Endcaps: More Than Just Product Is on Display

The next time you shop any store- grocery, mass, or specialty, etc, take a look at the endcaps. That’s their gold. How they spend their gold is pretty darn important. Having worked in, and marketed to retail, I may be able to provide a few tips on what goes on those endcaps:

  1. Is it fresh?
  2. Is there a theme?
  3. Will it be incremental to the shopping basket?
  4. Have you made it easy for them or self-contained? Are all the necessary components there?
  5. Does it merchandise well eg aesthetically appealing, stable etc?
  6. Does it appeal to a specific target audience?
  7. Is the timing right?
  8. Does the theme say good things about a retailer ie how they wish to be defined?

You will notice that no where did I specify is it cheap. That’s because endcaps sell, plain & simple. They sell even if a product isn’t on sale. Now a bit more explanation of these criteria:

  1. Fresh: You must rotate endcaps- a new endcap, like a new window display, stops a consumer. It demands their attention. If you don’t change an endcap often enough, shoppers will stop looking, and you waste valuable space.
  2. Themed: how many seasons are there? In retail there are likely 52 seasons; one a week. Seriously- there’s back to school, road trip, Thanksgiving, Easter, the 4th of July or Canada Day, Spring Storms, Superbowl Weekend, Lawn raking week, National Dental Week, etc, etc. You’re only limited by your imagination. A macro theme can excite a consumer & motivate them to buy that which they otherwise might not buy. Themes add peer pressure; do you want to be the only parent unwilling to buy your loved ones updated dental items during National Dental Week? Beware that the them should also fit - does it fit who you are? eg Do you want to run a ‘Prepared Meals for Working Parents on the Run’ theme if you’re also an Old Fashioned Family Values image firm?
  3. Incremental: How much of the item to be sold on an endcap will be truly incremental? Notice how few endcaps of regular sandwich loaf bread, there are? It’s because most shoppers will buy that item anyhow, even if not endcapped. But raisin bread? Pumpernickel? Nan bread? Those lines will sell more by a factor of 3 or more, when on display.
  4. Self contained: Notice I didn’t list soft tacos as a suitable item for a solo endcap, above? And why not? What makes it different than the other specialty breads listed? Think.. got it? That’s right- a taco never sells alone. Don’t build an endcap, unless it’s fully self contained. Solo taco shells? No dice. Taco shells with taco mix? Check. A fine example- Heinz runs a 3-Pack of condiments each BBQ season; relish, ketchup & mustard all in a yoke-like shoulder harness. Non-tippy, non-fragile (plastic bottles); it’s very endcap -friendly.
  5. Merchandising appeal: Takes far more preplanning than you might assume. Does the pack display well – stand upright? Or fall over? Can consumers readily tell what it is? Do enough fit on the endcap? Is it fragile? Is it breakable? spillable? How important is this? It’s so critical that most savvy retailers have test store facilities in which they set up & test the look, fit & functionality of any proposed display.
  6. Target audience: Smart retailers consider in advance who the endcapped items appeal to- eg by demographics (older, younger, children at home, etc) psychographics (outgoing, patriotic, etc) or category behavior (light user, heavy user, seasonal, user, etc). In my opinion, if there’s one area where retailers can still improve their display space use, this is it. Many retailers don’t do Big Picture thinking upfront about who they want to serve/ impress with endcaps- current loyalists? occasional shoppers? multiple channel cherry pickers? Hardcore category users? New-to-category users? Imagine,  if you wish to target seniors, how you might select lighter weight, more ergonomic choices, and avoid putting fragile or heavy items on the top shelves of an endcap. eg If you wanted to target expectant mothers, how would that factor into how you designed an endcap?
  7. Timing: the aforementioned ‘Prepared Meals for Working Parents On the Run’ theme is fine for late August or Early September but not in late June, when many parents look forward to the first time in months when they can enjoy a sit-down meal with their children.
  8. Image: Does this endcap say appropriate things about you? I saw an inspiring example recently; an owner-operated pet store dedicated the entire endcap closest to the cash, to dog dental health. A category most veterinarians take relatively little proactive interest in, yet it’s the #1 cause of senior dog’s eventual health decline. This shop owner wants to raise that issue & address it. That tells me they care about a pet’s long term health; it establishes a linkage of mutual shared values & respect. Unfortunately, there are many not-so-enlightened endcap examples. A ‘prostitutional temptation’ exists for endcaps- many retailers forego doing what’s right, for short term cash. Look at the signals sent by these 3 money-making, image-killing endcaps:
  • An endcap of preservative-laced foods, at a retailer trying to be seen as more & more holistic
  • An clearance of excess inventory- it sends a message that the retail organization is poorly managed (if the item is discounted) or that it disrespects its customers (if not discounted) eg if you use an endcap to clear an item that clearly missed the mark with most consumers (Banana Nut Cheerios anyone? NutriGrain S’More bars?) it sends a signal that you take your shoppers for dupes who buy items no one else is interested in ie that failed elsewhere.
  • A display of product whose price is much much higher than a competitor across the street. Makes a retailer look like a gouger. Consumers don’t always mind paying a bit more, but it’s unwise to rub their noses in it [eg my local 'Metro' grocery store, doesn't post weekday prices on endcap items. On Thursday night, they post & implement reduced endcap prices. They punish weekday loyalists & reward weekend shoppers & cherry-pickers. This has gone on for years; the message it sends is that Metro values occasional & weekend customers more than they do weekday loyalists like me. Fine; I still shop there; obviously it's a profitable call for them, in my case. But don't believe for a minute I haven't noticed; if their competitors open a store close by, Hasta la vista, Metro]

These 8 are just a few basic criteria for an endcap; you see that smart retailers put a great amount of effort into planning what goes on their endcaps. The next time you see an endcap, I urge you to take a moment to evaluate it according to these criteria.

Steven Litt