What’s on Your Counter?

What’s on Your Counter?

Maximizing Impulse Sales

By Meline Beach

You have a limited amount of time to capture your customer’s attention at the cash register. 

What you display on your counter serves as a visual trigger in encouraging an impulse buy beyond a customer’s intentional purchase. C&G retailers apply strategic sourcing of high-margin and high-impulse combined with flawless execution as the winning formula to drive sales and profitability. 

Top 10 Countertop

1. Lottery

2. Hand sanitizer/wipes

3. Sesame Snaps

4. Seasonal/holiday-themed (time-limited) candies, chocolates, and décor

5. Mints

6. Lighters

7. Energy shots

8. Gift cards

9. Locally-made items
(e.g., baked goods)

10. Cell phone accessories

Clean or cluttered

Some C&G retailers prefer the “more the merrier” approach to countertop items with the hope that something catches someone’s interest. 

“The front counter of a convenience store is the million-dollar lane,” says Kathy Astle, owner and operator of Sunny Corner General Store, located in Sunny Corner, New Brunswick. “Ours is filled with loads of items that are last-minute pickups.” 

Astle likes to keep her customers on their toes by rotating items often, prompting customers to say, “ok, where is it now, she’s changed things around.” “I do this because it makes people look for and ask about different products,” says Noble, who also believes this effort encourages interaction between staff and customers. “If we don’t have it, we add it to our request list and bring it in.”

Other C&G retailers, like Andrew Reyhani, of George’s Convenience in Schomberg, Ontario, believe in the concept of “less is more” for impulse buys at the cash register. He hosts a clean counter at the cash register with only a limited number of items on display. 

“I think it’s important to keep the counter clean and decluttered,” says Reyhani, whose family owns and operates a dozen c-stores in Ontario. “People don’t want to feel surrounded by too many things.”

Strategic choice

On the counter at George’s Convenience, you will find hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, mints, gum, and grab-and-go snacks such as Sesame Snaps, along with some seasonal or holiday-themed items, such as Kinder Surprise chocolates at Eastertime. For other times of the year, Reyhani will display little flags, bracelets and hats for Canada Day celebrations, little decorative shoes displaying sports teams during World and Euro Cup soccer games. And, when the Pop Its toys first launched, he displayed those small items on the counter as well. 

“Many of our customers will come in for lottery or cigarettes and see something quick from the corner of their eye,” says Reyhani. “Something their kids will like and buy at the last minute.”

Moaied Hussain, who owns and operates a convenience store with his Esso gas station just north of Nobleton, Ontario, concurs that Sesame Snaps is a top seller, along with Maynards wine gums as a countertop favourite. Although he rotates featured products every two to four weeks, those two staple items have a permanent place on the counter, where customers are accustomed to buying one or two units at a time at checkout. 

Whitehead Country Store, located in Kingston, New Brunswick, features locally produced items with traditional countertop items to encourage impulse buys by a range of customers. “Items that fit this philosophy include locally made baked goods, such as carrot cake, fudge and cookies, as well as Apple Valley apple and strawberry-rhubarb pies from Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia,” says Don Noble, owner and operator of Whitehead Country Store. “On the impulse side, we have BIC lighters, store-bagged penny candy and Sesame Snaps. Energy shots, meat sticks and cell phone accessories are here as well.” 

Noble, who also sells seasonal and holiday-themed items at the counter, pays particular attention to customer comments when deciding what to display. “I look for a customer’s immediate need in choosing impulse items,” says Noble, who believes that price point is a secondary consideration, mainly for local goods. “I listen for comments like, “I didn’t expect to see that in your store” which tells me that we may have hit the target for an impulse item.”

As lottery takes up the most space, approximately 10 per cent of the countertop displays small impulse triggering items. The operative word is “small.” Larger items not only take up more space but appear too bulky for an impulse purchase. 

Small does not necessarily mean cheap. Ping Tan of Tanny’s Convenience in Matheson, Ontario sells earbuds on the counter for $29.99. “They’re popular as a replacement item on the go,” says Tan, who sells many units to travellers who lose them along their journey. Other popular countertop items include energy shots, lotto scratchers at $3.49 each and lighters at $3.99 each. Tan says that she frequently changes her display items at her front counter with newly arrived gifts and goodies. The one item on her countertop that Tan is most proud of is the exclusive candy she sells as the only retailer in town – over 70 flavours of Jelly Belly.


For most C&G retailers, approximately 25-30 per cent of customers buy something on impulse from the counter while at the checkout. 

There isn’t a perfect one-size-fits-all formula for impulse buys. What’s most important is to know your customer base, their interests and needs for last-minute items. While certain countertop products appear to be consistent at many C&G retailers, there is little risk in being creative and trying something new, different, or local on a trial basis that could draw in more sales. The benefit is that countertop items are typically small in size and quantity, which makes it easier to change them up. 

Meline Beach is a Toronto-based communications practitioner and frequent contributor to Convenience & Carwash Canada. In addition to freelance writing, Meline provides communications and public relations support to businesses across Canada. She can be reached at www.mlbcomms.ca


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