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POP and the PDA

Controlling the presentation of your newspaper at retail is central to maximising sales. Archant Norfolk has recently given its field sales teams PDA technology to help improve the effectiveness of their calls and the quality of the information coming back to the sales managers. Philip Preston looks at the rationale behind this move.

By Philip Preston

"Don’t teach your granny how to suck eggs", is the sort of phrase used when someone offers needless advice to an expert.

So here’s some needless advice. There are really only four things you need to worry about to successfully manage the retail sales of newspapers: availability, presentation, promotions and customer service.

It’s sort of obvious that if the paper isn’t in the store, no one can buy it. The process of managing supplies to optimise availability and reduce waste is a big subject in its own right and is not the focus of this article. Also, I’m not going to bore the pants off you about our latest link save promotions.

Presentation at the point of purchase, however, is what I am going to be talking about. I’ll also touch upon customer service, looking at one aspect of how we manage the relationship between our field sales force and our retail customers.

Like most regional newspaper companies, Archant Norfolk deals with an array of retail outlets with store layouts and news displays that range from the ultra-efficient to the downright scruffy.

Where our newspapers are positioned and how they are displayed has a significant bearing on sales. We know because we’ve studied consumer behaviour at different stages of the buying process.

A couple of years ago, we commissioned retail research specialists, The P.O.P Shop, to look at the way people buy national and local newspapers and what really influences their buying behaviour. Their researchers spent a number of days observing what happened in newsagents and supermarkets and interviewing customers as they were leaving the shop. They also ran a number of discussion groups involving people who buy a national or local newspaper.

The results were enlightening and helped to explode a few myths. For a start, when someone buys a newspaper the whole process, from start to finish, is very quick.

National Newspapers

People buying a national newspaper already know which paper they intend to buy even before they enter the shop. They will simply search for the newspaper of their choice. Unlike a magazine purchase there is very little, if any, browsing at the news rack taking place.

Generally speaking, newspaper headlines and promotions advertised on the front-page simply reinforce the customer’s buying decision. DVD and CD promotions at best encourage promiscuity and any sales benefit is short lived.

EDP and Norwich Evening News

The process someone goes through to buy a local newspaper, such as the EDP or Evening News, is almost as quick and decisive … but there is a real opportunity to influence some customers to make an unplanned purchase.

Up to half of the people visiting a newsagent or supermarket belong to a group known as the ‘Scatterers’. They share the following characteristics:

* Local newspaper purchase doesn’t follow a pattern – they may buy a couple of times one week and not buy at all the following week.
* They are less planned and more opportunistic in their approach – buying a paper is not top of mind, more an after-thought.
* They will buy when it fits their day, if they have time to kill or when they are in the mood.
* Buying ‘every now and again’ is seen by them as enough to keep them in the ‘local’ picture.
* Some were not aware of the daily supplements carried by the EDP or Evening News

The other attribute they share is that news bills and newspaper headlines turn them on and they will browse the EDP and Evening News front page if they are given an opportunity.

Thou Shalt…

This knowledge has led us to create the eight product presentation commandments:

1. The location of the main news fixture and secondary newspaper displays are more important than any fixture ‘theatre’; fancy graphics and ‘cleverly’ designed fixtures are at best an irrelevance and at worst may actually prevent someone buying a newspaper. The newspaper itself should be the key focus.
2. If retailers only have the EDP or Evening News on sale at a till position, this risks lost sales – the paper must also be on display in the main news fixture.
3. Till positions should be supported with prompts or dual sited papers close by, or in a prominent position within the traffic flow leading to the till.
4. Newspapers must be displayed upright – not sideways or upside-down.
5. Headlines must be highly visible.
6. Ideally, newspapers should be displayed at an angle so that the entire front page is in clear view.
7. News bill displays (A-Boards, bill-board waste bins, wall mounted boards or window displays) are very effective as these are clearly registered and recalled by shoppers.
8. Where practicable, extend news billing and other forms of ‘headline’ communication to the inside of the store.

