It comes in numerous different shapes and sizes. It employs a kaleidoscope of different colours and a vast gamut of typefaces. And it’s omnipresent in virtually every store, on every high street in the country. Despite its ubiquity and the encroachment of digital technology into its traditional heartland, printed point of sale (POS) still packs a punch.
If you need further convincing, just look at the numbers. A recent study by Nielsen showed that 72% of new product awareness is driven by in-store activity such as POS. It also plays a vital role in the overall marketing mix. Research from Smurfit Kappa Zedek suggests that if you discount a product by 10% it will lift sales by 20% and if you combine that same discount with out-of-store marketing it could generate a sales increase of as high as 90%. However, if you combine the 10% discount with an in-store POS unit it will drive sales up to 120%; combine all three and you see sales uplift of 250%.
“The most important thing POS does is to differentiate a brand from its competitors; a supermarket customer doesn’t have to search for a favourite as it will be instantly recognisable. This works for established brands and in terms of emerging lines it’s more about creating a link between the values of a product and how these are expressed visually,” says Mark Ryan, innovations manager at corrugated packaging and POS specialist TRM Packaging.
So POS is a hugely important part of the marketing and packaging mix. But what are the crucial ingredients that you need to create an effective POS display and what effect will the projected rise of in-store digital screens and smartphone-related technologies, such as QR codes, have on the future use of POS?
Fundamentally, printed POS today is no different than that of a few decades or so ago. At least, that’s what the untrained eye of a consumer might think. However, if you drill down into the minutiae, POS material has undergone significant changes, particularly in the last decade or so. Some of these changes have been caused by the rise of social media as a communications tool for brand owners, who have slashed their spend on more traditional marketing channels such as print. Other changes have been enforced by retailers, says Tony Foster, sales and marketing director at DS Smith Packaging.
“There are more guidelines now from supermarkets around size, design and form of POS,” says Foster. “Because of this, whereas previously the brand owner dictated what was required, brands now have to work harder to be creative within stringent guidelines.”
The ‘lean logistics’ chains of the major retailers has been the main reason behind the introduction of these stricter parameters, according to Mike Gillies, UK sales director at Smurfit Kappa Zedek.
“The major multiple retailers are driving more to ‘pre-filled’ units which travel through their logistics chain rather than flat-packed units that are assembled and filled in store,” says Gillies. “Supply efficiencies have been and remain the key driver for this. The complexity in the display units ensures that they survive the demands of the logistics chain while achieving stand out.”
These new guidelines have inevitably limited some of the creativity within store display, but it hasn’t diminished the appetite of big brands to use POS.
“Brands are still very much willing to spend big on POS and understand the value of standing out from competitors in store,” says Foster. “This is particularly true for seasonal and new product launches when brands invest heavily in creative displays that use light, sound and movement as well as visuals.”
So what do those brands that have the marketing budget and the appetite to invest in POS need to bear in mind when creating a display? The key thing to remember when designing POS is that there is no one size fits all model, according to Chris Peach, research director at Marketing Sciences.
“The only firm and fast rule is that your POS has to be disruptive, to stand out from the crowd and grab the attention of shoppers who would otherwise wander the aisles on auto-pilot,” says Peach. “Within each product category the way that you achieve this will be different. If the packaging in your category tends to be paler, pastel colours, then a bright, bold coloured POS should have impact but if packs typically use bright and bold colours then unexpected shapes and materials may be the way to go.”
For Tony Nunan, managing director at Visuality, an integrated research and design agency that specialises in point of sale, there are three crucial elements to creating an effective POS display.
“The three are: see, stop and sell,” says Nunan. “The product must stand out from those around it so that the shopper sees it; it must be sufficiently enticing that the shopper stops to take a closer look; and the real test – is the shopper sufficiently motivated to put their hand in their pocket? Does the product sell? This is simple enough, but much POS fails to deliver on these three basic tenets. In many cases the issue is that brands and their agencies try to make merchandising too complicated. This is often the case when brands try to weave digital elements into their POS display.”
It’s not the only pitfall that brands commonly fall foul of, says Foster. “Some brands still make basic errors,” he explains. “You’ve got to ensure the display works within a supermarket’s remit. You still see poor print surfaces in store or constructions that are too small to have the proper impact and there is no reason for this with the technology and design expertise available today.”
Another common mistake that a surprisingly large number of brands fall foul of is making their POS overly complicated. The rule of thumb with POS design is keep it simple, says Peach.
“The average shopper spends only seconds looking at POS and simply won’t read cluttered and convoluted messages,” he says. “Trying to fit too much on to one piece of POS is a common pitfall and will lead to consumers ignoring the fixture altogether.”
That’s if they actually see the POS display in the first place. Joe Schurtz, executive vice president at Perception Research Services, says that all too often brands believe that shoppers are guaranteed to see their POS material, but that’s not necessarily the case.
“Like any other medium in which the shopper or consumer is in control of the marketer, the assumption that the POS material will be seen is a misnomer,” says Schurtz. “If you take a ceiling dangler piece of POS material, our research has shown that those types of things – unless they are so large and obtrusive that they can’t be missed – are often overlooked. Things on the floor are also often overlooked because the shoppers are engaged at the shelf level.”
