POINT OF PURCHASE: The point of high returns - Where is the best place to catch a consumer swamped by ad messages and by too much choice? David Sumner-Smith gives the low-down on point of purchase

Assaulted by conflicting advertising messages. Bewildered by complex product information. Confused by sheer breadth of choice. Modern marketing techniques leave many consumers reeling.

Assaulted by conflicting advertising messages. Bewildered by

complex product information. Confused by sheer breadth of choice. Modern

marketing techniques leave many consumers reeling.

The net result is that more and more shoppers are postponing their

spending decisions until the very last moment: the point of


’Fundamental changes are underway,’ argues Hugh Phillips, senior

lecturer in marketing at De Montfort University and research director of

Visuality in Oxford. ’The efficacy of traditional marketing tools is

diminishing, with a steep decline in brand equity and the rapid erosion

of conventional purchase patterns. Point of purchase has always been the

low-budget poor relation. But more companies are realising that to

actualise demand they have to bring POP in from the cold.’

According to a 1995 study of consumer buying habits by the Point of

Purchase Advertising Institute (POPAI), no less than 60% of product

decisions in shops are unplanned. Just 30% are specially planned, the

research revealed, with 6% of purchases being generally planned and 4%

being substitute purchases.

For any retail product marketing strategy to exert its full effect, the

data suggests, it must be extended all the way to the point of


Central to the growing importance of POP is a population of consumers

that has grown up in a world of TV advertising, self-service shops and

price promotions. The late 1990s consumer is sophisticated and cynical,

as well as enjoying a higher level of disposable income that permits

indulgent spending. Ground-breaking research by Phillips and fellow POP

specialists has demonstrated the impact that this exerts on shopping


’Shopping is not logical or conscious,’ Phillips explains. ’It is a

complex, sophisticated process which is largely subconscious. Rather

like when we’re driving, we unthinkingly use familiar routines called


When scanning for products, the shopper is in a semi-comatose state with

their eyes blinking at a very low rate. It is only when something

captures their attention that they engage their conscious attention to

examine it in more detail.

’Our research has demonstrated that quite small clues will determine

which displays are evaluated,’ Phillips continues. ’The question for

marketers is how to break through this subconscious screening


’The fashion industry was first to recognise the importance of POP and

the potential to use any of the senses to break through the barrier,’

suggests Carl McKeever, partner of the Visual Thinking brand development

consultancy in Leicester. ’It was quickly seized on by enlightened

supermarkets and is now moving into other areas: wafting the smell of

baby powder though stores and departments selling nursery goods, for


Over the past five years, McKeever suggests, POP has moved on from

attracting low budgets and only sporadic attention to become a core

marketing activity.

Working with clients such as Reebok, Tesco, Adams and Levi’s, the

company has witnessed ’a very significant growth in budgets both for POP

hardware and for training staff how and where to use it’.

Location is recognised to be a key factor. Format research by Audits &

Surveys lent credence to day-to-day experience, showing that electrical

battery displays were twice as effective when placed at the check-out

rather than at ’endcaps’ elsewhere in supermarkets. However, high

traffic is not always essential. In some instances, such as

cross-merchandising, a low traffic area situated near a complementary

product may be preferable.

Positions of strength

Research by De Montfort University emphasised the importance of adjacent

positioning of complementary products. ’Logical sense is critical,’

explains senior researcher John Cox. ’Attention can easily jump from one

product field to another. If this new category is totally unrelated

there is every chance the shopper will react to this change in

environment and become involved in the new product field and the

opportunity to purchase in the first product field will be lost.’

’Retailers sought to grab shoppers’ attention before the psychological

rationale was understood,’ said Carl Cox of Newbury-based POP


’They know how to break the horizontal lines of shelving using clip-on

additions, framing blocks of products in a strong colour or by clipping

a temporary poster or graphic above the top.’

Much has been made of behavioural differences between male and female

shoppers, but the impact of these is minor. ’The beer section of the

supermarket is the area where the difference is most obvious,’ suggests

Siemon Scamell-Katz of Market Harborough-based research and design

consultant ID Magasin.

’Men browse to explore new options, while women browse to suit their

partner’s preferences. The other finding in FMCG is that men tend to

indulge themselves more by selecting branded goods.’

