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12:48 AM   April 26, 2015
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Give Customers Some Space

Keep point-of-purchase displays at the register to a minimum, say experts.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

How crowded is your checkout counter? Is it loaded with bins of colorful crinkly balls, racks of pet tags and displays of pre-packaged biscuits? The register space may be your final opportunity to tempt customers with impulse buys, but you’d be wise to keep it clean and uncluttered, say retail display experts.

“The checkout stand is the customer area,” said Michael McCahill, store designer and president of Retail Store Planning Inc. in Roseville, Calif. “When customers come up, they shouldn’t have to fight for space. They should just be able to take their product and put it on the checkout stand.”

Top Point-of-Sale Products

Impulse items at the register are often low-cost, high-margin products. Retailers regularly include merchandise and promotional material like this at the front counter:

  • Poop bags and holders
  • Squeaky tennis balls
  • Biscuits and cookies
  • Pet blinkers
  • Nail polish
  • Pet tags
  • Post cards by local artists
  • Stickers
  • High-priced specialty items, like jewelry or pricy collars
  • Food or treat samples
  • Poster and flyers
  • Informational brochures about pet care
  • Donation box for shelters and rescues

Beau Stiles, co-owner of Charley The Pet Boutique in Boise, Idaho, recognizes impulse-buy potential at the register, but keeps his counter displays simple. That strategy has worked well in his 20-plus years in retail.

“The items you’ll find at our front counter are things like the pet polish, the pet blinkers, fairly unique items that you don’t find in this area at other retailers,” he said. “Typically a low-price point, high-margin. It’s those last-minute things to put in front of their faces.

But as a consumer, I don’t like walking into a place where I feel crowded or cramped or cluttered. So we try to keep a minimalist approach to our overall look.”

Cashing In on Impulse
In most retail environs, impulse items placed next to the register fly off the shelves. Customers are standing in line. They’re looking around. They have their wallets out. Retailers have the mind share and the time share of the consumer, reported Steven Row, director of operations for Retail Advantage Inc. in New Hamburg, Ontario, Canada.

“You have their attention,” he said. “You have captive customers who are waiting to go out and pay their bills, and they’re looking around, and feeling and touching merchandise by the register. As soon as they start picking something up, they’re 75-percent more likely to buy it than if they don’t pick it up.”

[Row is referring to a study conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University, who found that feelings of attachment or partial ownership may be produced by simply holding an item, and these feelings are intensified with the duration of exposure. The study, “The Power of Touch: An examination of the effect of duration of physical contact on the valuation of objects,” was published in the August 2008 edition of the journal Judgment and Decision Making.]

Customers don’t expect to buy these impulse items, explained Shawn Kahler, vice president of sales and marketing for Madix Store Fixtures in Terrell, Texas. They head to their local pet store—a destination location— to pick up dog food or cat litter. When they see impulse items near the register, they’re more likely to stop, look and try them out.

“People are going into pet stores to rush in and rush out, to pick up those one or two supplies they know they need,” Kahler said. “That space around the checkout counter is where they really have a chance to stop and soak in what’s around them. It gives retailers an opportunity to highlight different brands and products.”

Moreover, added Stiles, displays at the register give customers’ eyes something to do.

“People find it difficult to make solid contact with strangers sometimes, so as people come to the register, their eyes are looking for something to focus on,” he said. “It’s a business transaction. You’re taking their money. While that occurs, I notice people’s eyes wandering, so we need to give them something to look at. We want to suck them in and pull their attention. And as we do that, the sales make themselves. All your displays become a silent salesperson, and the counter POP is no different.”

The Unencumbered Counter
Though many retailers think that more impulse buys at the register mean more opportunity for add-on sales, it could lead to a “visual train wreck” and “graphic pollution,” warned Chris Miller, store designer and president of Pacific Store Designs in Garden Grove, Calif.

“The checkout counter is an area that you want to keep nice and clear and uncluttered,” he said. “People say that whatever you put on the checkout counter sells, but the top of the counter is customer space and it’s not for product. When people’s hands are full, they stop buying, so if they have a place to put it, they can continue to buy. If POP displays fill the counter, they have no place to empty their hands.

“We usually put impulse product displays in front of the counter so they won’t encumber the top of the counter,” Miller added.

Steve DiOrio, marketing manager for Handy Store Fixtures Inc. in Newark, N.J., said many pet specialty retailers have incorporated slat walls, gondola shelving and side returns in front of and near the cash register for impulse items, rather than taking up counter space.

“A lot of pet people recently have gone to a gondola checkout,” he said. “You see them mostly in convenience stores, but they’ve gone a lot now into pet stores because there are so many kids going inside. You want to put candy and those impulse items by the register.”

Jackie Oakes, owner of Coastal K-9 Bakery in Wilmington, N.C., shelves creative displays, such as bone-shaped baskets and apothecary jars that echo her store’s country-chic theme, to showcase her dog biscuits.

“I display the small things that people will readily buy, and make it look attractive,” she said. “My customers think they’re quite attractive. And then they see the dipped bones in there, and say, ‘Oh! Only 30 cents a piece? I’ll get $5 worth of them!’”

Kristie Lewis, assistant buyer for Moochie & Co., a retail chain with eight stores throughout Ohio and Indiana, takes a similar approach with her counter displays.

“We always try to reflect the bigger fixturing in the store with a smaller version at the cash wrap,” she said. “For example, we consistently use galvanized tins and glass jars to merchandise all throughout our store. We use smaller galvanized tins and smaller glass jars to merchandise POP displays.”

Keep them Rotated, Eye-Catching
If retailers must have POP displays at the front counter, they should try to keep them fresh and  relevant, Miller noted. They should strive for creating a professional buying environment, so the look should be clean and consistent, not jumbled, he said.

“If you absolutely can’t live without the POP display, date it for 30 or 60 days and get rid of it after that time frame,” Miller explained. “Plan out areas in the store where it won’t interfere with your sight lines [or visual continuity], and where you can have some featured new products that you can rotate through so people can see the new items.”

Retailers should use succinct verbiage on signs and displays as a call to action, Row said, and use color and design consistent with their store’s décor to make the POP pop.

“Any printed POP will put the call to action in the customers’ minds,” he said. “Like ‘Protect your pet,’ or ‘Have one of these for the home and the car.’ And, of course, color on the display or the card can make a difference.”

Rick Pearson, owner of Furs N Fins in Smithville, Ontario, Canada, uses manufacturer-provided POP materials near his checkout counter and rotates them through as new displays come in. One fixture has garnered a permanent spot at the counter, though: his pet-themed human jewelry.

“I keep my jewelry at the register,” he said. “Doesn’t everyone? It’s in a locked cabinet, so it’s more convenient to have it there. If someone is interested in seeing it, I have to unlock it anyway.”

Whether retailers choose to keep the register area sparse and clean or stocked with merchandise, they should stay true to their overall design and focus, Stiles said.

“It’s really important, especially in this day in age, with the face of the economy and retail in general, we really need to be in tune to our customers,” he said. “What works for me won’t work for Jane or Bob or whomever. Make sure we’re true to ourselves. If not, our customers will notice.” <HOME>

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