When I was 20, if I wanted apples, my destination was the grocery store.
By the time I was 25, Target had become my spot to buy an apple…
Today? I go to 7-Eleven to buy that same apple.
We all know there’s been a shift for certain stores which used to be our go-to for certain products and services — and those stores are becoming to go-to destination for services that never used to be available in retail stores. What we don’t know yet is what that means for the brands trying to maintain a relationship with customers of those stores.
While the answers are unclear, we should embrace the evolution for two reasons. First, because there’s no turning back. Second, because the advantages are really plentiful for first-movers willing to take strategic risks.
It’s not to say there aren’t growing pains. While some of the evolution has bombed (i.e., Walmart’s now extinct Express format that ambiguously offered a very limited selection of products for a wide range of categories), a lot of things have stuck.
Some of the changes that are going smoothly:
- Drug stores are basically becoming traditional health care providers.
CVS and Walgreens are both feverishly partnering with traditional hospitals and health care systems to set up a model where those patients with lesser needs will head to their nearest CVS MinuteClinic or Walgreens HealthCare clinic as opposed to a doctor’s office or hospital.
- Convenience stores are blurring with grocery channels to be your alternative to sit-down meal establishments.
Stores like 7-Eleven and Wawa are re-mapping previous channel boundaries so that upscale grab ‘n go offerings are now squarely in their territory. As a result, grocery stores are feeling the pressure and are resorting to similar tactics against restaurants with ready-to-eat meal offerings that are eating into restaurants’ business.
- The big retail stores care about being solutions providers and organizing your life.
Target is going beyond providing everything you need to organizing everything for you. Example: their meal solution displays with pre-grouped ingredients or their “Made to Matter – Handpicked by Target” collection of natural/organic/sustainable brands (everything from shampoos to yogurt) for those wanting to live a healthier lifestyle.
Walmart has also gone about providing shopper solutions, focusing instead on an interchangeable buying process through the addition of services such as buy online + pick up in-store or at-home, as well as an experimental feature of ordering your groceries online and picking them up when you can at a drive-thru station.
All of this is OK! And brands can take advantage of this wave of change, too:
All of this change-up is being driven by one thing: more than ever, stores are whole-heartedly catering to shoppers at an unprecedented rate. And when change is driven by real consumer needs and new value, it’s hard to argue with it. So embrace it.
Brands fit best when they can work with a retailer and help them to move in a direction that meets shopper-centric goals. This can help to cultivate a strong partnership which will be mutually beneficial for both parties. Moreover, the brand becomes better positioned to:
- BE SEEN: Earn incremental visibility needed to stay competitive in-store, e.g., anchor displays, end caps, cross-category placement
- GAIN REACH IN LIFE: Form a promotional partnership that has superior reach/magnitude compared to what each party would be capable of on their own
- GAIN REACH ONLINE: Enhance their online presence through page takeovers on the retailer’s site
- SPARK CONVERSATION: Contribute branded content into the retailer’s social media and other digital platforms (providing extended viewing beyond the brand’s own sphere)
- GAIN THE LEAD: Inhabit prime space (i.e., exclusive category representation) within retailer’s e-blasts and other communication pieces
A great example of this positive payback was demonstrated through an initiative led by our friends at ChaseDesign, who helped Starbucks “elevate the coffee-shopping experience” at Safeway locations (turning around a declining category in-aisle). For leading a charge to create a more engaging and navigable coffee destination within Safeway stores, Starbucks gained tremendous brand presence at Safeway, as a category beacon.
Bottom-Line: More than ever, brands and retailers can come together and co-create ideas to better the shopper’s experience in some way. By tapping each party’s respective tools and knowledge around ways to drive traffic based on purchase behavior and shopper needs, the rare hat trick of wins can be accomplished for the retailer, the brand and the shopper.
Stores aren’t what they used to be, and opportunity is much more than it used to be.
Matt O'Toole is an associate shopper marketing strategist based out of Momentum Chicago.