Jeremy Rockett: Know your onions

on 29 May, 2015

During the short time when cat food came under my remit at Marks & Spencer, I learned two interesting facts.

First, that the cat food people buy often says more about the owner than the cat (Princess won’t eat anything else) and second, that there is a clear difference between the purchaser and the consumer – a point that shouldn’t be forgotten in other categories where that is less obvious.

Despite this insight, I never once heard anyone say “cat food is different”.

Why then, is the wine industry often heard to say, “wine is different, you can’t market and sell wine like other consumer products”? Consumers who buy wine almost certainly also buy cat food, pizzas, shampoo and loo roll. They buy these products in the same place, the supermarket, from identical-looking shelves.

We like the fish counter, the in-store butcher and the delicatessen because they enhance our shopping experience. We feel it makes the food more special and we perceive it as better quality, which is what the supermarkets want. This feeling of reassurance is their payback for what is a terribly inefficient use of store space.

If we’re going to spend £30 on steak, we feel better if a man in a white coat and hat theatrically sharpens his knife and then slices and wraps it just for us.

How then can we expect consumers to pay high prices for wine when we’re trying to sell it on the same shelves as pet food? If it doesn’t look special, if the 40-foot wall of identical-looking bottles feels daunting, how can we expect consumers to enjoy browsing, and how can we expect anything other than the default to the big, easy-to-shop, money- off display?

Every time consumers buy a product in a supermarket, they go through a decision-making process in their minds.

Mostly they’re unaware of it, but understanding that process can help us design labels, shelf layouts and in-store signage to remove barriers to purchase and boost sales.

Consumers react to changes in flooring, lighting, shelf and aisle layouts, all of which can be used to improve the shopping experience.

Wine isn’t different – we just need to learn from other departments, make it feel more special, give consumers a positive experience, the permission they need to browse, and ultimately reassure them that it’s oK to spend more because these people know their onions.

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