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Talking the right language

To work successfully with retailers, it really does help if you can speak the language. Couching your objectives in terms that they can relate to and being able to precisely quantify how they will benefit by listing your title are prerequisites for success at retail, says Christina Lucas and Elizabeth Newman.

By Christina Sequeira

Did you know that 61% of people who can’t find the magazine they want in a shop will move onto another retailer and 14% will buy a different magazine? This kind of shopper behaviour indicates how crucial it is for retailers to have the best possible range and for publishers to be stocked, and displayed well, in the right stores.

With 55,000 outlets and 3,000-plus magazines in the UK, this is a challenge – and while the world of magazines is built upon creativity, gut instinct and experience, in retail, it’s data and near-scientific processes that win the day.

Back in the mid-nineties, magazines were really only sold in the traditional CTNs and WHSmiths. These days, the grocery channel is a big player, growing constantly and significantly, and it’s making further progress at the convenience end of the market. As a result, news buyers are often not magazine men, but come with experience from the full breadth of grocery categories, and want to apply FMCG processes and thinking to the magazine category.

Discussions about retail financial agreements aside, buyers want publishers and their distributors to talk in their language and demonstrate how titles fit into and drive their own category ambitions. The disciplines of category management provide a perfect framework for circulation professionals to have constructive debates with retailers. Your distributor’s category management and insight teams can help translate magazine data and consumer research into shopper insights that are relevant and actionable for the retailer. The benefit to publishers is a more convincing argument for correct ranging and optimum display for their title – the Holy Grail!

So, where to start?

1. Segmentation

In the last decade or so, there has been an unprecedented level of fragmentation in the media. Large markets in TV, radio and magazines have divided and separated to form distinct new sectors. Take women’s weeklies. Once wholly defined, it is now split into real life, celebrity, mainstream, mature and, most recently, fashion sub sectors. And, looking at the specialist and leisure arenas, you’ll see this is even more prevalent. There are now over 89 regular and 156 special motoring titles stocked at WHSmith High Street, with editorial ranging from the broad BBC Top Gear to the highly targeted Land Rover Owner.

Marketforce has been working in partnership with WHSmith for the past two years delivering store specific ranges that are driven by its shoppers’ magazine preferences. Part of the project saw a re-segmentation of all 1,700 magazines stocked in any one of the 500-plus stores. This resulted in their range moving from 112 sub-sectors to 145 and them stocking many new titles. If publishers can identify and communicate an unsatisfied customer need, then buyers will be more willing to listen to range aspirations. Retailers will always want to balance bestsellers for their bottom line and customer choice.

2. Range

Publishers and distributors who appreciate a retailer’s range considerations have an advantage in knowing which buttons to press. Basing your rationale on the retailer’s shopper base; ability to truly drive efficient sales; and showing cross purchase opportunities are just a few ways in which to talk in the retailer’s language.

* Shopper Missions. All successful businesses start with the consumer in mind and keep them at the heart of their thinking. Is the customer’s shopping mission specifically to buy a magazine, or is it a regular grocery shop or a top-up shop? The answer will determine the balance between routine-led purchases and impulse treats. The most attractive shoppers for Tesco, as defined by dunnhumby, are high frequency, high spending customers. Good news for publishers, as magazines are a high frequency purchase and those who buy them spend 20% more in-store than non-purchasers. Now that’s something to shout about!

* Shopper Profile. The demographic make-up of a retailer’s shopper - both regular and occasional – clearly determines the ideal range to stock. Overlaid on this will be household composition, disposable income and leisure interests. You can identify all this through TGI or NRS. And of course, publishers have their own valuable research, such as Incisive Media’s informative segmentation of computer magazine buyers, which highlights the difference between each consumer group. Also remember the retailer’s ambitions. Grocers, for example, want to attract more male shoppers because they spend more and spend differently to the core female base. Men’s and special interest publishers take note!

