Consumer Goods Retail

Beware the star player: Why category management is the ultimate team game

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Category management is the ultimate team sport. Smart retailers, just like good football club managers, know that it takes a range of skills to create a winning team. The secret to category growth and success lies in picking the best combination of SKUs to achieve the highest category penetration. So why do so many categories look like a jumble of products all individually vying for the shopper’s attention?

Manufacturers need to face up to shrinking shelf space. Four key trends are converging to create a perfect storm, and the result is that some SKUs will be relegated to the bench. Discounters such as Aldi and Lidl are redefining the notion of convenience and enabling shoppers to save on their two most precious resources, time and money. Meanwhile “ambient categories” which don’t need to be hand selected are increasingly transitioning online. Barriers to new entrants have fallen meaning that existing brands are at risk of being squeezed out. And to cap it all, private label brands are growing both in volume and prominence.

Teamwork is the key to success

Against this backdrop, the need to create a winning team on the shelf is paramount. Every SKU needs to earn its place on the shelf– and to make a match-winning contribution. Tesco is currently playing an excellent game on their whiskey shelf with a hero area. The bottles displayed behind the wooden and glass cabinet are super-premium, and with a price tag to match. Old Pulteney, at an eye-watering £100 per bottle, is priced well beyond the average Tesco shopper. So what game is the retailer playing? Including Old Pulteney in the assortment achieves two important objectives. The listing is intended to attract a different shopper who probably wouldn’t visit the store otherwise. They are likely to be affluent with a higher spend per visit. Secondly, Tesco wants to frame the value of other products on the shelf. Having a price tier with an attractive product which is unaffordable to most often has the effect of making the other (still relatively high ticket) items appear more palatable. So, brands at opposite ends of the spectrum become teammates.

Train for success

But how can we test what is happening at the shelf? How can retailers and manufacturers be sure that they are fielding the right team? The answer lies in observing shopper behavior. Fundamentally, category managers need to understand which SKUs are substitutable (i.e. easily interchangeable), and which are incremental (unique to that buying occasion). The difference is crucial, and it is vital to understand the interplay between the two.

Using a virtual store platform, we can identify shopper repertoires and establish which products they consider. We then ask shoppers to make product selections based on various versions of the shelf to establish which products consistently end up in the shopping basket.

Creating a winning team

Using this data, we can identify which combination of SKUs create the highest total penetration. As well as establishing the point of diminishing returns, we can identify the niche products that will deliver incremental sales. Armed with these insights, category managers can optimize their assortment, and create effective team sheets which can be adapted according to the channel to deliver a winning team every time.

James LLewellyn is the UK Head of Shopper. Please email James.Llewellyn@gfk.com or leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

Discover how to entice shoppers at the shelf

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