'Retailtainment' at Walmart

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'Retailtainment' at Walmart

By Joe Bush - 03/05/2016

When your company's main job is to create and staff consumer-centric, in-store events for two of the world's biggest boxes, consumer insight is your most important department. No matter how technology changes, no matter the way stores change, no matter the needs of brands and retailers ... designing and supervising product marketing and sampling is all about what turns on a shopper.

Shopper Events president and chief executive officer Julie Walker (front and center in photo) is clear why her company's partnerships with Walmart and Sam's Club are not ever simply plug and play, and why the future is bright for brick-and-mortar in the face of Internet trade. "Just keep your eyes on the shopper," Walker says. "Delivery methods will change over time, but if our efforts remain focused on shopper and her challenges first, then our solutions will direct the path of innovation.

Photo by Joshua Duke

"This is such a dynamic and exciting industry. We all have our work cut out for us to stay ahead of the future shopper." Using sampling, product launches, product demonstrations, assisted selling and what it calls "retailtainment," Shopper Events aims to "increase brand and category sales and awareness of new items, plus convert shoppers and develop alternative usage occasions to garner repeat purchases," according to its website.

Shopper Events is co-managed by investors Advantage Solutions and Crossmark. The pair handles the labor side of the shopper-event business – training, staffing and executing the events. This way, the supplier, the retailer and the shopper get the benefits provided by a dedicated and motivated employee while providing a single point of contact for the supplier and retailer.

Sampling is not a monolith, and Shopper Events are experts at knowing the difference between grocery and general merchandise sampling; the effectiveness of small size versus full size samples; how product demonstrations affect product launches; multiday and multi-supplier partnerships in product demonstrations; and how demonstrations can help paper good product launches.

Walker says in-store events are emblematic of why she and her company believe strongly in the continued strength of the brick-and-mortar experience. "I believe at the core we are social and sensory creatures," Walker says. "We crave interaction with other people whose opinion we value and trust. We like to touch, feel and taste, more so with some categories than others. This is the foundation of retail and will remain so for my lifetime.

"The physical environment will evolve to a place of both procurement and inspiration, supported by expanded assortment online. Shopping will take place before, during and after every trip. Ideally, the transition between any of these environments will be seamless for the shopper."

Because Shopper Events depends on that continued power and can also shape it, Walker says her motivations and challenges revolve around shopper marketing. "Keeping our approaches fresh and focused on adding real value to the shopper," she says. "Today's shopper has so many choices and is busier than ever. Most of the shopper's tasks are rushed and accomplished on autopilot. A good shopper marketer will create a meaningful connection between brands and the shopper that lasts beyond the single purchase, delighting customer with unexpected convenience, value, and inspiration she feels compared to share with friends."

The stats advocating for in-store product events are encouraging:

  • 288% lift on the day of the demonstration,
  • 90% of shoppers buy if they like the sample,
  • 76% of shoppers have made a purchase as a direct result of sampling, and
  • 94% of female shoppers say sampling is more compelling than advertising.

"All of our clients are structured differently," says Walker. "Their brand goals, challenges and budgets vary. The scope of 'shopper marketing' for each client brief is defined by the intersection of brand goals, challenges, budget and structure with insights we uncover about the shopper in each of these instances.

"Real magic happens when we see clients commit to quarterly or annual shopper marketing campaigns that fundamentally change both attitude and behavior."