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ROSEMONT, Ill. — Retailers know they must first understand their customers — their wants and needs, how they shop and more — if they are to build a successful store-brand program.
During the 2015 Store Brands Innovation & Marketing Summit, held last week in Rosemont, three retail executives shared their insights on how to gather and leverage shopper insights to develop, package, merchandise and market store-brand products that truly resonate with today’s shoppers.
Participating in the panel entitled "The Customer is King: How to Build a Shopper-Centric Store Brand Program" were Sean Thompson, director of merchandising, private brands for Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc.; Simon Cutts, director of grocery and private label for Phoenix-based Fresh Thyme Farmers Market; and Matt Simon, senior director, own brands, brand management for Quincy, Mass.-based Ahold USA.
While all the panelists indicated shopper information is critical to their companies, they differ somewhat in how that information is collected. For instance, because 7-Eleven has numerous stores "all over" the United States, Thompson said his team not only performs major customer research on a regular basis, but also travels extensively to help in understanding regional differences and the needs of Hispanic shoppers.
"We really have to understand needs by acculturation [level] and individual market," he said.
Meanwhile, supermarket operator Ahold USA has "very rich" shopper data — from its loyalty card program and other avenues — that provide the base set of insights it needs, according to Simon. The organization also relies on ad-hoc panel research and more to augment that data.
Fresh Thyme, on the other hand, is a new chain with a shopper base that differs from the typical food retail chain's base, Cutts explained, so it has to approach data-gathering more creatively. The natural retailer's shoppers generally have experienced some sort of trigger or lifestyle change that brings them into its stores. "We need to understand the triggers and meet the needs of those customers," he stated.
Also important to the shopper-data collection process is avoiding time-wasting missteps. Simon cautioned against over-researching — collecting so much information that the process becomes burdensome rather than actionable. Instead, retailers should be more focused on collecting the right information, he said.
After using the data to determine relevant areas for store brand product development — and collaborating internally and externally to produce those products — retailers must remain in shopper-centric mode to maximize success. This means, in part, making sure shoppers actually notice the products.
“You've got to be proud of what you've created," Cutts stressed. "When we do create the private label product, we're going to merchandise it strong and proud."
Sampling also comes into play here. Thompson noted that 7-Eleven is looking for ways to bring more of an experience to shoppers on the own-brand side, and is looking at sampling efforts that would involve side-by-side comparisons with similar but branded products.
Creating an emotional connection is critical, too, Simon suggested. "We're trying to talk about brands, not products," he told attendees. "We're focused on developing brand stories."
The 2015 Store Brands Innovation & Marketing Summit took place Feb. 25-27 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare hotel in Rosemont. Store Brands is a sister publication of Convenience Store News and Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner.