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Season Five.
"Three Foot Marketing: The Battleground In-Store"

Airs Saturday April 9th and Thursday April 14th, 2011.

This week on the Age of Persuasion, we're going shopping. The topic is "Three Foot Marketing." Research shows that 75% of shopping decisions are made in the store, and they are all made within the last three feet - meaning that critical distance between your shopping cart and the shelf. We'll examine how stores use design, technology and psychology to influence your decisions - from the moment you walk in to when you line up at the cash. We'll also look at the interesting tug-of-war that happens between stores and brands. There's no doubt about it, those three feet have become one of the biggest battlegrounds for your dollar.

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"Three Foot Marketing" is the study of how to influence shoppers in the last three feet between them and the shelf, and it has an interesting history.

In the 1800s, a man named James Smith moved from Quebec to New York and opened an ice-cream and candy store. One day, a man came in peddlng a recipe for cough drops, which Smith bought. Soon, he was brewing five-pound lots of the drops in his restaurant kitchen.

The cough drops became quite popular. When Smith died, his sons Andrew and William decided to go into the cough drop business full time, and named the product Smith Brothers Cough Drops:

Smith Brothers packaging.gif

They asked shopkeepers to stock their cough drops by the cash register, and provided a sign that said "Smith Brothers Cough Drops, Just 5 cents."

Here's where their marketing genius kicked in: They asked the shopkeepers to make sure customers got a nickel in their change. And just as they suspected, customers impulsively flipped back the nickel and bought the cough drops.

It would be one of the first times psychology was used at the cash register to influence purchases.

In grocery stores, most of the action is in the perimeter, along the outside four walls of the store layout. That's why supermarkets put the dairy case at the back of the store, so you'll walk by as many items as possible to get there:

grocery case 2.jpg

Because not everyone goes up every aisle, supermarkets put high margin and highly desirable items on the "end caps" of the aisles:

End cap 5.jpg

Even if you don't enter the aisles, you still have to pass most of the end caps. As a result, end caps are highly desirable positions for brands.

The most desirable spot for brands in the aisles is at eye-level. Most brands have to pay "slotting fees" to be put in that spot:

shelf 2.jpg

Here's a tip: Look to the top and bottom shelves. You may find great brands there that are cheaper, because they didn't pay slotting fees.

In department stores, the perfume counters are always at the entrance:

perfume-counter 2.jpg

There are a couple of reasons for this: First, the smell and look of the perfume counter is appealing and welcoming. Second, a high percentage of cosmetics purchases are impulse buys. So retailers want you to make that purchase before you mentally commit dollars to the item you came in to buy in the first place.

The cash register area is a big opportunity for impulse buys:

cash register area.jpeg

Lip balm, key-chains, mousetraps and candy are the big items. More batteries are sold at the cash than in any other area of the store. And it's a high profit area for retailers.

Music influences shopping. Or more to the point, Muzak influences shopping. Muzak is a music system with a highly programmed playlist that has an effect on shoppers. As this ad states, Muzak can help stimulate sales from 18 to 31%. And it makes the time waiting to be served seem shorter:

muzak 2.jpg

Even more persuasive technology is arriving. The EZ Face Virtual Mirror kiosk takes a picture of your face, allowing shoppers to actually drag different colours, shades, eyeliners and lipsticks onto the photo to see how it would look on their face:

It eliminates the need to sample all of them, or buy them and end up throwing them out. They can even choose to share their final made-up image with friends on Facebook.

American superstore chain Meijer launched an app that not only helps shoppers navigate the shelves of its huge stores, direct them to promotional offers and sales, and map out service desks and washrooms, but it also shows where they parked their cars:

Best Buy is one of the most innovative retailers when it comes to smart phones. Every price tag now has a QR - or "Quick Response" - code on it:

Best Buy QR code.jpg

If you scan the QR using the Best Buy app, you're given product details, specs, and the most up-to-date pricing - everything you need to buy a certain brand. Or to change your mind to buy a different one.

This is no small innovation. Most tags are reprinted twice a month, and that means Best Buy is constantly reprinting over half a billion tags across all their stores. That's approximately $312 million dollars in labour to keep the tag facts current. And once consumers start using the QR tags as a matter of course, that $312 million drops directly to the bottom line.

Customers happy, Best Buy even happier.

But when it comes right down to it, nothing beats in-store sampling:


64% of consumers bought the product after trying the sample. 24% bought the sampled product in place of another brand. 58% who sampled the product planned to buy it in the future.

In-store sampling out-influences all other in-store marketing. Followed by product packaging, loyalty cards, and everything else at much lower levels.

And there you have it. Just when you thought psychology ruled, or technology had the upper hand, or shelf position dominated those last three precious feet, isn't it interesting that a wiener in a blanket beats them all.