* Location, location, location! Knowing the location, surroundings and community of a retailer’s estate can help drive magazines into range. The ultimate execution is a store-specific range that takes into account such things as city versus country locations, nearby schools or universities, local landmarks and shopper demographics. Following Marketforce’s partnership with WHSmith, this is the approach the retailer takes for its 500-plus stores. Around 70% of its store ranges are core to each outlet with the remaining share completely tailored. And it works. Latest figures show WHSmith has gained £1.6m in incremental sales revenue and its falling performance has flattened.

Store specific ranging on such a scale has complex logistics and needs full industry engagement, but publishers should remember the principle and target ethnic minority hotspots, major transport hubs, coastal areas or other relevant communities.

* Cross Purchase. Given that 75% of UK adults read a magazine and shoppers spend £15bn on the category each year, a good return can be found in convincing existing magazine purchasers to increase their portfolio and number of titles they buy per visit. For the retailer, this is a clear and immediate revenue gain. Through sources such as dunnhumby and WHSmith transactional data, publishers can demonstrate high cross-purchase with existing ranged titles to successfully gain a listing.

* Out of Category. Convincing retailers to try out-of-category positioning is a challenge, but it does offer them that all important increased incremental revenue per shopping trip. This has been successful for Decanter in the wine aisle at Waitrose and Ideal Home in soft furnishings in Asda. Publishers can use consumer purchasing data from TGI or dunnhumby to help build the case for innovative ideas.

3. Display

Most shoppers buy magazines from a repertoire of at least two or three titles that they buy regularly, and the planogram element of category management makes that purchase as easy and enjoyable as possible. The most effective planograms are objective, shopper-led ones that encourage shoppers to try new and more magazines. The planograms used by retailers such as Waitrose, WHSmith High Street and Dunnes focus on shopper stimulation, logical flow, easy navigation and maximum visibility. Your circulation team can again use cross-purchase data as well as retailer rankings to vie for better positioning.

You can also capitalise on consumer routines and seasonal events that will increase shoppers’ weight of purchase. Health-based and "new life" biased titles fit well with New Year’s resolutions, spring brings the onset of gardening and home DIY, school holidays mean that both parents and children need entertaining and the shorter winter days plus Christmas bring home back to the fore. Demonstrating key peaks for your titles can help navigate you to a prime position.

4. Promotions

New Marketforce research carried out by SPA investigates shopper attitudes to magazine promotions. Interestingly, the fact that retailer-based magazine promotions are relatively immature indicates that shoppers need to be "trained and habitualised" into purchasing post promotion to improve the mechanic ROI. Magazine shoppers edit out much magazine information in-store and potentially miss the added value offers as retailers and publishers focus on highlighting the brand rather than the offer. The research also indicates ways that distributors can work with retailers to implement a higher-level category vision that centres on framing, dressing and signposting in the category.

5. Implementation and In-Store

It’s important to ensure all the sales-driving theory actually happens in-store and isn’t let down by poor implementation. 70% of purchasing decisions are made at the fixture, so it’s vital that it has the ideal layout and title positioning and that there’s strong availability. Well informed and trained store staff are central to successful implementation and display maintenance, so publishers and distributors need to consider how they can support retailers in-store. Your category management team can help by cost effectively sharing range information, using an intranet site for example, which is an ideal way to convey consistent up-to-the-minute information to all stores. Smaller retailers may not have these facilities, so clear and easy-to-reference printed range lists with quick implementation guides are a good alternative. Regular training and newsletters to area managers with senior level engagement through distributor sessions can secure buy-in to magazine activity at all levels. The objective is to bring the category to life and promote its importance to both the retailer and the shopper.

6. Measuring Results

Finally, to maintain new range listings and support penetration growth, you must demonstrate your contribution to the retailer. They’ll be looking at a choice of metrics such as the basics of value and volume, but you can also include Tesco, WHSmith and soon Sainsbury’s transactional data on a variety of customer measures. These include total shopping spend by purchasers of your magazines, ability to drive store footfall and cross-purchasing potential within magazines and other categories. A deep understanding of what can impact these metrics really adds value for your retail partners and boosts their understanding of the magazine category.

There’s no doubting that the retail landscape for magazines has changed – and that the demands this has generated require investment and a new way of thinking. However, prove to the retailer that your title can help their business and the rewards are great.