Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to transform your store into a shopping destination that caters for your customers’ needs. Does it sound like a mission impossible? Well it doesn’t have to be. Focusing on customer missions can be easily achieved just by taking a different look at your current range and customer base and determining what they might want when they visit your store.


of the UK adult population does a top-up shop at least once a week making it the most lucrative mission, according to HIM

In essence it all boils down to improving the customer’s experience in store and making their visit time-efficient, which will help maximise sales and footfall.

To do this, HIM’s shopper insights director Katie Littler says that retailers need to make the shopping experience as simple as possible. “Essentially convenience retail needs to become about making the shopping trip, and thus ultimately our shoppers’ lives, easier and easier,” she says. “Retailers and suppliers need to consider NPD and in-store solutions in terms of ‘how will this make my customers’ life easier’ by identifying specific complications, issues or challenges in their shoppers’ lives and helping alleviate them. For example, many stores have already started to ensure they have all the relevant products for making basic evening meals, grouped together in-store, with a suggestion for tonight’s dinner.”

This can be tricky, especially in a small store that has limited resources, but Kepak Convenience Foods marketing director John Armstrong says it’s absolutely necessary. “Identifying customer missions for your store is important. On average, shoppers spend just four minutes in store so it is crucial that retailers make the experience easy for consumers by merchandising products together that reflect shopper missions.”

CCE’s trade communications manager Dave Turner agrees. CCE recently unveiled the ‘See the Opportunity’ report highlighting the £2.1bn potential sales growth that can be achieved through targeting customer occasions. Turner says the changing retail sector means independents need to think about what missions they are offering in order to compete.

“It’s very important for retailers to identify which customer missions are most likely to be adopted by their shoppers, so that they can adapt and evolve their offering accordingly,” he says. “It’s worth also noting that convenience stores are actually competing with the multiples on ‘convenience’ customer missions, as much as they are with each other. Superstores generally have their own car park and a wider range of goods than convenience stores, which can turn shoppers towards a bigger store even if they only want to pick up one or two items. So convenience retailers could benefit from better understanding the principles of mission management to ensure they are competing effectively.”

Unilever retail execution manager Tom Hazelden says many c-stores base store layout on pragmatism and operational functions rather than on catering towards missions. “Usually they put the chilled cabinets on the perimeter of the store or alcohol within the viewpoint of the till because of licensing laws,” he says. “We need to fulfil the reason they come into the store quickly and easily and that is the key to good customer missions.”

It would be easy to say that customer missions has replaced category management as a priority for retailers, but the two practices can fit hand-in-hand as part of a plan for a store.

“Customer missions and category management are not necessarily mutually exclusive - we see customer missions as an important part of taking a strong approach to category management,” says CCE’s Turner. He adds that the best retailers will provide a balance between the two and use that balance to focus on why the customer may be in your store. “Occasion-based merchandising is becoming more important and that has been driven by a number of lifestyle factors - more top-up shopping trips, meeting the work-life balance eg ‘shopping for tonight’ missions, and budget constraints, among others,” he adds. “Occasion-based merchandising is also on the up because of the way people are using their convenience stores. Where they once used to be merely a place to head for small items such as newspapers, store owners are now increasingly aware of the growing opportunities around their fresh and chilled fixtures, and are really making the most of this. Both symbol groups and independents have had to recognise the different missions that customers might be on and adjust accordingly so that they can compete confidently against multiples.”

Country Choice’s Stephen Clifford says it’s more than just grouping related products together. “Merchandising products together for, say, an evening meal sounds sensible but there are practical issues that make it difficult,” he says. “For example, say the shopper wants to make salmon, rice and peas for an evening meal. The salmon steaks are chilled, the rice is ambient and the peas are frozen. The practicality of merchandising these products together is made difficult by the various temperature requirements and the endless combinations.

“Consider also the ‘top-up’ shopper popping into buy a loaf of bread and a carton of milk which are the most common purchases in a convenience store,” he adds. “Bread is used in a wide variety of meal occasions so where do you locate it? Many products are ubiquitous in that they can form part of lots of different meals so exactly what goes together is not as simple as it sounds.”

Hazelden says customers may realise that something is being done right if a store satisfies a particular mission. “The public do get customer missions when they see it done well, with the stores being clearly zoned by mission,” he says. “A retailer needs to make the store talk the dominant mission to help them understand.”

But, of course, if you’re not sure what your ‘dominant customer mission’ is, how can you focus on it? Hazelden offers this advice to retailers who are unsure. “To understand what the ‘missions’ are driving people into your store it is important to either talk to your customers, or undertake some kind of survey,” he says. “You can also use your epos data to look at what are the most frequently purchased items and from this draw conclusions about the missions behind those purchases.”

What’s your mission?

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