QUINCY, Mass. — Stop & Shop here is busily working to ensure that a range of new marketing and merchandising strategies are getting optimal play in its stores.
Recently remodeled units reflect new value initiatives, refreshed decor and signage, updated corporate-brand packaging, enhanced in-store technology and a focus on local marketing.
This was evident in a tour of two recently remodeled Massachusetts stores, in Stoneham and Winchester, both of which are smaller than average and reflect the new look of Stop & Shop and Giant of Landover, a sister chain at Ahold USA.
“These have more modern signage that brings a warm, welcoming feeling,” said Stephen Vowles, senior vice president of marketing and advertising, during a tour held for SN.
The remodels also feature the chain's new logo, which was launched in August 2008 and led to updates on store exteriors, product packaging, circulars and associate uniforms. He noted that between 110 and 120 units of Stop & Shop and Giant-Landover have this new look.
Mark McGowan, president of Stop & Shop New England, said these two Stop & Shop stores were closed and remodeled in just three weeks, and have been performing well since reopening.
“In these stores value, comes to life,” he said.
The retailer's growing number of value programs are played up in signage throughout these units, and the key to unlocking that value is the new loyalty card. “To get deals in our stores, you need the card,” Vowles emphasized.
The value push began with the Value Improvement Program (VIP) of Stop & Shop and Giant-Landover, launched in 2006, that reviewed assortments and prices in an effort to deliver more value to shoppers. That was followed by a new logo-branding launch in 2008. The chains have also enhanced and clarified value offerings.
The Real Deals program, which showcases items on sale for multiple weeks, is evident throughout the stores, from grocery to fresh foods. It's part of a complete update in the retailer's in-store tagging and promotions approach, which includes color coding, Vowles noted. Shoppers walking through aisles see both weekly specials (red) and Real Deals (green). Price tags are larger, and the chain's Healthy Ideas logo is incorporated on shelf tags and items to underscore healthy options.
The Compare and Save program alerts shoppers to how much they save on certain items compared with a chief competitor, and signage in the Stoneham unit focused on comparisons with a nearby Shaw's.
Shoppers are also alerted to a Gas Rewards Program, in which store purchases can earn fuel discounts at Stop & Shop-branded stations.
The chain's corporate brands are also being updated with the new branding. These include Guaranteed Value (entry level), Stop & Shop (national-brand equivalent), Nature's Promise (natural/organic) and Simply Enjoy (premium brand for certain categories including desserts and appetizers).
“These have our new logo and good food photography, and consumers see this new look as our look,” said Vowles.
In some cases, shoppers still see some of the old packages because the new looks are being phased in over time.
Fresh-food departments reflect a range of strategies to enhance the customer experience. The bakery's packaging includes single-serve options and often tries to emulate retail bakeries with cardboard boxes and string. A major focus is weekend cake sales for birthdays and other events. A new group of sugar-free and no-sugar-added products is receiving a high profile on fixtures.
The produce department reflects a strong integration of organics into the assortments, Vowles noted. “We worked hard in VIP to improve quality and freshness,” he said.
The meat departments vary depending on whether service is included, which it is in the Winchester store. Local and seasonal merchandising are hallmarks of this department, McGowan said.
“You can change up the menu seasonally or by store,” he explained. “In winter you'll have roasts in the case, but in summer you'd have strip steaks. Steak tips is a big New England item, but in New York you'd be more likely to do London broil.”
Regional differences are evident in other departments too. For example, McGowan said pasta brands change by area.
The retailer has placed a big emphasis on in-store technology aimed at improving the consumer's shopping experience. That is evident in a Scan-It system, available in some units, that provides shoppers a handheld device to scan (and bag) items as they shop. This device has a color screen that provides ongoing information to shoppers, such as items put in the cart and how much has been saved in deals. It also provides personalized offers that vary depending on a shopper's location in the store.
A deli ordering system called Order It was added to save customers time. Customers swipe their loyalty card at an Order It kiosk and are prompted to make choices based on categories (such as meats) or recently purchased items. The system asks you how you want products prepared (thin, thick, etc.) and provides an order number. When the order is complete, shoppers are alerted via loudspeaker or text message.
A wide range of new elements, from value programs to decor, have changed the face of the chain's units, but shoppers are likely to see more changes as time goes on.
For instance, a recently announced U.S. divisional structure split Stop & Shop into two units — New England and New York — and created separate units for Giant-Landover and Giant-Carlisle. One of the benefits of this change will be to tie the banners more closely to local needs.
“The new divisional structure will help us focus on local,” Vowles said.