Developing and optimizing retail excellence is an always-on priority for companies that have a consumer-facing in-store presence. How to allocate investments, how to optimize the points-of-sale setup, how to enhance the customer experience at stores where consumers buy? This equation includes several variables such as marketing activities, consumer perception and cost. From the perspective of cost, field force plays a crucial role.
HKScan is a Nordic food company with over a hundred years’ experience in producing a rich range of meat and ready meal products. Nordic purity, quality and responsibility are the core elements in the offering. The company sells, markets, and produces pork, beef, poultry and lamb products, including for example meals and cold cuts. HKScan’s strong brand portfolio includes HK®, Scan®, Rakvere®, Kariniemen®, Rose® and Tallegg® brands, which are commonly known in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and the Baltics. The company also exports to nearly 50 countries. This article is about the collaboration between HKScan, Crowst, and 11 000 Crowsters around Finland, who empower business operations with direct, real-time consumer insights.
Barbecue parties call for seasonal products
Finns love a good barbecue. However, firing up the grill while fighting the snow and -15C January temperatures is nothing short of madness. This means that in Finland, the hot barbecue season is short, typically from May to early September. This sets additional time pressure to retail planning, campaign material placement, and introduction of new products.
Finns are known to be crazy for sausages. They eat them at picnics, summer cottages, at hockey matches and nowadays also in fine dining restaurants. In the recent years the in-store shelve space and promotions have increased remarkably around this category, covering raw, artisan, and flavoured sausages. And of course, there are also those traditional product brands that have been the Finnish household names for decades, if not centuries. The growing product range in shops sets new challenges; how to categorize these products and help consumers to find what they are looking for, easily? What is the right spot for a premium sausage product that boasts premium quality meat? HK Maakarit is an artisan meat product family that includes domestic, traditional premium sausages as well as exotic flavours from around the world.
“Summer is the ultimate test of our retail excellence for sausages”, opens Ida Kohtamäki, Category Manager of Processed Foods at HKScan Finland. “Product development of new flavours, marketing and campaign design, as well as the development of our distribution network are all following the schedule of the hot season; Finland’s short but gorgeous summer”, Kohtamäki continues. “Finland is geographically a vast country, and we want to ensure our products are well-presented in stores in various retail chains, across all key cities. We want that our customers have a great experience at the point of sale, and who would be better people to tell how we are doing than the consumers themselves?”, Kohtamäki describes.
The field force of 22 000 eyes and ears across Finland
In June 2018, HKScan and Crowst kicked off the collaboration to track and measure retail excellence across Finland. How well and intuitively consumers find the products in stores? Do the products stand out against competition? How does the execution vary between geographical regions across the country, and between the selected retail chains?
Regions, chains, and specific stores were selected to be visited regularly during the study period. The questions drilled down to discoverability, positioning and shelve placement, and visibility of the Maakarit products in stores. Crowsters, consumers who use the Crowst mobile app to respond to the study from various stores and cities, gave a genuine consumer view from the spot. They also took pictures of the product shelves as instructed, helping to concretely see the execution in each location.
“Crowsters, consumers who live throughout Finland and use the Crowst mobile app to respond to studies, delivered us the first 100 responses from Helsinki to Oulu within 24 hours.”
“Having the field force of thousands of people on our payroll in Finland simply wouldn’t be feasible. However, we need to source information fast from all selected cities across the country. Crowsters, consumers who live throughout Finland and use the Crowst mobile app to respond to studies, delivered us the first 100 responses from Helsinki to Oulu within 24 hours”, outlines Tomi Kuittinen, Head of Insight & Foresight at HKScan Finland.
Along with speed, cost-efficiency plays a crucial role. No need to send the company staff anywhere, paying for the travel costs and accommodation. It’s simple; target and publish the mission on the online Crowst Dashboard, and the Crowsters’ phones bling, informing them about the new mission and locations to be visited in their neighbourhood. “In addition to the speed of getting data, we also highly value that these people are consumers. They are not retail professionals, they have not gone through an elaborate training to evaluate retail execution that could skew their natural perception in stores. They are people who live their lives and buy goods; thus, they are best equipped to provide us the genuine, unprompted view on how we are doing”, Kuittinen summarizes.
Seeing retail excellence with pictures
At work, time is limited. There rarely is time to go through extensive research reports and identify the most urgent areas that require attention at the retail interface. This is even more critical during the hot sales season. Pictures help to intuitively see what is the situation, placement, and the campaign setup in each store. Seeing is believing, and pictures enable an immediate action. “The pictures concretely show us the situation, through the eyes of the consumers in stores. On the Crowst Dashboard we are able to see our in-store presence, in real-time”, Kuittinen comments.
Along with the respondents’ answers to the actual study questions, the pictures taken by the respondents help to see the general product section setup in the locations of interest. Verifying the positioning of the products, the shelve fill rate and the competitors’ in-store presence is easy and intuitive, thanks to pictures and their location-specific metadata. The consumer view complements the factual, consistently tracked retail execution metrics and strengthens the overall scope of the data sourced.