One way of ensuring a POS display isn’t overlooked is through the use of technology that is activated by smartphones.
“QR codes and ‘layer’ applications are increasingly being used within the artwork to create additional interaction with the shopper,” says Smurfit Kappa’s Gillies. “This trend will likely increase as the more technically savvy younger generation transform into the key shoppers of tomorrow. Augmented reality and touch screen interaction is also increasingly being used to further enhance the experience of the shopper.”
Although it’s fair to say that the increased prevalence of smartphones is changing the way we shop, Peach believes that designers of POS materials are yet to capitalise on this change.
“Part of the problem is that shoppers are sceptical about using their smartphones in store,” he explains. “Many don’t want to add time to their weekly shop by scanning QR codes and for other shoppers there is a lack of understanding about what QR codes will offer. Shoppers are prepared to use smartphones to scan POS for larger ticket items such as computers and household appliances where it is seen as worthwhile to take more time and perhaps compare prices online. The same can’t be said for lower value goods.”
For Schurtz, the big problem at the moment is establishing how this sort of technology will impact on retailers. “The big unknown in the next two to three years will be the adaptability of technology and the instantaneous ability to reach the consumer through technology and how that’s going to alter the landscape, not just of the retail environment but also of the marketers and how shoppers shop. We’re only at the infant stages of the role that technology can and will play in store and contributing to the shoppers’ ability to navigate that path to purchase.”
Although smartphone technology and digital displays could pose a threat to printed POS in the future, the biggest threat the sector faces at the moment is the unabated rise of online shopping, which has removed many of the ‘path to purchase’ obstacles. Brands are now faced with the challenge of creating stand out from the crowd in an online store. Peach thinks he has an answer to this conundrum: in-store POS. “The majority of consumers still visit a high street supermarket, despite the rise of online retail, and brands may find that this is their best opportunity to win new customers,” he says.
It’s a view shared by Visuality’s Nunan. “Online is going to deeply affect how shops are used in the future. However, depending on the category and the channel retail remains the route whereby most shoppers access everyday goods. As such, POS will remain a hugely important marketing tool for the foreseeable future.”
That’s not always going to be the case. With adoption rates of smartphone and tablet devices expected to continue to rise, Cathy Barnes, director of the Faraday Centre for Retail Excellence at Leeds Metropolitan University, sees a time where the use of in-store POS could potentially be usurped by electronic forms of communication.
“For the next 10-20 years there will be a requirement for printed POS and that’s to do with shopping habits of the 40-plus age group,” says Barnes. “But as the younger generation come through, who always have a mobile phone in their hand, they will be much more willing to embrace technology.”
As Barnes points out, that’s still a few decades away. In the meantime, despite the dwindling marketing spend of the big brands, restrictions on creativity imposed by the supermarkets’ strict parameters and the rise of online shopping, marketers and POS suppliers need to capitalise on the channel’s relevancy. As Smurfit’s Gillies succinctly sums it up, suppliers should be “POSitive” about the future.
According to Pira, the global value of retail ready packaging (RRP) is set to reach $63.4bn by 2017. In such a growing sector, how crucial is RRP in the relationship between brand and consumer?
Chris Peach, research director, Marketing Sciences
“RRP does fulfil a practical function of protecting consumer goods, but its high visibility at the ‘first moment of truth’ when shoppers choose a product forces a much broader role upon it. Increasingly, we’re seeing brands developing RRP in parallel to primary packaging to ensure the two work in harmony. RRP can obscure elements of pack communication; knowing this will inform which messages the RRP needs to bolster. Effective RRP can boost brand impact. Poor quality packaging can damage it.”
Andy Paul, managing director, The Cabinet
“While RRP is crucial for the brand/retailer relationship, in its current guise it holds very little significance for consumers, who expect any packaging they buy in a retail environment to look good, protect the product and be fit for purpose. Consequently, brand owners are missing a trick if they don’t use RRP to bring another dimension to the brand/consumer relationship. Brands should, for example, consider the added value of RRP that has an impregnated fragrance that embodies the brand and brings it to life through the only sense that currently doesn’t interact with a pack – smell. Imagine walking through the condiments aisle and following the aroma of Marmite on toast. Love it or hate it – it would certainly grab attention.”
Joe Schurtz, executive vice president, Perception Research Services
“The benefit of RRP usually goes unnoticed by the customer, but RRP can make navigation in a category easier if it makes variety selection clearer and shoppers exhibit a tendency to shop where it’s easier to shop. So if I walk up to a category and I have a brand that uses shelf ready packaging very effectively, it’s more inviting to shop within that section and brand so I might buy an extra product. Shoppers still don’t spend more than 30 minutes in store typically, yet there’s so much more clutter than there used to be, which means that decisions are being made more quickly, so what benefits the consumer is ease and clarity.”
Tony Foster, sales and marketing director, DS Smith Packaging
“RRP is a crucial tool in this relationship – it represents that ‘final moment of truth’ when a shopper is looking at the shelf, deciding which product to buy. RRP can ensure the product is displayed correctly on the shelf even when that shelf is half empty, and makes the best use of POS in a small area. It also allows brands to display additional messages on the shelf, beyond what’s available on the primary pack. Brands are becoming increasingly tuned in to the fact that RRP is more than a convenient transit pack.”