GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Capitalizing on the frenzied excitement known as “Potter mania,” supermarkets worked merchandising magic as the final Harry Potter book went on sale July 21.
Retailers including Meijer, Publix, Stop & Shop, Wegmans, Kroger and Wal-Mart made sure the 12:01 a.m. release time of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was an event worthy of their customers' loyalty. For many, the book was drastically marked down, but other regularly priced products were promoted.
All of Meijer's 176 stores threw a book release party including costumes, food and prizes, as well as an additional $7 off the retailer's already discounted $19.99 price for the book if purchased with $30 of other merchandise from the store. “This was a great price, with a great opportunity to use our one-stop-shop offering,” Meijer spokeswoman Stacie Behler told SN.
The outcome was positive. “Sales were strong, and there was more excitement this year than [with the previous Harry Potter book], creating a great opportunity to provide a low price and fun experience,” she said. Meijer ordered more of the seventh and final book than it did of book six, she added, knowing the demand would be greater.
“The retailers who implemented parties used the same concepts that are put into place with Seasonal Best Practices,” said Bill Bishop, president of the Willard Bishop consultancy in Barrington, Ill., referring to the comprehensive report put out last year by the Global Market Development Center, Colorado Springs.
“Whether it be for a holiday like Halloween, or this book, general merchandise shoppers are looking for events and topical products. Throwing these types of parties provides a reason for people to come to the store,” he said.
For Meijer and its 24-hour stores, this allowed the retailer to “delight customers with timed product launches, and wrap convenience into the mix,” Behler said.
The retailer used radio and newspaper ads, in-store signage, and “Harry Potter Poll” questions on its website to promote the event.
Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., Quincy Mass., hosted soirees in select locations throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York, spokesman Rob Keane told SN. Besides offering the book at a discount price of $24.99 (the suggested retail price is $34.99) the stores conjured costume contests, refreshments and games.
Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., also held celebrations at select locations in Georgia and South Carolina. “Our customers enjoyed themselves. Even inclement weather didn't keep them away at some stores,” said Maria Brous, spokeswoman for Publix.
At one South Carolina Publix, associates dressed as the story's villains, Death Eaters, guarding a case of the books until midnight while the store's sunblock endcap was converted to a potion rack for make-believe potions classes. Visitors enjoyed Harry Potter-themed cupcakes from the bakery, as well as actors portraying various characters throughout the store.
Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., threw parties in all of its 24-hour stores nationwide. The chain began the excitement in June when it announced a pledge, to be signed by associates, promising not to discuss the book's ending inside the store.
At one supercenter in Elyria, Ohio, where the crowd was mostly adults and older kids, 500-600 copies were sold to the Potter crowd in less than an hour, employees told SN.
Scholastic, the U.S. publisher of the series — which turned the street outside its New York headquarters into a fair called “Harry Potter Place” — reported a publishing record of 8.3 million copies sold in the first 24 hours the book was on sale. “The excitement, anticipation and just plain hysteria that came over the country was a bit like the Beatles' first visit to the U.S.,” said Lisa Holton, president, Scholastic Trade and Book Fairs.
“It certainly is a very interesting counterpoint to the routine of grocery shopping,” Bishop said. “This will be a model for stores to look at in the future. We won't have another Harry Potter book, but we can throw these kinds of celebrations again.”