’Far more interesting is the discovery that the supermarket shopper will

consistently spend as much time in the same sub-category, no matter how

quickly they satisfied their original purchase objective,’ Scamell-Katz

continues. ’So if you can help them to find the item quickly then you

are giving extra time for additional sales opportunities and

particularly for dual merchandising.’

Getting technical

Attempts to seize the initiative have seen retailers and brand owners

investing considerable sums in technologically advanced POP tools. These

range from interactive Kiddies’ Kiosks to entertain children while their

parents are shopping to 176 interactive Philips CD kiosks in Boots and

Tesco outlets to help users choose coloured Oil of Ulay products

(pictured below).

Greenalls Bar Tempo pub in Warrington even goes so far as to show a

variety of ’saucy’ 15-second videos on automatically-triggered four-inch

wide screens mounted above the washbasins in the ladies and above the

urinals in the gents.

More significant among the most recent innovations has been the Philips

Vidiwall technology already being used by fashion giant Hugo Boss in its

flagship Regent Street store. This offers greater flexibility and less

wear than promotional videos thanks to its use of Interactive CD,

together with the powerful appeal of a huge, 106-inch screen.

Interactivity is not the only application for technology however.

Pan-European research for Sony TV by Interfocus revealed that men were

in search of television sets with large screens and impressive sound

systems, while women desired attractive, smaller sets that would fit the

viewing environment. In both cases, however, picture quality was


Channel crossing

’In most electrical retailers they will have around 30 sets all linked

in to the same channel,’ says Interfocus creative director Drew

Saunders, ’so the picture quality is determined by the last person to

have fiddled with the TV settings.’ Interfocus avoids this loss of

control by filming special ’informercials’ of 90-210 seconds featuring

relevant, attractive storylines with images to highlight the technical

strengths of the specific TV set. These are supplied to retailers on

Laserdiscs to ensure crystal clarity, together with relevant brochures,

banners, header cards and other supporting POP materials.

’Advanced technology is dangerous territory in POP,’ warns


’Older consumers tend to demonstrate a very real techno-fear. The

logical, non-intuitive nature of programming means that even those who

enjoy technology have got an attention span of only three to five

screens which translates into only 20-40 seconds - unless there is an

added benefit in terms of coupons or similar.’

’Computers operate on a logical, rational basis that is well suited to

conscious purchase decisions,’ argues Phillips. ’That’s fine in business

segments where decisions are made in that way, such as in car


The CD-i interactive terminals in Volvo dealerships help car buyers to

create an image of a personalised vehicle, compare it with class rivals

and calculate the costs of different finance packages (pictured


They are a good example of fitting the solutions to customer needs.

Consumer vision

’All too often, the IT solutions are driven by the IT companies,’ he

continues. ’Only now are marketers looking at it from the consumer’s


The challenge is to find the consumer needs that can be met with


If you are looking for POP success based on rational thought then you

are generally on dangerous ground.’

’Ad agencies love the kudos and the big budgets of high-tech solutions,’

grins Patrick Bell, chief executive of Coutts Retail Communications,

’and they set the juices flowing for marketing managers with big dreams.

Sadly they are often way above what can work at reasonable cost.’

’Successful POP doesn’t have to be wildly innovative, anyway,’ observes

Cox. ’Money is better spent focusing on the simpler, less glamorous

elements such as retail staff training. If companies could only

integrate the work of product managers and marketing staff with that of

their advertising and POP design staff they could achieve greater

success on a smaller budget.’ Bell agrees: ’The links between POP and

other elements of the marketing mix are generally pathetic.’

’POP is coming to be recognised as a critical element of the overall

process,’ concurs Phillips. ’But for many companies the old, established

structures are still getting in the way.

Accountants and control systems find themselves disagreeing on whether

POP should come under sales or marketing, while retailers can’t figure

whether POP is part of buying or store operations. Companies will

proudly tell you how customer-focused they are, but when it comes to

change to deal with this silent POP revolution, many prefer to retreat

into outdated mind-sets.

’There should be some major soul searching going on right now among

economists and marketers as they reluctantly let go of many classic

conceptions,’ Phillips concludes.

’It’s hard for them to come to terms with the fact that the majority of

consumers are not basing their purchase decisions on market-induced

demand or value for money.

’In most cases, it’s what happens in the shop that really counts ...’


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