Yash Bhatia

Heat maps to eye-level shelving: Supermarkets innovate to drive spending

  • Modern retail supermarkets are adopting product innovation strategies to drive spends

  • Retailers are introducing adjustable shelves and aisles for easy navigation

  • Experts elaborate on how these innovations effectively engage customers

  • Brands are setting up booths and creating dedicated zones to enhance visual appeal for customers

Upon entering a supermarket, customers are immediately drawn to the shelves, which serve as a pivotal touchpoint in their shopping journey. Acting as a mediator between brands and customers in the offline world, these shelves play a crucial role in shaping purchasing decisions.

During a recent weekly grocery shopping excursion, I witnessed an innovative display at YESS (Your Everyday Super Store) in Noida. Pepsico's products, including Kurkure, Lay’s, and Doritos, were showcased in inventive packaging within carton boxes.

These boxes were strategically cut to showcase the products inside, enabling the supermarket to maximise stacking efficiency while promoting sustainability. 

Stacking of Pepsico's products at YESS, Noida
Stacking of Pepsico's products at YESS, Noida

However, it remains unclear whether Pepsico has implemented this initiative across all modern retail supermarkets or not. We have reached out to Pepsico for clarification but are yet to receive a response at the time of filing this story.

Hema L., head of marketing, Simpli Namdhari’s, an omnichannel retail brand, believes that such innovations may be feasible only in hypermarkets, a retail store that combines a department store and a grocery supermarket. But these will not work well in premium supermarkets or super premium supermarkets, which extensively showcase premium goods and products. 

“In our case, it will not work as it depends upon the target group (Simpli Namdhari’s sells premium products) as well. This approach creates a perception of uniqueness or a new launch, enticing customers to explore and try something new,” she explains.. 

Shankar Shinde, co-founder of Aisles & Shelves, an engaged end-to-end commerce, shopper, and brand experience platform, underscores the dynamic nature of today's supermarkets, where over 30,000 products compete for attention. He notes that brands typically lead innovative strategies in collaboration with supermarkets to make a lasting impact in mere seconds.

“Traditionally, innovation was centred only around price points and product benefits. As the competition is growing now,. there’s a need for more innovation,” he adds. 

Anand Narasimha, professor of brand marketing, JSSM has extensive experience working with brands such as P&G, Nestle, Dabur, ITC, Britannia, BPL, Sony, Samsung, Hyundai, and more. 

He says these kinds of strategies are designed to create visibility and stand out in the market. “These kinds of innovations are only relevant for impulse purchased products and work well in that cluttered space.”

He emphasises that this type of strategy is not effective for planned purchases.

Innovations in the space 

The rise of digitisation has heightened customer expectations, compelling brands to innovate their in-store experiences. With the surge in online shopping, retail outlets are compelled to introduce innovations such as virtual and augmented reality, omnichannel commerce, buy online and pick-up-in-store services, customization, and more.

Recently, Sprite Zero was launched in India through large-format stores, with the company setting up booths to emphasise its zero sugar content within the stores.

Sprite Zero set up booths to emphasise its zero sugar content
Sprite Zero set up booths to emphasise its zero sugar content

Cadbury has set up chocolate stations in modern retail outlets. The stations are purple, matching the brand’s essence. 

Cadbury has set up chocolate stations in modern retail outlets
Cadbury has set up chocolate stations in modern retail outlets

According to Shankar, the brand doesn’t mind if the retailer stacks products from different brands, but with this, it gives a clear message to customers that they’re the category leaders.  

Cadbury has set up chocolate stations in modern retail outlets
Cadbury has set up chocolate stations in modern retail outlets

He says the topical relevance in packaging can also be a key driver of buyer preference. A recent example is Dabur Lal’s product featuring the Ram Mandir in its packaging for Ayodhya. 

“It is not possible to create an atmosphere of general trade stores and local kirana shops, in which there’s a smell of spices/oil, in modern retail outlets. So, Tata Sampann introduced the scent of masala in its section to create an atmosphere that can match the traditional kirana stores,” Shankar mentions. 

Narasimha states that back in the era before OTT, Pringles collaborated with DVD stores to place its products within them, capitalising on the trend of snacking while watching movies. 

“Internationally, in Walmart stores, Head and Shoulders placed an overhead close-up camera with a sensor. If the camera detects signs of dandruff, a beep prompts customers to choose Head and Shoulders,” Narasimha mentions. 

Simpli Namdhari’s has optimised technology with shelf tracking, product placement, and analysing customer behaviour through heat maps. 

The heat maps reveal where customers are spending their time and in which section of the store.

“This data also helps in product placement, for instance, if a customer lingers around the check-out area, we capitalise by placing new products in their line of sight,” Hema adds. 

In the flagship stores of Simpli Namdhari’s, customers can scan a product’s QR code, which directs them to a dedicated website or YouTube video providing information about the product. “The integration of QR codes by us serves as a bridge between the physical and digital realm,” she points out.  

Product placement

Customers can only find products in modern retail outlets if the shelves are optimised. This can be achieved through various methods, including categorising and prioritising products, utilising adjustable shelves, providing well-planned aisles for easy navigation, and more.

In the competitive landscape of modern retail outlets, just displaying the retail racks is not enough. Strategically arranging the goods is also the need of the hour.

Simpli Namdhari’s has strategically placed high-bill value products at eye level on designated shelves, ensuring easy access for customers to pick them up.

“We curate thoughtful combinations such as pairing atta with oil or presenting an entire staple range during festive season like Makar Sankranti,” she adds.

The retailer also identifies products doing well in the market and gives them the space at the end section, so that they are visible. 

Simpli Selects, a new initiative by Simpli Namdhari’s, is implemented in premium supermarket chains. It identifies high-bill value products, and unique imports such as sauces, breads, and seasonal exotic fruits and vegetables to highlight them during the initial ten days of the buying cycle. 

“We made them visually appealing, prompting customers to explore these offerings, resulting in increasing bill values and engaging shopping experience,” Hema mentions.

Narasimha points out the approaches followed by supermarkets to increase the bill value of customers. 

He adds that supermarkets place certain products adjacent to planned purchases, creating a synergy between complementary purchases. “For instance, biscuits are strategically placed next to tea brands, so that the buyer can easily pick it from there.” 

He adds that oral care brands will place their products like mouthwash adjacent to toothpaste or toothbrushes.

The objective of the placements is primarily to encourage impulse buying and cross-selling products. 

"The focus for stores is to encourage customers to make additional purchases beyond their initial plans. Both retailers and brands aspire for customers to exceed their planned purchases," states Narasimha. 

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