, ,

Grocery customers continue to demand more convenience and ease in their shopping. Grocery retailers have responded in various ways, as we have detailed in these abstracts: self-checkout stations, real-time adjustments to long queues, and so forth. But these efforts to improve the customer experience have had some unintended and worrisome consequences for grocers.

Traditionally, when customers had to stand in line for several minutes to check out, they encountered a familiar range of candies, gum, tabloid magazines, and small convenience items. Although these offerings account for only about 1 percent of stores’ total floorspace, the impulse purchases they prompt often can provide up to 4 percent of the grocers’ overall sales. Impulse buying is therefore a valuable and necessary element for supermarkets that survive on razor thin margins.

But when customers do not wait in line, whether because the grocer is quick to open new checkouts or because the customers can check themselves out, they also do not have the enforced downtime to consider impulse purchases of some candy or gum. Thus, grocers are seeing significant declines in their traditional impulse purchase sales.

Neither the retailers or the affected manufacturers are ready to give up on this lucrative market though. Hershey’s is testing a menu board for candy at stores that offer customers the opportunity for curbside pickups. New versions of vending machines might provide access to packs of gum at self-checkout lines. Another proposed idea would try to reach customers elsewhere: Grocery customers might be able to speed through checkout, but people pumping gas still have to stand there and wait for their tanks to fill, so some new vending machines might appear alongside gas pumps.

Discussion Question:

  1. Why are impulse purchases threatened in grocery stores?
  2. What are retailers and their vendors doing about it?
  3. Do you think any of these efforts will save impulse purchase sales? If so, which ones?


Source: Susan Reda, Stores, March 18, 2015