According to Tim Clark, sales manager UK and Ireland for Panasonic Energy, value is the number one sales driver at the moment. "Cheaper brands that are not household names are out there, but research reveals that people are looking for trusted brands that deliver," he says.
Some might say that finding those trusted battery brands in c-stores can be difficult as most retailers keep batteries displayed behind the counter for security reasons. Not surprisingly, the battery manufacturers would like to see them out on the shop floor.
Duracell business leader Annaliese Reekie says: "Shoppers tell us that they want to see batteries moved onto the shop floor. They also want to see them on clip strips at secondary locations which, according to our research, can boost sales by up to 15%. However, if the back of till area is the only space available then the use of clear brand signage reminding shoppers that the store sells batteries will help raise awareness and drive impulse purchase.
"Increasing awareness is critical in this category, as most battery purchases are made on impulse. Up to 84% of shoppers claim to plan their purchase, but actually only 18% write shopping lists and batteries rarely make it onto that list; therefore, ensuring our shoppers know where batteries are available will play a clear role in boosting sales overall."
Vince Armitage, divisional vice president, Varta Consumer Batteries, agrees: "Theft is obviously a problem for these small but high-value products. However, retailers should consider taking units from behind the counter and placing them in an accessible but visible area of the store. Those retailers that do have the products out on the shop floor but close to the till need to consider if the current location is visible enough and encourages the consumer to take time to make an informed decision."
Panasonic's Clark confirms that batteries need to be visible: "People don't necessarily go into a c-store with batteries in mind; they need to be able to see them to prompt a purchase."
Energizer's category development manager, Jeremy Fenton, is also of the view that a prominent battery display can work wonders: "We recently put counter-top units (cardboard trays with pos) in one multiple forecourt and the feedback was excellent giving them their best ever promotional uplift on batteries," he says.
Promotion is a bit of a dirty word in the battery market great news for consumers but not so good for manufacturers looking for market share and with around one-third of all batteries sold on promotion you can see the scale of the problem. Panasonic's Clark reckons value sales of batteries are down because of all this promotional activity: "Consumers stockpile batteries if they see them on offer they will buy them and keep them in a drawer."
Value sales are down across the board on batteries. All trade sectors with the exception of DIY stores are in decline according to Nielsen and GfK data (MAT to June 09). And DIY store sales are only up by 0.8%, driven by rechargeables. The research companies put the value of the battery market at just over £326m, down 7.1% on last year.
When it comes to battery type, alkaline accounts for around 75% of the market. Alkaline is followed by rechargeables (7%), carbon zinc (6%), specialist (5%), chargers (4%), lithium (2%) and finally photo lithium (1%).
"Traditionally the convenience sector has been stronger in carbon zinc but it is moving more towards alkaline," explains Energizer's Fenton.
Energizer offers two brands. Eveready uses older technology carbon zinc for lower-drain appliances, while Energizer alkaline is for everyday devices that need a bit more power. There is also Energizer Ultimate Lithium for digital cameras and gaming. "For c-stores it would be wrong just to stock lithium as the price might put people off," says Fenton.
Varta's Armitage says that when it comes to picking the right power for the right application, consumers work on the basis that if the battery fits into the device, then it's right. "As the chemistry and power requirements are not taken into consideration, then the battery does not last in the device; this is when consumers end up disappointed. The problem is compounded further as consumers buy like-for-like, often taking their old batteries to the shop when purchasing new ones."
Armitage says it's for these reasons that Varta has launched the Tri-Energy range to help consumers quickly and easily determine the right battery for the job. For the retailer, there is a support pack, detailed pos and on-pack information so staff can feel knowledgeable and confident when recommending a product to a consumer.
"The new Tri-Energy range uses colour as a way of educating the consumer but it's not the only tactic. We use device icons on pack, informative text and extensive pos, information on displays and sporting imagery to reflect power output," he says.
Meanwhile, everyone in the battery market is very excited about rechargeables, but they still only represent a small proportion of sales.
According to IRI/MEMRB data they generated £23.8m-worth of sales in the year to May. Sales of chargers have declined while sales of rechargeable cells have grown by 4%. This means that while fewer new consumers are entering the marketplace, consumers who have already bought into rechargeables are buying and using more cells.
Duracell's Reekie says: "Additionally, research suggests that shoppers are including both rechargeable and traditional alkaline cells in their repertoire, and choosing Duracell to deliver the value and performance they're familiar with."
Varta's Armitage concedes that converting more consumers to the benefits of rechargeable batteries will take time. "Retailers and manufacturers need to focus on the environmentally friendly and money saving messages to capture the attention of consumers. Secondary messages such as improved performance, shorter charging times and ready-to-use units straight from the pack should also be used to help encourage consumers make the switch."
Finally, you can't talk about batteries without mentioning the EU Battery Directive. As part of the Directive, regulations requiring the collection and recycling of waste batteries will come into force in the UK from January 1, 2010. As a result, retailers who sell more than 32kg of batteries a year (which equates to around 333 x AA four-packs) need to install in-store battery collection boxes from February 1, 2010 and provide information for their customers about the return of used batteries. Collected batteries will be picked up and recycled by battery compliance schemes funded by the battery producers.