Nonfoods Talk: Open communication

A simple coupon may have changed the way one consumer shops for HBC items. Retailers take note. I certainly did.

By Seth Mendelson

I have often wondered whether my wife knew what I did for a living. I mean I knew she had a general idea. It had a lot to do with publishing magazines or something like that. And, she knew it involved a lot of travel because the dog sleeps on my pillow when I am not home and he is often there.

But I was never quite sure that she fully grasped the fact that my expertise—after 25 years or so—was in the supermarket business, with an emphasis on the general merchandise and health and beauty care segments. Every time I tried to bring it up, in fact, it seemed as if she would change the subject to something more exciting like the latest shoe sale at Nordstrom or the fact that one of our two kids got a hit in Little League.

I have often felt like the bank in my family. I work, put the money into the bank and she withdraws it to buy things.

So I must tell you that I was pleasantly surprised when she came home a few days ago and told me that our neighborhood ShopRite— a big, clean and robust store in Parsippany, N.J.—was promoting health and beauty care items through in-store coupons dispensed at the checkout. “You do something with these products, right?” she asked, as she held on to two of these coupons that promised cents-off with a minimum purchase. Proudly, I answered yes. Wow, I thought, she has been listening to me after all.

She went on to say that she never remembers seeing HBC items promoted at ShopRite. In fact, she rarely thought of buying HBC, or general merchandise items for that matter, at the grocery store. A Walgreens and a local independent drug store have always been the locations of choice for her many, many HBC purchases.

“You know,” she said to me, “I actually walked down the aisle that had those [HBC] products and I was impressed. There was a large selection and it included many of the products I purchase. I think I will give ShopRite a shot now.”

A converted customer? Perhaps. It seems that by simply dispensing a coupon for some hair care product, ShopRite may have been able to turn my wife into an HBC shopper at its store. From my angle, it seems worth the effort.

My guess is that my wife spends at least $800 a year on various HBC items, including hair care, oral care, feminine hygiene and sun care products that are regular items on her shopping list. As a barometer, I can tell you that we have sun care products with SPFs ranging from 15 to 80 and at least six different types of toothpaste in our bathroom closet.

When one of the kids or I get sick she is the one who races out to buy the cough/cold medicines needed to get us through the day. So she is not a bad person to have on your side when you are thinking of ways to build your store sales.

But the kicker is that, until recently, she did not pay attention to the nonfoods mix at her favorite supermarket. As far as she was concerned, ShopRite’s HBC offerings were too limited to satisfy her needs.

Of course, the coupons opened her eyes. She looked at the coupon and saw that the store was serious about its health and beauty care business. It made her venture over to the HBC section and see that it was just as good—if not better—than at Walgreens, which is five miles in the other direction, and that it certainly beats the higher-priced neighborhood store.

I’m sure that my wife is not the only one who needs a kick in the pants to get them to notice the nonfoods section at a supermarket. Consumers have established shopping patterns and to get them to deviate from them can be very difficult.

But retailers can be successful through the most basic of methods. In my household, it only took a store coupon to make the difference.

Seth Mendelson can be reached at 212-979-4879 or at
smendelson@groceryheadquarters.com.

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