By David Merrefield 
VP, Editorial Director
It has often been observed that although women constitute the majority of supermarket shoppers, the ranks of supermarket executives, and of vendors to supermarkets, have traditionally been filled by men.
No doubt that’s changing to some degree and more than a few women executives now occupy corner offices. But are those women viewed as a repository of knowledge about shopping? After all, it often happens that even though women are full-fledged executives in their own right, they remain heavily involved in sourcing food and other necessities for their families.
So WSL Strategic Retail obtained a list of some 250 women executives from the Network of Executive Women and polled them by means of the Internet about their shopping experiences. Results of that poll, plus observations of a roundtable of women executives associated with the food industry, formed the substance of a seminar at last week’s Food Marketing Institute Midwinter Executive Conference in Orlando.
The seminar, led by WSL principal Wendy Leibman, offered a number of insights about “shopability” — the ease, or lack of it, with which shoppers can make informed product selections at retail. Perhaps one of the better insights poll results offered concerned how difficult, or easy, it is to select product in certain categories; specifically whether sufficient information exists at store level or elsewhere that would enable a shopper to make a new choice — a choice for a new product or brand.
Poll results showed that it’s fairly easy to make a new choice when it comes to soft drinks, cereal and candy. It’s more difficult to make a new choice when considering jeans, cell phones and computers. Also presenting difficulties are pet food, healthy snacks, baby products, makeup and laundry products, among others.
Clearly, the findings show that the more a product becomes familiar or even a commodity, the easier it is to make a switch. Conversely, the more specialized a product is, the more product knowledge is required and so the more difficult it becomes to make a new choice. This underscores the fact that new products are far more likely to succeed if ample information is provided in-store and elsewhere about what it does. The utility of product sampling and demonstrating is also obvious.
At the conclusion of the seminar, several findings suggested by results of the poll that hold the potential to improve the shopability of supermarkets were offered by Leibman. They are:
- Experience: Products presented in a way that will allow shoppers to experience them will sell best.
- “Her Way”: Stores set to recognize “her way” — the way that caters to the convenience of shoppers — will do best. Stores are now set “our way” — the way that is best for the retailer.
- Solutions: Shoppers will be delighted with a store that presents solutions to problems, such as what is going to be on the dinner table.
- Preferences: Shoppers’ product preferences should be understood and the mix edited accordingly.
- Chore: Shopping is now a chore, and that aspect of the experience should remedied.
- Executives: Women executives have shopping experience, which should be leveraged to the betterment of retailing.