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WestRock’s Nicholas discusses giving the shelf life

Packaging and displays are growing in their importance as it gets harder to capture the shopper’s attention in-store, according to Leon Nicholas, vice president of retail insights and solutions at WestRock. Drug Store News caught up with Nicholas to hear how the provider of paper and packaging solutions — whose offerings include merchandising displays for consumer and corrugated packaging markets — helps its customers win in the marketplace.

Drug Store News: Tell us about WestRock and its merchandising approach.
Leon Nicholas: Our merchandising approach is to help our customers respond to the changing retail environment. In a nutshell, stores’ roles are evolving, and they must work harder to meet the demands of shoppers who expect stores to act as veritable commercial concierges.
Practically speaking, the days of displays serving only as a means of stocking extra merchandise at sale prices to move cases are gone. Instead, merchandising must fulfill needs, including entertainment and engagement — providing promotional intensity that she can’t get online — and shopper solutions, cross-box categories arrayed against presumed need states.

Additional needs are retailer customization — merchandising in effect must sell the store in addition to the category and brand — and digital engagement. The reality is that most shoppers are walking into stores with mobile devices today. Retailers should look to turn a transaction at a display into a media channel to conduct a conversation and commerce — customized to that shopper’s profile.

These approaches to merchandising are increasingly how conversion will take place at retail. These are criteria, in effect, for reimagining retail. Successful retailers and suppliers today are gaining market share by leveraging them.

DSN: With the change in the landscape, displays must work harder. How do we better engage and understand the shopper?
LN: Indeed, displays have to work harder. I think the key to driving improved display productivity is recognizing that the shopper expects three things from a display:

  • Value — A compelling ratio that positively compares what she gets for what she pays;

  • Return on time — Does the display arrange products to solve a problem, meet a need, or enhance a transaction in ways the make my trip more efficient — i.e. more items per basket and less time in store — and my life easier; and

  • Inspiration — Delighting the shopper with unique combinations, new items, or thematic merchandising that speaks to target shoppers in a way that elevates the retailer’s equity.

These three elements, seen through the lens of each retailer’s shopper, will drive engagement.

DSN: How do you design the display, better engage and understand the shopper?
LN: Brands and retailers should reimagine how they can use displays to accomplish two key objectives, namely inform and engage consumers.

When it comes to informing, the shopper must understand the value proposition — time or price — in 5 seconds from 5 ft. away. The display has to inform the shopper in ways that proclaim, “I get you,” instead of asking the shopper to try to figure out the need it solves.

For engagement, color, lighting, print effects, digital engagement, sound, etc., are all important — to varying degrees — to getting shoppers’ attention. And this doesn’t just apply to such discretionary, entertaining categories as toys and electronics. Some of the most engaging displays in the market today are in the OTC space — hardly a department where shoppers are looking for entertainment. At the same time, OTC displays are more likely today to leverage digital engagement, sensory triggers, such as lighting and sound, and compelling need statements that get shoppers to stop and engage.

It also bears mentioning that displays today are increasingly customized to be shopper- and retailer-specific. The retailer’s messaging, taglines, colors and, often, private labels are increasingly required to help the retailer sell the equity of the entire banner — not just a particular product or category. The display graphics and messaging also can be customized via high speed digital printing to unique shopper segments by store cluster. This has driven a great deal of complexity in the promotional environment, and that complexity shows no sign of diminishing.

DSN: What do retailers need to do to most to benefit from this?
LN: First, old department silos have their place — just not in today’s shoppers’ mind. Remember, there are no aisles online. As a result, retailers need to think — and incent — cross-box merchandising much more than they do today. Category managers must be empowered this way, and store/department managers must be required to leverage the breadth of their assortments in unique ways. Store-within-a-store ideas are a good start, but a lot of the most creative work in this area is being done by independent and regional retailers. They are much more likely to think as the shopper does and design displays accordingly.

As a result, they’re employing localized, curated displays that drive differentiation and traffic, engagement and productivity. The result is more displays with curated product mixes that become solution centers based on need states across multiple brands and categories.
Second, the pressure on retailers to drive more sales from shelf has led to an emerging phenomenon across retail: the shelf as the new display. Whether through in-aisle signage, vertical and horizontal striping, sensory features — including lighting, scent, sound and motion — or digital engagement, solutions must drive emotional connections while remaining cost effective. Shelves are increasingly supporting the role previously done only by displays.

Retailers who are using shelves as a marketing medium, and not only as a product holding vehicle, are seeing a big return in terms of conversion.
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