It's one thing when a retailer says how good its products are. It's quite another when shoppers themselves give good reviews. That's why more and more retailers have placed shoppers in the role of brand champions.
One way they're doing so is by running contests in which prizes are given out to those who make public comments about products and/or services.
St. Louis-based Save-A-Lot did just that last month. From Feb. 15 to 22, all shoppers who reviewed products on www.savealot.com were entered to win a $20 Save-A-Lot gift card. Ten shoppers were chosen at random.
Wegmans Food Markets used a similar strategy last month. In recognition of the 10th anniversary of its Menu Magazine, the Rochester, N.Y.-based chain ran a sweepstakes for a $150 gift basket filled with store-brand items. Shoppers could enter the contest by posting a comment on the Wegmans website about their favorite store-brand item.
“We want to hear what products we've featured over the past decade that you've fallen in love with and why,” Wegmans stated in promotional materials.
Wegmans received more than 1,400 comments from shoppers who raved about everything from its frozen vegetables to basting oil.
Wegmans also has the backing of actor Alec Baldwin, who has starred in a series of television ads for the chain. In one ad, for instance, Baldwin promotes Wegmans' $6 fresh meals to go. In another, he is shown shopping at a Wegmans store with his mother, Carol, a loyal Wegmans shopper.
Lund Food Holdings, Edina, Minn., has taken it a step further by letting customers shape the direction of its product lines. The retailer recently announced on its Facebook page that it's developing a new line of fresh take-and-bake pizzas for the deli. It asked its Facebook friends to suggest flavors. Dozens of shoppers responded with unique suggestions, like a spinach, bacon and tomato pizza with garlic white sauce.
Placing shoppers in the role of brand advocates provides a valuable, low-cost form of marketing, said Bill Bishop of Willard Bishop LLC, Barrington, Ill.
“It provides a lot of credibility,” he said. “It's much different than an ad or a TPR [temporary price reduction].”
While this can help all types of brands, it can be particularly helpful for private labels.
“Private label has experienced growth, but many people still don't think about it,” Bishop said. “This is a new way to address consumer blind spots.”
By letting shoppers publicly discuss retail products and services, retailers can also gain valuable market intelligence.
“It enables retailers to get much more connected with shoppers,” Bishop said.
Blogs are a novel way of giving shoppers the role of brand advocates.
The bloggers were asked to replace national brands with the Hannaford-brand equivalent, and to cook and test recipes using only Hannaford-brand products. Each was compensated to write about their experiences.
In addition to promoting private label, bloggers also talk up other types of product and services.
Hannaford recently asked the blogger of Fitmamaeats.com, for instance, to buy a week's worth of groceries and prepare meals using the retailer's Guiding Stars program. It provided the blogger with a gift card to purchase the products.
The blogger described the program as an easy way to plan healthy meals.
“If you're not a nutrition geek like me who reads every line of a food label before buying the product, Guiding Stars can help steer you toward healthier food choices,” the blogger wrote.
Wakefern Food Corp.'s ShopRite is another retailer actively involved with bloggers. Earlier this year, it launched Potluck, an online blog promoting ShopRite's private labels.
Potluck includes a panel of bloggers who are actual ShopRite shoppers. Each represents one of ShopRite's six trading areas: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Delaware.
Participating bloggers include Deborah Smith, author of jerseybites.com, a website dedicated to food news and restaurant reviews in New Jersey, and Anne Coleman, founder of cookingwithanne.blogspot.com, specializing in budget recipes.
The bloggers sample a selection of products from ShopRite's kosher, organic, specialty and other lines, and are asked to create their own recipes or share something new with their readers. Readers can comment on all posts.
“Potluck is a great addition to the many ways in which we communicate directly with our loyal customers,” said Wakefern spokeswoman Santina Stankevich.
ShopRite gives each blogger a topic to discuss. For instance, for a Valentine's Day challenge, each received a gift card and was asked to create the perfect Valentine's Day meal for $25 or less.
“A main course is usually the most expensive part of a meal, but with the new ShopRite Kitchen Fresh pastas costing $3.99 to $5.99, it's like going to a fine Italian restaurant for practically nothing,” one blogger wrote.
ShopRite occasionally sends the bloggers new private-label products to review, and invites them to attend exclusive events, including the ShopRite-sponsored Grand Tasting at the New York City Wine and Food Festival, the ShopRite LPGA Classic, new store openings, and community events hosted by ShopRite.
Potluck's panel of bloggers gives customers a real-life look into ShopRite's private labels, offering their honest opinions about the products and suggestions on how to use them, Stankevich told SN.
“This is a tremendous benefit in terms of getting the word out about our vast private-label line, in particular the rich portfolio of specialty product offerings,” she said.
The presence of the Potluck blog on www.shoprite.com also attracts customers to the ShopRite website, Stankevich said. Once there, they can view information about ShopRite's stores, promotional offerings, online coupons, recipes and tips from its corporate dietitian.
Along with blogs, other types of social media are enabling retailers to position shoppers as brand champions. Take YouTube. Several retailers allow shoppers to upload videos on their dedicated YouTube channels.
Kroger Co. did just that as part of its “Cartbuster” promotion featuring discounts on national brands. The retailer asked shoppers to post a YouTube video showing their Cartbuster bargains. It created a YouTube channel, youtube.com/cartbuster, specifically for the initiative. “Be sure to include what you bought, how much you saved, and your favorite ‘Deal of the Day,’” Kroger stated in promotional materials.
One shopper, “Kristy,” uploaded a video of herself shopping in a Kroger store for “Cartbuster” deals, including a 12-pack, double-roll of Charmin bath tissue for $5.99. The final price was just $2.99 because she uploaded a $3 Charmin digital coupon from the Kroger website to her loyalty card.
Adult shoppers aren't the only shoppers who act as brand champions. Kids, too, have clout. PCC Natural Markets, Seattle, highlights items that the majority of children say they like best. Under the “PCC Kid Picks” program, kids attend taste tests. Products that receive approval from at least two-thirds of judges are flagged in stores with a bright orange “PCC Kid Picks” logo.