How can any loving parent resist? Just as they are about to pay for the week's load of groceries, they spy the latest Blues Clues video perched above the candy and magazines. If they haven't spotted it themselves, their 3-year-old shopping companions certainly have. So onto the conveyor belt it goes -- or so grocers hope.
Many retailers said they've tried cross merchandising children's videos in other departments with limited success. Instead, they say, displaying children's videos on store shippers in front of checkout lanes or on special racks near the cash registers seems to be the best way to spur impulse sales.
Supermarkets are continuing to lose market share in video sales and rentals, and more and more operators seem to be abandoning the concept of video as a destination department. Last year grocers captured about 9.6% of the market share for video and DVD sales, according to Adams Media Research, Carmel Valley, Calif. That's down from 9.8% in 1999 and 10.1% in 1998.
Despite the competition from mass merchants and warehouse clubs, however, many supermarkets continue to display, at the least, a small assortment of the most popular children's titles.
Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., is among the chains that shun the idea of video as a destination department and instead focus on capturing impulse sales of these products.
Last year the chain rolled out new display racks for both magazines and videos at the checkout stations at all 45 of its supermarkets.
Like most grocery chains, Big Y counts the vast majority of its video sales from children's products. About 95% of video sales fall into this category at Big Y, according to Jan Winn, director of health and beauty care and general merchandise.
"We feel the front-end racks are very valuable real estate in our stores, and they serve as a great place to sell the videos," she said. "They have great visibility, and we are able to capture the planned purchases as well as the impulse purchases."
The racks hold about 18 to 24 videos, and are angled so that multiple titles can be stacked behind each other and still viewed simultaneously. The video products are stacked on the top section of the racks, while magazines sit on the lower sections.
Big Y does not dedicate shelf space to videos anywhere else in the store, although Winn said Big Y has conducted some disappointing experiments displaying video products in other departments.
"We have in the past merchandised the video shippers in front of the service desk with only moderate success," she said.
The privately owned company declined to reveal sales volumes for the video products.
Albertson's also displays children's video at the checkout, at least in some stores, according to one observer.
"Albertson's puts very prominently the latest kids' video at every cash register," said Greg Hall, general manager, video group distributors, Clearwater, Fla. "They either have signage or the actual video itself on a hang tab."
At the Macey's in Logan, Utah, general merchandise manager Mike Nicholas also places children's videos near the magazine racks by the cash registers, but not before the titles receive some other high-impulse placements elsewhere in the store.
Although the store closed its video rental department earlier this year to make room for a one-hour photo lab, the supermarket still carries a wide selection of children's video titles among its total video assortment, which numbers "well over 1,000" total items, Nicholas said.
Nicholas said the major new releases of children's video are placed in what's called the "Power Lobby," a display area located near the front entrance of the store that contains the hottest new products from various Macey's departments.
"On the first date that we can sell them, we like to get them in there right away, and leave it there for the first week," he said.
After that, the videos are placed in display shippers and positioned in the children's aisle, where toys are merchandised, along with children's books in a reading center that includes a Golden Books spinner rack and other displays.
"Depending on what kind of video it is, it's probably going to be there about two weeks," Nichols said. "It matters what else is coming through. Sometimes you have to see what's working, what's hot and what's not, and you have to kind of play with it that way."
How long the videos remain in the toy department also depends on the quantity of video products that the store has coming in, he said.
Asked if he ever cross merchandises videos in other aisles like cereal, he said, "I wish we could. I wish our aisles were wider, and I wish there wasn't a plethora of everything else that wants to be there. But I imagine that would do OK."
He said that as general merchandise manager, he has control over the toy aisle, which is why he merchandises children's video there.
The store always displays the children's videos on shippers in the toy aisle, along with the shipper cards, to increase the visibility of the products.
"I think it grabs their attention and their parents' attention," he said, noting that he usually has about four shippers on display at any one time.
To promote new children's videos, Nichols said the store lists them along with other new merchandise in its weekly circulars when the videos first become available.
After the children's videos spend about two seeks in the toy department, they get placed with the rest of the general-market videos on the wire racks near the checkout counter. The 6-by-2-foot racks carry videos on both sides.
Many supermarkets opt for displaying shippers in front of some of the checkout aisles.
On a recent visit to a Tops supermarket in Norwich, N.Y., SN observed Buena Vista's "Book of Pooh" video merchandised in a shipper in front of one of the cashier lanes, in addition to about 100 children's titles that were displayed in the store's in-line section.
On the "Book of Pooh" shipper, Tops was promoting the videos for $17.99 with a $2 discount for using the bonus club card. Each movie came with $14 in coupons, including $5 for Eveready batteries and $9 for Disney products.
The children's video section occupied about 10 linear feet of the 20-foot sell-through section, which was positioned directly across the aisle from the baby food.
Prices ranged from $9.99 all the way up to $29.99 for an "Aristocats" DVD. Various other "Pooh" videos were priced at $14.99, or $9.99 with a bonus club card.