Strategy Shift: Consumers Have Their “Mobile Blinders” On In Checkout Lanes

March 21, 2013 by Dave Haynes

checkout screenYou know that idea that people waiting in checkout lines are going to occupy their time looking at the magazines or maybe at a digital display?

Not so much.

A Business Week story today suggests bored shoppers now have “mobile blinders” that stop such behavior and curb impulse buying.

These days, suggests the story, consumers are more likely to send a quick text and check their Facebook feed than to read a magazine or develop a momentary craving for the gum or candy on display. That has spurred companies such as Hearst Corp. and the Coca-Cola Co. (KO) to reconsider how they showcase their wares in supermarkets.

Hearst, which sells 15 percent of its U.S. magazines at retailers, is adding cardboard displays in places other than the checkout line. And consulting firm Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide says it has worked with Coca-Cola to add soft drink coolers to locations like the supermarket deli.

“We avoid the dreaded cell phone at checkout,” said John Loughlin, general manager of Hearst’s magazine unit, which includes titles such as Cosmopolitan, Seventeen and Esquire. “Magazines are an impulse purchase, so we have more than one opportunity to capture the consumer’s attention.” 

The problem has worsened in the past 18 months, as more than half of all Americans now carry smartphones, Loughlin said. Single-copy sales of U.S. consumer magazines fell 8.2 percent in the second half of 2012 from the year-earlier period, according to the industry group Alliance for Audited Media.

The gum category also “has been challenged” and declined 5.5. percent last year, Hershey Co. Chief Executive Officer John Bilbrey said during a conference call in January.

The problem of “mobile blinders is a huge factor,” said Marshal Cohen, an analyst at NPD Group. “Companies have to rethink the in-store experience.”

To catch consumers by surprise, companies are setting up more temporary cardboard displays around stores, sometimes offering unexpected combinations of products. Shoppers browsing the aisles of 1,500 Kroger Co. supermarkets may stumble upon a display offering a $3 discount on a six-pack of Diet Coke and an issue of Cosmopolitan.

 Similar promotions will appear in CVS Caremark Corp. pharmacies and Target Corp. stores this year. Hearst is preparing 20 in-store campaigns with the likes of Coke and L’Oreal SA, up from four in 2012, Loughlin said.

You can read the full story here …

The screens at checkout thing has never made a lot of sense to me unless what was on those displays was something you could grab while in line. The rise of smartphones has really clobbered that approach, with data now backing up the more simplistic suggestion that it ain’t a great plan.

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