TUNING IN CUSTOMERS

Supermarkets are taking the adage "strike while the iron is hot," to a whole new level. Retailers are opening up the channels of communication with customers via in-store broadcasting, commanding their attention at the precise moment they are making those crucial buying decisions.Today's in-store broadcasting technologies are a far cry from the days when the manager would announce a special on pork

Supermarkets are taking the adage "strike while the iron is hot," to a whole new level. Retailers are opening up the channels of communication with customers via in-store broadcasting, commanding their attention at the precise moment they are making those crucial buying decisions.

Today's in-store broadcasting technologies are a far cry from the days when the manager would announce a special on pork chops over the public address system.

Retailers are installing sophisticated systems with 42-inch flat screen monitors beaming information on health, cooking and new products to passing customers.

Retailers such as H. E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, Texas, and Key Food Stores, Brooklyn, N.Y., are testing broadcasts that mix product information with advice.

"There is a macro trend driving more and more dollars in store," said Don Stuart, partner with Cannondale Associates, a consulting firm based in Wilton, Conn. "That is where the consumer is, that is where the bulk of brand decisions are made. We're seeing the intensity of in-store wars heat up."

This increased attention to in-store broadcasting is driven by several factors, Stuart points out. "First, there is the external factor, the continuing consolidation in the supermarket industry. Then there is the fragmentation of marketing messages from all kinds of media, including the Internet," he said. This is causing retailers to redouble their marketing efforts at the store level, and broadcasting is playing a key role.

One player looking to capitalize on the need for more focused in-store messages is On Sites Networks, New York, which is launching the The Women's Supermarket Network in March and expects to be broadcasting in hundreds of stores across the country.

Key Foods has been testing the network in about a dozen stores over the past few months. "We got involved because we saw it as a benefit to our customer," said Tom Leib, vice president for the chain. The Women's Supermarket Network will equip our shoppers with the information they need to make smart and healthy purchases. The Women's Supermarket Network's impact on the supermarket industry will only increase as the number of stores and chains affiliated with them grows," he said.

Each segment on the Women's Supermarket Network will run six minutes and will include health, nutrition, fitness and food preparation advice. The segments will be hosted by television personality Joan Lunden, who is the network's host and president.

The segments will also include three minutes of commercials featuring national brands. Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Coors, Pepsi, Tropicana, Perdue Farms and Frito Lay were among the manufacturers participating in the pilot program.

Each chain participating in the network will have the opportunity to broadcast customized thirty second commercial focusing on their specials of the week.

Women's Supermarket Network's chairman Bob Jacobs anticipates the network will "capitalize on the booming success of point-of-sale marketing, making it an extremely cost-effective opportunity."

Cannondale's Stuart cautions that too much information overload can overwhelm the consumer.

"You have to strike the right balance between content and commercial. Some past in-store broadcasting efforts have failed pretty miserably. You can't add unnecessary clutter to the shopping environment."