Customer journey focus on brick & mortar retailers

20th Jul 2023

Marketing emphasis on customer journeys is nothing new. Largely it has centred on messaging, particularly digital interaction, with disruptive creativity seen as a key attractor. But journey focus is now moving to bricks and mortar shops, and it’s inevitably going to become the new ground where brands compete for attention. 

Until now the retail stores where customers complete the final part of shopping journeys have often been treated as almost incidental. A place where brands are frequently left to sink or swim in environments in which shoppers are subject to distraction and whim, and shop staff make most decisions about brand presentation. As a result, customer end to end journeys are frequently cut short before completion.

Disruptive retail experience is key to sales

But now a noticeable change in strategy is taking place, and it is starting with FMCG brands. There is a growing realisation that there is a need to trigger purchase in the final part of customer journeys through the creation of disruptive marketing, and it is taking place in multiple stores. 

The role of FMCG Shopper Marketer has been created, and has rapidly escalated in importance. It is due to the need to build relevant and innovative brand presentation at the location of purchase. From being on the periphery of concern among many grocery product marketers, creating brand experience in supermarkets is now being seen as a make or break strategy for immediate and longer term sales. 

A large number of grocery brand owners have identified the importance of moving away from over reliance on making promise that was hoped would carry them over the line, to recognising that engagement in store is a key element in taking customers to the successful conclusion of journeys. The compelling field marketing that is being created as a consequence, whether creative presentation on shelves, instore promotion or product trial, also generates spontaneous purchase. 

Multiples themselves are looking to brands to do something creative and different in their stores. It not only helps drive sales, but it also adds value to the shopping experience.   

Shopper marketers leading change

However, it has been a steep learning curve for some grocery brand marketing departments. This is because about ten years ago, whatever went on with supermarkets and in supermarkets was to a degree, taken out of their hands due to multiples making an offer on marketing spend. Supermarkets said brands could use their loyalty card programmes to target customers with promotional offers. That it would produce a better return than TV, print media, and digital channels. Many brand owners agreed, and at the same time some shifted responsibility for what went on in multiples from marketing departments to trade sales teams.

The loss of remit and budget did not overly concern some FMCG marketers. Retail field marketing had largely been seen as something of a backwater compared to the glitter of creative work. For many FMCGs, this is now changing rapidly as the creation of cutting edge consumer experience in stores becomes an integral factor within customer journeys, with Shopper Marketers playing the crucial role.

Store date drives targeted engagement

What enables the new development to take place did not exist until recently. The store marketing data that plays the key role in targeting activity has only come into being in the last few years. 

Previously, data on multiples stores was based on fairly crude metrics such as sales figures and size of store. Significant change has taken place to the point where individual supermarkets can be analysed on a one to one level. This allows in store marketing to be tailored and implemented to have the most impact. Used in combination with big data and other information sources, store data allows a move away from blanket field marketing to targeting customer engagement that produces the greatest ROI. Improvements are being made all the time. 

But it’s not brands that have led the use of data. It is the field marketing companies that invested in developing it. While a large proportion of in store activity was concerned with a scattergun approach, the development of data practice was going on, and is now coming into its own. 

Disruptive experiences will extend to all retail sectors

What is happening in grocery marketing will inevitably transfer to other retail sectors. With some notable exceptions, how brands are presented in retail stores has not previously been seen as a major marketing concern. The majority of focus is on the communication that delivers brand promise. As long as brands are present on shelves, then often the rest is left to retail staff, and we know from personal experience the frustration of trying to find the right product in shops, or obtain technical information when trying to make buying decisions. 

The development of customer engagement by brands in multiples is an important model for other consumer retail sectors, and to some extent it is an arena to observe and learn from. In future when marketers talk about creating disruptive customer experiences, it’s not just going to be about creative communication. It’s also going to be about what goes on in bricks and mortar shops as an essential part of customer journeys. No longer will the last ten yards be left to chance. What we are seeing in supermarkets is the start. 

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