A physical retail location is a highly influential touchpoint for any brand, and the merchandising decisions you make can be more effective on multiple levels when you consider that every merchandising tactic has a very specific job to do.

In short, not every retail tactic can be a catchall for marketing messages.

We have gone into detail about what we call the Five Zones of Influence at Retail, and the roles they play in helping a shopper through the customer journey. Today, we’ll look at some specific tactics in each zone to provide a cheat sheet of sorts to help you evaluate creative for each.

Here, we hope to provide a few quick points about the emotional and functional roles of each piece, and how to make every retail tactic work harder by focusing on the jobs each has to do.


Tactic: Free-standing display
Self-shipping merchandisers are untethered to any one location in a store, making it ultra-flexible.

Functional role: Disrupt a shopper’s mission when it does not involve your product’s primary retail footprint. In other words, attract them when they’re not necessarily looking for you.
Emotional role: Make shoppers feel like they are being more efficient in their trip. “I was able to grab a deal that wasn’t even on my list, and I saved time.”
Insight: One recent study puts the average cost of a freestanding display at $40, with an average incremental sales return of about 3:1.1
How to do it: Remind the retailer that placement with adjacent category products is good for their bottom line too. After all, it may be disruptive to encounter an electronics display in the garden aisle, but some context is necessary. Include a list of example products or categories that make sense for placement.

Tactic: Category signage
If a brand is lucky enough to negotiate a category captaincy at a retailer, this can be a powerful tool for lifting the entire aisle. A rising tide lifts all ships.

Functional role: Help shoppers to understand exactly what is in the area
Emotional role: Make shoppers feel like they can confidently navigate without asking for help
Insight: Shoppers tend to buy the brand they see first. If you have the opportunity to include your brand on aisle signage, take it.2
How to do it: Avoid ambiguous language and use terms shoppers would use. For instance, “Personal Audio” isn’t as helpful as “Headphones & Bluetooth® Speakers”


Tactic: Shelf wobblers
Your customer is actively seeking a differentiator while looking to narrow down specific product choices.

Functional role: Show the #1 most important thing about the product that makes them a better person
Emotional role: Make shoppers feel like “only one brand here is interested in helping me become what I should be.”
Insight: Shoppers are interested in products that help them to become more creative and feel apart from the crowd.3 Make sure your differentiator applies.
How to do it: Closely examine other category options and create a messaging hierarchy to determine which points are most important in context of those products.


Tactic: Self-guided demonstrations
Shoppers are projecting how the product will fit into their lives today and tomorrow.

Functional role: Give the shopper a taste of what using the product is like
Emotional role: Make the shopper feel how proud they would be to own the product
Insight: When physical products are made available on display, interaction with product becomes the primary purchase driver.4
How to do it: Explicitly tell the shopper which features to use and how to access them, then connect their in-store experience with a likely real-world scenario.


Tactic: Mobile opt-in
Customers are looking for short- and long-term benefits by beginning a conversation directly with a brand.

Functional role: Reach shoppers on devices they have on them 100% of the time
Emotional role: Make the shopper feel like they have access to information and offers that are not generally available
Insight: Shoppers are already using their phones while in-store, and they are still frustrated at the lack of information available.5
How to do it: Back up the emotional promise by providing exclusive content and offers that are unavailable through other channels. Even better, provide contextually relevant content based on geolocation, shopper profiles, and more.


Tactic: Sales tools
Helping to educate store associates on both the product and the category at large can increase their recall on the sales floor, which increases product mentions when approached by shoppers.

Functional role: Earn mindshare of influencers at retail
Emotional role: Make shoppers feel like the expertise they are seeking will solve their purchase decision anxiety.
Insight: Shoppers research online, but a store associate is still perceived as a more personal way to convey their unique needs.6
How to do it: Deliver materials that will genuinely make associates better at their jobs. For instance, an easy-to-memorize acronym would be more effective than a list of product features.

Remember that these are general guidelines; the most important thing to consider when beginning to plan your retail presence is to consider the context of the store and its relationship with shoppers. After all, a customer at Fry’s is likely to have different awareness levels and assumptions about Bluetooth speakers than a shopper at a more general retailer like Walmart.

1 “ During this study, the average cost per display unit was nearly $40. PPV on average for this study was 318%. This means that for every $1 spent on a display, in this study, there was an average return of $3.18 incremental sales dollars when properly executed.” (Source)

2” The fact that shoppers were frequently buying the brand they saw first. In other words, shopping in this aisle was not necessarily a matter of people finding “their brand” and putting it in the cart.” (Source)

3 “Important emotional motivators include desires to “stand out from the crowd,” “have confidence in the future,” and “enjoy a sense of well-being,” to name just a few.” (Source)

4 “Specifically, we found that, when physical product displays were available (typically in computer superstores), they were nearly always the initial source of attention – and the primary driver of decisions.” (Source)

5 “Two-thirds of those surveyed said they couldn’t find the details they needed while visiting a store. Many, as a result, are turning to their smartphone to fill in the information gap.” (Source)

6 “While online shopping provides 24-hour shopping convenience, consumers still want to see and handle products, interact with a knowledgeable associate to discuss their personal needs…” (Source)