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How Retailers Are Turning Shoppers Into Tourists

How Retailers Are Turning Shoppers Into Tourists

It has the makings of a perfect birthday party event. Outfit kids with detective gear and ask them to search for clues in a big case. Feed them and send them home with goodie bags.

Except in this case it's not a birthday party at all, but rather a new store tour from Weis Markets called “Weis Mystery Tour.” Third- and fourth-graders discover healthy foods in a program created by the retailer's dietitians.

This concept is very creative, but Weis isn't alone in gearing these types of tours for children. Earlier this year, Whole Foods and Chef Jehangir Mehta partnered to offer a kids' “food adventure” in multiple cities.

It included an interactive store tour, educational cooking demos, and discussions about how to cook healthy and make exciting foods at home. It also had a price tag: $30 per child. Stop & Shop offers the “Stop & Shop Explorer Program,” which includes education for kids about recycling, the environment and the retailer's Healthy Ideas shelf-tag program.

A big factor driving these events is Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign, as Bob Vosburgh, SN group editor, pointed out in an article in SN Whole Health earlier this year. He outlined other recent nutrition events geared for kids from retailers including Price Chopper Supermarkets and Wegmans Food Markets.

Tours and nutrition fit well together, and many such programs are geared for adults too. But there's an untapped opportunity for tours on other topics. Why not hold in-store tours around the pet or baby categories? How about specialty foods? Or international foods? These could be twinned with classes or cooking demos. Presumably these ideas have been tried, but they certainly aren't prevalent.

Even more, retailers can collaborate with CPG brands to partner on these concepts for maximum impact. This would have to be done very carefully to avoid the impression that it's merely a brand advertisement. But if CPGs can be category captains, they should be able to tactfully draw consumer attention to categories through in-store tours.

There's also the opportunity to update the tour concept through smart phone apps, as pointed out by Mona Doyle, president, Consumer Network. A new “Missions App” from Whole Foods educates users about healthy foods and includes a game component and store locator. As the technology advances, these apps could be personalized more for the in-store experience.

Tours have a number of benefits, ranging from education to entertainment. The biggest upside for retailers, however, is reintroducing the store. Consider the “value tours” Whole Foods introduced during the recession. These had a role in helping the retailer temper its high-priced image, a major goal for the company. That's a great example of how a simple concept like a tour can enhance overall store branding efforts.