the aisle. They can also be very effective in driving impulse purchase, particularly when coupled with a price/value message. And given their size, displays can also present an opportunity to connect more emotionally and viscerally with shoppers, often through visual imagery that links to users and usage occasions. However, one very important guideline is to keep it simple, via a compelling image and/or a quick message: When POS gets complex, it is almost always ignored. In fact, when we’ve tested POS systems designed to compare products, facilitate shopping or drive trade-up, the results have nearly always been disappointing (because shoppers typically rely on packaging for product comparisons).
These findings suggest that packaging and POS have somewhat different “profiles” and optimal applications. Specifically, POS materials can be viewed as closer to an extension of advertising, in terms of its ability to drive awareness/attention,to create an emotional connection and convey a single key message. On the other hand, packaging, as the embodiment of the product, is somewhat more factual and “rational” in its nature. As shoppers get closer to their actual purchase decision, they are looking for key information and reassurance (i.e., "Am I buying the right product?").
Therefore, marketers and retailers can significantly improve their POS efforts by keeping a few simple, tactical principles in mind:
Leveraging Shelf-Ready Packaging
The growth of retail or shelf-ready packaging (SRP) highlights the importance of making packaging and POS materials work together. Secondary packaging display cartons are very common in Europe, particularly in fast-growing discount channels – and they’ve been promoted by some retailers in the U.S. because they offer efficiencies in stocking. However, one trip to the store reveals that SRP can significantly impact a brand’s in-store presentation, for better or worse:
If leveraged properly, SRP can effectively serve as a display and help drive visibility, facilitate shop-ability and/or convey an important brand message. However, if not, SRP can end up significantly compromise packaging communication, by blocking its visibility or accessibility - or leading to poor package orientatin (i.e. knocked over packs).
Therefore to maximize positive outcomes, the most important principle is to design the SRP to complement the packaging, by focusing on a specific communication objective. For example, if a brand family is relatively complex, the SRP may provide an excellent opportunity to facilitate shop-ability, perhaps via calling out specific varieties or sub-brands. On the other hand, if small dimensions limit the opportunity for on-pack communication, an SRP may be best utilized to convey a clear, differentiating and motivating brand message (i.e. a reason-to-believe).
From Packaging to “Winning at Retail”
How can marketers ensure that their packaging and POS efforts work together effectively? Here are several “best practices” that we’ve seen make a difference:
- Building the Shopper (& Store) into Design Briefs
Too often, packaging briefs are largely excerpts from brand positioning statements and/or advertising efforts, focused almost entirely communication. To shift this mindset, additional inputs/components should be built in, which incorporate shopper understanding (most notably, decision making processes and priorities at the shelf) and “retail realities” (competitive set, lighting, shelving, etc.). This can help ensure that packaging is designed with specific retail challenges and shopper-based objectives in mind.
- Integrating Packaging, SRP & POS Design
Many companies have internal “silos” (between sales and marketing, shopper and brand, packaging and signage, etc.) that lead to materials being created in isolation. To move forward, companies need to think, design (and ideally organize) more broadly, around the larger vision of “optimizing in-store marketing.” At a minimum, design efforts should start with both a strategic and tactical understanding of how packaging and POS will work together: Designers need to know the roles of each vehicle – and to anticipate how the presence of signage and displays will impact packaging presentation.
- Using Research to Inform, Pre-Test & Validate
Finally, marketers must ensure that new packaging and POS systems are working in the larger store context. When actual in-store testing/test markets aren't feasible, we've used new tools (such as PRS Virtual Aisles) to show/assess packaging systems in the full aisle context, including SRP, end-cap displays and in-aisle signage. For example, in a recent virtual study in the lighting category, we were able to simulate several different scenarios (new packaging only, new packaging with new shelving and signage, etc.) – and measure impact on purchase patterns and aisle shop-ability. We found that the combination of elements – working together and complementing each other – had stronger impact than a packaging change alone. These findings then helped the manufacturer sell in a new merchandising and shelving system to its retail customers.
By integrating the shopper, retail environment and POS within their design efforts, marketers can ensure that their packaging works in store. They can gather insights (and evidence) that will help them collaborate effectively with retailers, in developing “win-win” solutions that drive category growth. Most importantly, they can increase the likelihood that their packaging and POS materials are working together to help their brands “win at retail.”