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August 1, 2016

What’s the problem with putting all your dog leashes together in a unified display? It seems logical, right? You can hang a sign from the ceiling letting people know that dog leashes are in Aisle 8, and then when they turn down Aisle 8, voila! Dog leashes. What could be easier?

Except for a few things:

First, the person who came into your store already determined to buy a dog leash was probably going to find the dog leashes no matter how easy or hard you made it. That’s not to say there’s no value to making something easier for a customer; of course there is. But if your merchandising strategy is designed to boost sales, this is probably not going to give you that result.

Second, if a customer had it in mind to buy something else, a bunch of dog leashes hanging together will almost certainly not convince that customer to add leashes to the day’s purchase.

As a shopper, I like it when retailers put things in logical systems of organization so I can find everything I need easily. Put drinks with drinks. Put soups with soups. Put chips with chips. That makes it easier for me.

But I’m not sure that’s always the best strategy for the retailer who wants to get the customer thinking about other things they might need. There’s a case to be made for merchandising entire systems of products—by which I mean, all the products that might go together to make for a particular experience you would want to have.

Consider, for example, the experience of taking your dog to a family picnic. What will you need? The leash, sure, and a bag for poop pickup. You’ll probably also need a way to make sure you can give him water and snacks, and maybe some favorite toys that he can play with while you’re there. You might also want a bag or other case that’s well-suited to transport all these things.

Traditional merchandising strategies might see a customer going to five or six different sections of the store to buy all this. But if the season is right, why not put them together? That way, the customer who has come in to buy a leash will be prompted to think about what else he or she might need when taking the dog to a family picnic.

Of course, just putting the products together doesn’t necessarily get the message across. The nature of the display and the accompanying signage are also crucial.

A sign bringing it all together should be big enough to stop the customer’s eye. It should also have just the right mix of images and not too many words. Before you grab a dog and run off to a park trying to get photos that represent the scenario described above, you can probably find stock photography that will do the trick for minimal or maybe even no cost.

And you don’t have to tell a lengthy tale to get the customer’s idea—you’re not writing for the J. Peterman catalog. “FAMILY PICNIC DAY! DON’T FORGET ANYTHING,” accompanied by an attractive shot of a dog having the time of his life with picnic tables in the background and you’ll get the message across just fine.

That’s obviously just one scenario that might provide the impetus for system merchandising. The specific application that makes sense for you will depend on your customers’ needs, and you need to find those out via the communication methods you normally use to hear from them.

The point of system merchandising, of course, is to take a customer who has already made up his or her mind to buy one thing and persuade the customer that there is really more that’s needed. Or maybe the customer didn’t come in with the thought of buying anything in the display but the display itself sells the customer on the experience.

That said, I think retailers who try this strategy sometimes make a mistake by moving every item that might fit in the display out of its usual spot. You need the items available both in the special display and in their regular aisles because you will have some regular customers who are used to finding leashes in Aisle Eight—or maybe even a new customer who comes in singularly focused on finding leashes and misses the special display entirely. Even if that customer doesn’t represent an upsell opportunity today, you still want to make that sale.

You also want that customer to feel that he or she has had a positive experience in your store, because the next time they come in they might very well find a piece of system merchandising appealing. You’re just starting the relationship; it’s fine to have it start small as long as it starts off well.

Pet retailers could probably come up with a special system merchandising display for every month of the year, depending on customer interest and the variety of products available to be included. If this is going to be a regularly deployed strategy, it makes sense that the special displays are always in the same place: probably near the front of the store.

It’s just one more way to make your customers think differently about what they might really want—or need.

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