The ultimate form of local marketing would be to customize each individual store to the tastes and needs of its shoppers.
Mark Husson, analyst, Merrill Lynch, New York, said U.S. retailers have a long way to go. "You can look at any department and see 14 different brands of the same item," he told SN. "Where's the differentiation? The problem is many buyers are trying to sell what they've bought, not necessarily what the customer wants."
However, Husson noted that a few chains have begun to do a better job. He said Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine, has learned a lot about catering to local tastes from its Belgian corporate parent, Delhaize Group, which must appeal to diverse European shopping habits.
"In New England, there are some tight pockets of Italian, Irish and varied Asian communities all within a five-mile radius, and Hannaford offers specific product selections for all these customers," he observed.
Gary Giblen, analyst with C L King & Associates, New York, told SN that better differentiation of product will come as loyalty card technology proliferates, and retailers begin to use the information gleaned through the cards more effectively.