Diversifying What’s on Your Front Counter
By Angela Altass
The c-store front counter is where transactions happen, conversations occur between staff and customers and impulse purchase decisions are made.
“The front counter really is the most important area of the store,” says Chris Soucie, director of sales and marketing, McCowan Design & Manufacturing. “The front counter should be the centrepiece of the store. Traditionally, in a convenience store, you’ve got the undercounter shelves that are pretty standard. However, in new builds we’re now seeing a lot more interesting use of that space. We’re seeing that they’re adding height to their fixtures. You’ll commonly see slatwall panels that flank the cash register that come above the countertop as high as 24 inches. They’ll merchandise various different products and bring those products more to the customer’s eye level as opposed to before where traditionally everything was underneath the counter.”
Stores have started incorporating equipment into their front counter design, says Soucie.
“Over the past couple of years this has become more and more prevalent in stores, such as the big 7-Elevens,” comments Soucie. “They are appealing to the changing needs of the c-store customer by diversifying front counter offerings. You’ll see cold energy drink displays with little fridges built right into the front counters. You’ll see grab and go sandwich coolers and hot food displays, with quick items like pizza or wings, as an emerging trend in c-store front counter space. The options are elevated, so it’s not just a pepperoni and cheese pizza offering but more of an artisan type product, such as Mediterranean pizza or one with blue cheese or goat cheese.”
The front counter is the area where the c-store operator interacts with the customer, “and it’s most likely the area that the customer is going to remember,” says Soucie, who recommends working with an industry expert before embarking on a new build or renovation project. “The front counter area is really the final opportunity for any impulse sales which, for the c-store, is great because you want to increase the average basket size and therefore increase profitability.”
Diversifying away from the traditional chocolates, gums and candy for the front counter area can encourage new impulse sales opportunities, says Soucie.
“If we look at store sales by category, the front counter really should be a store within a store,” says Soucie. “You’re going to want to have a sampling of each of your top performing categories at the pay point. We did that test of having samplings of top categories a few years ago at a few sites and it made a huge difference. The items could be chips, bagged candies, energy drinks, hot food items, meat snacks, maybe some cell phone cables; whatever stuff is selling at your store off the shelves put it at the front as well. Mix it up and appeal to all the senses of your customers. What we’ve seen from our clients is that if you diversify, sales increase.”
Norman Clow, owner of Clow’s Red & White General Store in Hampshire, Prince Edward Island, keeps some of the store’s best-selling items at the front counter.
“Basically, it’s things that move quickly, like chocolate bars, candy and gum; stuff like that,” said Clow. “We try to change up the candies a little bit as these items are often impulse buys.”
Although there is not much space to work with in the front counter area, diversification is still doable, says Soucie.
“Maybe you only have 12 inches of space for energy drinks,” says Soucie, “you can re-populate the inventory quick and still offer that category as an impulse purchase suggestion to the customer. We’ve seen that be successful in many different stores. We always tell clients to try different things and figure out what works for your location.”
While diversifying the product offerings at the front counter can be a good idea, Soucie cautions against over stimulating customers.
“Keep it simple,” he states. “When we’re doing consultations, we walk into a site and the front counter is just littered with vendor provided fixtures. It can get overwhelming for the customers and they just run in for lottery and smokes and are out the door. Partner with a company like McCowan and talk about the categories that you want to display, which will be based on the demographics and customers in your area. We have store fixtures in our catalogue that are designed specifically to maximize whatever category you are trying to increase sales for and there is no charge for the consultation process, if you are buying fixtures from us.”
Much consideration is given to what will be merchandised at a store’s front counter and checkout area, notes Erik Jansen, marketing and operations manager, convenience store, Federated Co-operatives Limited, Calgary, Alberta.
“This area is the last opportunity for our team to interact with the customers and enhance their experience,” says Jansen. “Focus is placed on high impulse grab and go items that drive customer excitement, with the goal to increase basket size. It is critical that we have the right items for a positive customer experience in this last touchpoint we have with them in our store. These items change by promotion period and are based on changing seasons, dependent on items identified in our marketing and promotion activities, which we have going on in the store throughout the year. Attention is placed on promotions, innovation and seasonally relevant general merchandise and convenience items.”
Product placement at the point of purchase is a strategy used to capture the customers’ attention when they are preparing to check out, says Rima Rabba, head of marketing, Rabba Fine Foods, Mississauga, Ontario.
“These items are most likely to be noticed by customers,” says Rabba. “It satisfies not only a sales objective but encourages brand awareness, keeping exciting products top of mind.”
Front counter items, or merchandising products near the checkout area, is an important tool to effectively reach customers, says Rabba.
“It is where customers have an opportunity to dwell and engage with an item as they complete their shopping journey,” says Rabba, noting that the front counters at Rabba Fine Foods stores are stocked with a selection of exciting product innovations, grab and go snacks, better-for-you bars, fresh baked goods, and chocolate indulgences. “They are items that are accessible to consumers and are positioned to increase their visibility. While you’ll see our regular lineup of traditional items at checkout, such as chips and chocolate, we’ve maintained a flexible space to accommodate product innovation and trends, as well as seasonal changes and holidays.”