A successful store brand program is shopper-centric

Retailers know they must first understand their customers — their wants and needs, how they shop and more — if they are to build a successful store brand program. In a Feb. 27 panel discussion held during Store Brands' 2015 Innovation & Marketing Summit in Rosemont, Ill., three retail executives shared their insights on how to gather and leverage shopper insights to develop, package, merchandise and market store brand products that truly resonate with today’s shoppers.

Participating in the panel, titled "The Customer is King: How to Build a Shopper-Centric Store Brand Program," were Sean Thompson, director of merchandising, private brands for Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc.; Simon Cutts, director of grocery and private label for Phoenix-based Fresh Thyme Farmers Market; and Matt Simon, senior director, own brands, brand management for Ahold USA, Quincy, Mass. Shopper information is critical to all three panelists' companies, the panelists indicated, although they differ somewhat in how that information is collected.

Because 7-Eleven has numerous stores "all over" the United States, Thompson said his team not only performs major customer research on a regular basis, but also travels extensively to help in understanding regional differences and the needs of Hispanic shoppers.

"We really have to understand needs by acculturation [level] and individual market," he said.

Simon noted that Ahold has "very rich" shopper data — from its loyalty card program and more — that provide the base set of insights it needs. And it also relies on ad-hoc panel research and more to augment those data.

Fresh Thyme, meanwhile, is a new chain with a shopper base that differs from the typical food retail chain's base, Cutts explained, so it has to approach data-gathering more creatively. The natural retailer's shoppers generally have experienced some sort of trigger or lifestyle change that brings them into its stores.

"We need to understand the triggers and meet the needs of those customers," he stated.

Cutts also noted that Fresh Thyme is still small in comparison to other chains, so talking one-on-one with customers in the store also is an important way to glean critical shopper information.

Also important to the shopper-data collection process is avoiding time-wasting missteps. Simon cautioned against over-researching — collecting so much information that the process becomes burdensome rather than actionable. Instead, retailers should be more focused on collecting the right information, he said.

After using the data to determine relevant areas for store brand product development — and collaborating internally and externally to produce those products — retailers must remain in shopper-centric mode to maximize success here. That means, in part, making sure shoppers actually notice the products.

"You've got to be proud of what you've created," Cutts stressed. "When we do create the private label product, we're going to merchandise it strong and proud."

Sampling also comes into play here. Thompson noted that 7-Eleven is looking for ways to bring more of an experience to shoppers on the own-brand side, and is looking at sampling efforts that would involve side-by-side comparisons with similar but branded products.

And creating an emotional connection also is critical, Simon suggested.

"We're trying to talk about brands, not products," he told attendees. "We're focused on developing brand stories."