WOOING THE RETAILER

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Veteran package goods marketers may be nostalgic about the good ol' days, when retailers were eager recipients of all sorts of shelf-management plans, promotion-allowance programs and new products-no questions asked. Checkout counter scanner technology spelled an end to that world; the 1990s retailer holds the power of knowledge, with instant access to sales-movement information.

Marketers, of course, are adapting. Procter & Gamble, for one, continues to refine its account-specific method of sales management, this time seeking to eliminate separate category forces in the field. P&G was one of the first to tailor its programs to major retail customers, having honed its skill with No. 1 retailer Wal-Mart Stores.

P&G's latest move could play into some competitors' hands, however. As reported in our "Info-Driven Marketing" series, M&M/Mars, Kraft Foods and others are attempting to help retailers by playing "category [or shelf] manager" for chains. These marketers and others are trying to carve a role for themselves as retailers try micromarketing and decide how to stock their stores by neighborhood, shopper demographics, etc.

Philip Morris USA is going a step further, seeking to micro-manage point-of-purchase displays in convenience stores to suit its market-leading cigarette brands. That move may not be going as well as the stock/shelf-management programs; rival cigarette marketers are vigorously opposing PM's display strategy. Southland Corp.'s giant 7-Eleven chain opted out after testing the PM plan. POP displays are no small matter: As noted in our Special Report last week, POP is the third-largest ad medium in the U.S., at $17 billion.

What all this represents should be obvious to veteran executives: Marketers, after first lamenting the power shift that occurred in the package-goods business because of scanners, are trying to devise ways to regain their old influence. But this time around, their retail customers are more savvy.

As Philip Morris is being reminded, retailers are capable of picking through marketer ideas to separate what's good for the manufacturer from what's good for the retailer. Winning back influence over shelf space today requires partnership, not muscle.

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