“Advertising move people towards goods; merchandising moves goods towards people.” – Morris Hite
In this article, I will share some merchandising strategies that I have learned from the person who has probably influenced me the most regarding my interest in marketing and life in general. The person who gave me start and fired up my passion for marketing. He gave me the opportunity to meet and also get some field experience with one of the most influential people in the merchandising scene, Gregory A. Sand PhD. I will never be able to express my gratitude to my brother who introduced me to Greg and let me into the world of marketing at such a high level at such a young age.
Thank you, big brother!
So what do merchandisers actually do? Why are they important? Merchandisers are especially useful in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) business. Maybe you have seen them around in your local shop. These are the people that look like they work there, but are not actual shop employees. They usually carry notepads or tablets, checking something on their lists and taking pictures of the shelves. Why do they need to do that? What is the purpose?
One of the reasons merchandisers and sales reps spend so much time maintaining the shelves where their products are is because they need to make sure their products are visible and reachable for the customers to buy. You may say that this is the shop personnel’s job. The staff there though, care about the sales the shop makes, not about the sales a specific brand makes. That means they care equally about all brands and shelf maintenance. Merchandisers are there to make sure their shelf space is optimised at maximum and it looks better than the competition.
Here are some of the reasons why FMCG merchandisers are essential to any brand:
Every detail matters in merchandising. Small things like the products’ label facing towards the front is a must. Even for products like Coca-Cola where the shape of the bottle is enough for a customer to recognise it, it is still important. It looks better and grabs peoples’ attention better.
How many times have you seen an employee of a shop dusting off products from the shelves? My memory has no such recollection. Depending on where you live and what season it is, how well the premises are ventilated and other factors, it might take only a few days for a product on a shelf to gather dust. The only product I can think of that looks good with dust on it, is a bottle of good wine or whiskey. On any other product, it will create the illusion that it has been there for too long, therefore no one wants to buy it. Our minds then will come to the conclusion “if no one wants to buy it, it must be because it is not a good product”. If it is not a good product, I won’t buy it either. This whole conclusion comes from something that is actually not true because the product might have been on the shelf for just a week for example.
The first in, first-out (FIFO) rule
This is another thing employees in supermarkets tend to overlook and it is the merchandiser’s job do it right. Understandably in a busy shop where an employee has to stock shelves, work at the register, help customers etc., sometimes they just put the products on the shelves without looking at expiration dates, simply because they do not have the time. This means that a product at the back of the shelf might stay there for months and expire. A merchandiser will always make sure that their products are set in the proper order on the shelf.
How many times have you been to a grocery shop, looked at a product and not bought it, only because there was no price on it? No matter what it is. Even if it is a chocolate bar that cannot cost more than a couple of doubloons. What if it is on a wine or spirit shelf and you cannot see its price? Then you would automatically think that this must be a very expensive wine, so it will not make it into your shopping basket. People do not buy things when they do not know how much they cost! A merchandiser makes sure the price of their products is visible and clear.
This is arguably the most important job a merchandiser or a sales rep has to do regarding the maintenance of their products. As you may or may not know, some hypermarkets and supermarkets charge companies for premium shelf space. The reason for this is that people tend to see certain spots on the shelves better than others. Believe it or not, there is a science behind it. For example, the most expensive place on a shelf is at eye level. One reason is that it is easier to grab a product at eye level and put it in the basket. Another reason is that it is easier to move your eyes horizontally than it is vertically. I am not a physician, but I know that there are fewer nerves and muscles involved when we move our eyes horizontally than when we do it vertically. You can read more about that study here.
The FMCG producers and shop owners are fully aware of that and are both trying to take advantage of this knowledge. Next time you go grocery shopping, try to notice which brands are at your eye level and which ones are at the bottom of the top shelf. Even though when we say top shelf, we associate it with the highest quality, this is not the case in merchandising. The mid-shelf is the eye-level shelf. You will also notice that this is where the products with the shop’s brand logos are too.
There is even a secret “war” between merchandisers for premium shelf space. There are always small tricks merchandisers use to sell their products to you and prevent the competition from doing that. I know that from a dear friend of mine who has been in the business in my hometown for a long time. Every inch of shelf space counts. I have heard stories of people pushing the competitors’ products back, or even putting their own products in a competitor’s spot. You may think of it as something stupid, pointless and small, but it does make a difference. Merchandisers are there to ensure the consumer buys their brand’s product and not the competition’s.
Unfortunately, I will not be able to write in a single article all the perks and advantages that good merchandising can do to help the sales. You can find everything you need to know about merchandising in this link from Globalteam International Marketing Consultants Inc.