Location, Location, Location

As Kirsty and Phil might say, the most important consideration of all is location. Although it’s not rocket science, it’s easy to overlook the fact that there are three newspaper display hot spots in any store:

1. The main news fixture.
Customers who have already planned to buy a paper will expect to see the EDP and Evening News on display alongside national newspapers in the main news fixture. Most local newspapers are the best selling titles in their area, so should have a premium position on the rack, directly in the customer’s line of sight. Incidentally, the natural line of sight is anything from horizontal to 30° below horizontal.

2. The till.
A till position will also satisfy the needs of the planned purchaser. Often short of time, they want the shortest and quickest route in and out of the shop, and they will soon come to know the paper is on the till. However, a till position on its own will mean lost sales.

3. Store traffic approaching the till.
Where there is a display stand en route to the till, in a position that encourages the shopper to spend time browsing the paper’s front page, then the research suggests strongly that increased sales are virtually guaranteed.

PDA Technology to the Rescue

That’s all pretty straightforward – except not all retailers play the game.

Which is why we have introduced some new technology to improve the way we manage and control our team of sales advisors and merchandisers, and ultimately our customer base of over 800 news outlets.

We have teamed up with a Norwich based company, MO Interactive (take a look at - their clients include P&G, Sainsbury’s and the Coca Cola Company) who have provided us with a field marketing software solution to enable us to audit the availability and presentation of our products, as well as any actions we take every time we visit a store. The data gathered also allows us to track, analyse and interpret our marketplace performance.

Using hand held computers or PDAs (Dell Axim X51 to be precise), our field sales team run a selection of scripts that prompt them to enter data dependent on the type of sales or merchandising call being made.

The sequence of each call is predetermined and the data collection process follows a logical order. This is the sequence for a full service call:

1. Select outlet / location
2. Edit outlet details
3. Check external POS
4. Check bills
5. Check internal POS
6. Check product facings on entry
7. Check product availability
8. Fix internal POS
9. Fix product availability
10. Record facings on exit
11. Tactical questions
12. Call summary

Our sales advisors and merchandisers login to the system at the start of each day and run an ‘End Day’ process when their day is finished (when dealing with technophobes, it’s better to keep it simple). The system automatically dates and timestamps the start and finish of every call, so we are able to monitor and track not only when each call is made but also the call duration.

Currently, our field sales team hook up their PDAs at home each night to a modem and download the data. We are able to analyse the day’s activity as soon as the data is polled, as both standard and bespoke reports are available to our sales managers via a web front end. Both weekly and monthly summary reports are generated easily with a few keystrokes.

In reality, we are using the system currently to monitor the performance of our field sales team – hours worked, number of calls made per day, average mileage per call, average call time per person, call details per sales adviser and merchandiser (ie. how effective have they been at each call to fix availability issues, increase the number of product facings, locate new POS etc). In this respect it has been a godsend.

We are now moving to the next stage, where the system is being developed to build a detailed profile of individual outlets in real time so that we can manage their performance as well as the performance of the field sales team.

The latest generation of PDA handsets come with GPRS, a beefy digital camera (which we will use to take photographic records of both the outside and inside of the store) and wireless internet connection so that data can be downloaded automatically whenever the device comes into contact with a wifi zone. This will replace the nightly download ritual.

A Reality Check

The MOIT system and PDA technology are great and the company has been a dream to work with. The biggest challenge for us has been to transform the field sales team into a high-tech field sales team.

It’s been quite a learning curve for some of them who, like me, struggle to programme a VCR let alone feel comfortable using a hand held computer. We have had temper tantrums, cracked screens and the odd cry of despair when the frantic and sometimes violent tapping of the screen sends a PDA into a coma.

We have also had issues with the accuracy of the data being recorded – not that it was the system’s fault. We quickly became aware that one or two members of our team were trying to short-cut the process or didn’t fully understand what they were meant to be doing. A problem resolved through regular feedback sessions with MOIT and refresher training when required.

As with most projects involving change, we have had to adapt both the system and some of our working practices along the way. However, we have reached the point now where our sales managers would not be able to function effectively without it, and they are chomping at the bit to get their hands on the new version of the software and the latest handsets.

It is a never-ending challenge to educate some of our retail outlets on the best ways to display and present our products to maximise sales, but at least we now have some reliable research and real time data to base our retail sales activity on.