CONVENIENCE: A RETAILING TECHNIQUE THAT'S A WINNER

As you've probably noticed by paging in this far, this week's issue of SN is a special one focusing on convenience. There can be no doubt that consumers are seeking convenience - some aspect of convenience, that is.The simplest way to consider consumers' quest for convenience is to equate it to time. The faster a store can be entered, product picked, funds transferred and an exit effectuated, the

As you've probably noticed by paging in this far, this week's issue of SN is a special one focusing on convenience. There can be no doubt that consumers are seeking convenience - some aspect of convenience, that is.

The simplest way to consider consumers' quest for convenience is to equate it to time. The faster a store can be entered, product picked, funds transferred and an exit effectuated, the happier many shoppers are likely to be.

There's often a bit more to it than that, though, since the shopping trip is frequently undertaken as a search for product ideas or meal solutions. That concept has been around for a long time, but it remains valid. After all, the shopper's objective isn't to purchase ingredients that must be assembled at home, even though that's usually what happens. Shoppers really are looking for a way to put a meal on the table. Anything retailers do to streamline that process is likely to be rewarded.

To be sure, there's the matter of cost. The more work retailers do for shoppers, the more costly the solution becomes for shoppers. At some point on the continuum between convenience and cost, a break point is reached. So retailers must be mindful of what their shoppers want: more convenience at greater cost, or lower convenience at lower cost. The crossover point is value.

In any event, let's make a treasure hunt out of a few of the points made in the presentation's feature articles. Take a look at the articles for more on these points, and others:

One retailer featured is offering value by generating store-developed recipes for shoppers that pump up pedestrian and sale items into quality meals. This approach is less common than offering recipes that call for high-margin product.

Another retailer is seeking to minimize the amount of time shoppers must spend in the store by speeding the checkout process. That's done through the use of customer-actuated checkout lanes, plus self-scanners available to shoppers for their use throughout the shopping trip. The self-scanners also allow customers to maintain a running tally of the cost of product they have chosen so they can be confident that there will be no surprises at checkout.

A study featured shows how the convenience format is used in the United Kingdom as compared to how it's implemented in this country. Here, convenience stores haven't made significant inroads against conventional supermarkets. In the U.K., that's not the case. There, convenience stores tend to be operated by supermarket operators, and under the same banner, leveraging the retail brand. Product offerings differ too. There, they are aimed at fill-in shopping, and more, through the inclusion of fresh prepared, baked bread, produce and wine. This speaks to the value proposition.

It should be acknowledged that domestic retailers aren't totally out of the loop when it comes to upmarket convenience formats. A few similar concepts operate, such as Trader Joe's along with more upmarket conveniences stores by Harris Teeter, Publix, Giant Eagle and others under their own flags.