Thrive in the Golden Age of the shopper

By Steve Cole, scole@gladson.com

It doesn’t take much convincing to realize that we are in a Golden Age of the shopper. Retailers are no longer in charge of the information, pushing out what they want, when they want, to influence shoppers and win sales. Instead, shoppers today seek out the information themselves, much of it online, before they ever set foot in a store. In other words, they’re thinking for themselves. The horror!

Google calls this the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT). Playing off Procter and Gamble’s First Moment of Truth, the moment a shopper reaches a buying decision in a store, the ZMOT is when shoppers gather the information they need online and make a buying decision right there, wherever there happens to be.

It’s happening with electronics, cars, books, and a host of other categories. It’s also happening in CPG.

According to a survey by Microsoft Advertising and Carat, 75% of U.S. Internet users go online to research grocery and personal care goods. Seventy-five percent!

Sure, many may be checking prices or looking for coupons but more and more they’re looking for detailed product information. What do they find when they go to your website?

Not much in most cases. We recently surveyed the top 20 CPG retailer websites to see how much product information was available. What we found is that most can’t take an order, and many don’t share product details. Instead, their websites are more Web 1.0, designed to display static advertising messages (often lifted from print circulars) and distribute the generic coupons of the week. This disconnect between what consumers want and what retailers are delivering creates both a problem and an opportunity for you.

It’s an opportunity if you recognize this shift now, and act on it by “giving the lady what she wants” in the words of Marshall Field.

Enhancing your website with product details such as calorie count, nutritional information and ingredients will draw the digital shopper to your website and your stores -- and away from your competitors’. Habits form online as quickly as shoppers can add a site to their Favorites folder, so winning their attention there will help you win their loyalty and spending.

Large retailers such as Meijer and Publix are experimenting with online shopping and offering pickup at their stores. Others, both brick-and-mortar and online stores, are offering CPG items as part of their overall product mix.

How can you get your share? The key to taking advantage of this opportunity is data. In an online, search-oriented world, you need data that is:

  • Complete. Shoppers want more detail about products they find in circulars, ads, and loyalty program coupons. They want everything they’d find by picking up a package in your store, with the added ability to search for specific needs such as gluten-free or low-calorie. Not just for selected products, but for all the SKUs in your inventory.
  • Consistent across media and materials. Imagine a shopper standing in your store holding a digital coupon from a website. If the product image on the coupon doesn’t match the packaging on the shelf it creates confusion, which can lead to a lost sale and maybe even a lost customer if it happens often enough. The information they see has to be the same online, in the store and on their mobile devices.
  • Easy to access and manipulate as-needed. Delivering a great shopping experience across online, in-store and mobile applications means making all the data and images easily accessible to marketing, merchandising and every other department that needs it.

Achieving this level of detail and consistency is no easy task. There are three approaches you can take.

One is to do it yourself, building an internal department to enter complete data on (and shoot images of) every product in every size in your inventory. If you put in a dedicated team and work diligently at it, you should be able to complete the project in just under a year. Of course, while they’re building the database, be sure to bring on extra staff to handle the thousands of new products and product updates that happen each year.  

Another option is to put your suppliers in charge of building your data and image library. That takes it off your plate, but the odds are you’ll find they are not very good at gathering data and images even for their own products. Even if they are, the burden will still fall on you to integrate the variety of formats they send, making it very difficult to organize and manage it in a timely manner. You’ll have gaps where suppliers don’t comply, and will still have to determine what to do about your private label products.

The final (and best) option is to purchase data and images from a neutral, third-party data supplier. It’s the surest way to provide the ever-elusive “single version of the truth” -- data that is consistent and can be used easily across all channels, online and offline. Because it is their primary business, third-party suppliers have a vested interest in focusing on the details and keeping their database up-to-date.

While today may be a Golden Age for shoppers, it can also be a potential nightmare for you if your online efforts are stuck in the Stone Age.

Becoming digital-ready will help you take advantage of the opportunities the Internet has created, allowing you to secure greater shopper loyalty and win a greater share of their wallets by delivering the 360-degree shopping experience they want. At which point it becomes a Golden Age for you, too.

Steve Cole is the chief marketing officer for Gladson, a provider of syndicated consumer package goods (CPG) services for manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and brokers. Steve leads the strategic marketing efforts for Gladson’s services, which include product information and package images for more than 700,000 packaged goods. He can be reached at scole@gladson.com.

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