Published in May-Jun 2022
Nida pulls out a shopping trolley and walks into Carrefour at Dolmen Mall, Karachi. Her eyes skim over the advertisements plastered on the side of her trolley as she walks in. Passing the sensors that check for shoplifters, she pauses for a second to glance at the flashy boards promising beauty in a bottle. Two steps in, standing by a creatively designed four by six feet space, an attractive woman in a uniform offers to detail the many benefits of the latest cream for puffy eyes.
Such is the world of retail indoor design, where consumers are bombarded with subliminal messages to influence behaviour the minute they enter the arena.
Over tea and cupcakes, Aijaz Ahmed, co-Founder & Director Business Development, Yellow, talks about his business of designing and manufacturing beguiling indoor spaces for retail products. An old hand in the business, Ahmed started Yellow seven years ago with his partners Muhammed Ashfaq and Sher Shah Bukhari, the CEO and Director of Design and Development, respectively.
“FMCGs and multinationals put in a lot of money when it comes to increasing visibility because over 70% of the decisions are made in-store,” he says, handing over stacks of studies that detail shopper behaviour. “Even among shoppers who eyeball products online, about 50% prefer to purchase in-person,” he says while admitting the numbers were based on pre-pandemic studies in the UK.
Insisting that the numbers are all the more relevant for Pakistan, he explains the spectrum of involvement in a purchase decision. “When you go to a store to buy tissue paper or a pen, it is unlikely that you will demand a certain brand and refuse to buy any other. Your purchase decision will be strongly influenced by its visibility and placement. On the other hand, a car is a high-involvement product. You will most likely know which car you intend to purchase before you visit the showroom. And in high-involvement products, you are influenced by peers, not placards.”
His company steps in to sway customers when it comes to low-involvement products, mostly aimed at the primary decision makers: women. From the green and red display of noodle packaging to the brightly lit skincare and makeup ranges, his company designs, develops and deploys displays that lure potential consumers into picking up products that they may not have intended to buy.
“Sales in the retail sector have doubled in the last 10 years. As you know, people do not have much in the way of enjoyment in Pakistan, so grocery shopping is treated as a family activity,” says Ahmed.
And companies are willing to throw big bucks to tap into this family time. According to Ahmed’s industry analysis, in Pakistan, companies spend about five to seven billion rupees annually to increase in-store visibility. He guesstimates that sales can increase by 20 to 25% through the entire range of in-store activities, which includes the use of sales representatives, who are usually women, and pop up booths.
One way multinationals do this is by manufacturing display racks for big supermarkets. It works like this: Imagine you are a wallet-heavy company and want to push your brand of shampoo. You offer to make the shampoo shelves for a local modern trade (LMT) store. These shelves will cater to the entire range of shampoo brands that the store has on offer.
So how do you make your brand stand out among the clutter of multiple hair products all promising some variant of similar attributes? Simple, by going to specialist retail space designers, such as Yellow. A key visual is handed over to the design team to create shelves in terms of colours and elements of the brand. A bit of carpentry magic is involved since the shelves have to entertain an exact number of bottles with no awkward space on the sides.
While the top of the shelves may just say ‘hair’ to identify the category of the product displayed, the hues and tagline on top will associate shoppers with the brand. Certain columns will proudly proclaim the brand name, while the rest of the columns, carrying the competitors’ products, will be titled dismissively as ‘others’.
The shelves are often accompanied by ‘talkers’ which are the little strips running under product categories proclaiming the anti-frizz properties or finger-combing attributes of a hair product.
So a shopper may subconsciously pick the subtly highlighted brand whilst choosing a shampoo. But what if the person never intended to purchase shampoo in the first place?
“According to a Malaysian study, 68% of shopping decisions are unplanned. About 20% of potential consumers are more likely to purchase if they know more about a product,” says Ahmed. Explaining the science of dividing supermarkets into zones, he walks me through the process of how undecided shoppers become buyers. To simplify, let’s go back to Nida who is shopping at Carrefour. She has a list of things that she plans to buy. As she slides the trolley out and enters, she is in the proximity zone, where she has yet to take out the list of groceries hastily scribbled at the back of a dog-eared envelope.
The advertisements on the trolley, sensors and the booth at the entrance are working together to influence her subconscious mind, even though she has no intention of adding shampoo to her cart. Ambling through aisles, looking for milk, Nida is in the transition zone. Here, there might be little footprints on the ground that nudge her towards the shampoo section with all its bells and whistles. She passes by an impulse zone, where easy-to-grab items, like small bottles of shampoos, are displayed prominently. Finally, by the time she has reached her destination zone of the milk aisle, a shampoo promising the five benefits of oil therapy has already found its way into the trolley.
There is also a division between primary and secondary zones. Primary zones, as implied by the name, group a category together; for example, National’s red Chilli Powder in the herbs and spices aisle. Secondary zones are when products are displayed out of a category, for example, National Chilli Powder in the cooking oil aisle. The message is for the buyer to intuitively associate the product they are planning to purchase, such as cooking oil, with a complementary product, such as pepper.
The retail space and the potential for spending on in-store visibility are booming. “There are about 800,000 retailers of FMCGs, including LMT (such as Imtiaz and Al-Fatah) and international modern trade (IMT, such as Carrefour and Metro Cash and Carry), kiryana stores and supermarkets. Initially, with the increase in digitisation, we expected our business to be obsolete in 10 to 15 years but Pakistan is going in the opposite direction. A new store is opening every other day it seems, and LMT chains are outperforming IMT chains. Grocery delivery apps have not affected our business yet. As a result, we are enjoying a substantial annual growth rate.”
“Compared to many countries such as Malaysia, and regions such as Africa, Pakistan is very aggressive when it comes to indoor retail marketing,” says Ahmed. “If you look around a store, you will see we have utilised every inch to increase the visibility of our products. So much so, that we are focusing on developing an export market for our products while our existing teams focus on the domestic market. Pakistan has cheap labour with top-notch craftsmanship. If we can get a good transit rate, we can manufacture the displays in our factories in Lahore and Karachi and export them to Africa, and other places.”
Fatima S. Attarwala is an analyst at Dawn’s Business & Finance. firstname.lastname@example.org