While retailers like Meijer, Publix, Stop & Shop, Wegmans, Kroger and Wal-Mart threw all-night book parties for the July release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the take-away for most supermarkets was that making books visible to customers also makes them disappear from shelves.
“We did carry the Harry Potter books, and they flew right out without us running any specials on them,” said Robin Bonnett, general merchandise supervisor at Day's Market Place in Heber City, Utah.
“We usually keep the books in an aisle with the magazines, but for Harry Potter we set up a table in the front of the store that customers could see right when they walked in,” she said. Day's will occasionally set up a promotional table for other best sellers as well, she said. “Our customers respond to it and generally buy books as an impulse or gift item.”
Bashas' in Chandler, Ariz., sold out of the final Harry Potter simply by having it on special. and the store continues to put best sellers on special. “Since we carry paperback and some hardcover new releases, books are more of an impulse buy in our stores,” said Bryon Roberts, vice president and general manager of nonperishables.
“For that reason, we do try to keep our books near the checkstands, but the location of books in our stores varies widely depending on the design of the store,” he said. With a 75-year history and 75 different prototypes out of a total of 87 stores, “books are not typically a set section.”
At Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., with highly anticipated titles such as the Harry Potter series, “specified stores will promote the book and engage customers with the parties and book releases — however, this is not the norm,” said spokeswoman Maria Brous.
For instance, with Harry Potter, the retailer was able to cross-merchandise with specially themed bakery items for its parties, but opportunities like this depend on the type of book being released and sometimes the season or holidays that events and cross-promotions can be tied to, she said.
The Harry Potter release made it clear that supermarkets can capitalize on blockbuster titles, said Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill. “Supermarkets get regular exposure to their customers, because people are always buying food — but have to make a conscious effort to go to a book store. With big releases, supermarkets have the opportunity to preempt customers from going elsewhere.”
Although book sales are often marginalized by those at big bookstore chains like Barnes & Noble, the market is becoming more segmented, putting supermarkets in prime position to carry specialized sets related to their areas of expertise: food, health and wellness, said Frank Dell, president and chief executive officer of retail consultancy Dellmart & Co., Stamford, Conn.
A successful strategy means satisfying current market needs, which include impulse book sales and also preparing for the future, Dell said. “In this case, the future means recognizing that there is a whole generation out there that doesn't yet know how to cook. Why shouldn't supermarkets teach them about nutrition and cooking through books?”
HEALTH AND WELLNESS
Retailers are also selling health and wellness titles by setting up book and reading areas dedicated to this topic, Wisner said. “This will lead to a lot of food and HBC tie-ins.”
For instance, health and wellness products distribution company Newmark Media, Addison, Ill., supplies health books and fitness products to H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio. These go into health and wellness sections the retailer has installed over the past few years. “They have the sets as part of a program called Healthy Living,” said Alex Haussman, product manager for Newmark Media.
Newmark provides similar products to Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., and Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa, and is testing in a few Raley's Supermarkets, West Sacramento, Calif., and in the Chicago-area Dominick's banner of Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif.
Three Dominick's stores have “carved out a section next to the pharmacy called Zen Zone,” Haussman said. “They are including alternative health and holistic healing books and products. Five Zen Zone sections are already in stores; the first was put in last January, and Haussman is expecting at least three more to be installed by November.
“In most cases, in mainstream stores we provide a fixture and we set the product mix, and we service them once or twice a month, depending on the volume,” he said. Newmark has also provided materials for cross-merchandising programs for Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo. “They had a superfoods initiative, and we shipped in a floor display with a few superfoods books,” he said. “We did the same with men's health books for Father's Day and juicing books when they ran a juicer promotion.”
Supermarkets, however, don't run cross-promotions as much as Haussman thinks is possible. “Within supermarkets or natural food stores, cross-promotions are difficult to execute due to the complications that arise from working with many different buyers, each with an expertise in a different area, like GM or food or book.”
Executing such cross-promotions should be a priority, Wisner said. “This is where you can position the supermarket with a measure of expertise that is appropriate. For instance, a customer might think the supermarket is a great place to buy a nutrition book because these are food people.”
The topics that sell the most in supermarkets right now are indeed weight loss, nutrition, cleansing and detoxification, and the body's pH balance, Haussman said. “That is a good indication of where the book category is headed. Much of the population is ready to deal with health issues by being more preventative, and health and wellness books are becoming more mainstream.”