How Retailers Are Using Screens To Create ‘The Endless Aisle’

The ability to extend what's in stock to what a retailer can quickly access for its customers points to how stores can challenge Amazon, says Shoptology's Charlie Anderson.

Traditionally, the idea of shopper marketing strategies have revolved around end-of-the-aisle store displays. But the expectations of the on-demand era and challenges from e-commerce players like Amazon have forced stores to look for new ways to engage their customers.

Charlie Anderson, the founder and CEO of Project Worldwide’s shopper marketing agency Shoptology, says the answer to updating the retailer/customer connection starts with a question: how do you create a bond with shoppers?

One answer that Shoptology has been exploring with its CPG and retail clients is using store screens to create “the endless aisle.”

GeoMarketing: How has the concept of shopper marketing evolved since you first started working on it?

Charlie Anderson: I’ve been in shopper marketing 20 years, right around the time that term was coming into being.

Companies like Procter & Gamble, Walmart, and Coca-Cola were among the first companies to pioneer the space. The work at that point was looking at how customers were shopping specific retail channels. Our job was to develop platforms that were relevant to each part of the shopping journey that could be easily measured.

Because those results could be so easily measured, it turned into an industry vertical and marketing discipline. A lot of CPG companies and even durables organized teams around that in late 1990s.

The internet was still in its infancy then. Were there any consumer facing digital tools at work then?

A lot of the tools in the early days were physical ones. The main goal was getting incremental placement into the product and retail spaces that interrupted shopping flow. It got people’s attention and awareness of new product launches.

Seasonality also played a big role in Shopper Marketer efforts. Spring cleaning platforms were developed, where P&G could have a products display that would reflect all the things someone might need to get all that work done in their home.

There were also unique collaborations. For example, Kleenex might partner with a pharmaceutical company on developing a display that represented a total shopper solution.

Seasonality primarily involved ideas like promoting “fall baking,” where a Crisco Oil and a Pillsbury would come together to create a “shopper solution.” The idea was to give someone baking a cake all the ingredients in one spot in the supermarket.

Now, everyone’s mobile-first. How has that changed the process?

The shopper has become more in control. Before that, the retailers set up the shop and consumers and brands could only follow. Now, consumers can curate their own shopping experiences, decide to shop online or in-store. The path-to-purchase is no longer linear.

But other changes have had a lot more impact. Shoppers are going to less physical stores. So retailers are trying to see how they can be a one-stop store experience. For a large segment of the population, immediate gratification is most important. That’s something online retailers try to deliver two-day, one-day shipping or drop-it-off with a drone. Retailers are promising to get you the product you want right now at the store, or within two days as a backup, to create that seamless experience.

One way to create that seamlessness is through a concept called the Endless Aisle.

What is the Endless Aisle and what’s its value?

Walmart and other retailers are using interactive screens either at the shelf itself or by connecting to your smartphone. You can shop the finite variety of inventory on the shelf and then expand that to all existing products via digital. It keeps the consumer in that retailer’s ecosystem.

If you’re on your phone, you could be paying attention to anyone’s ecosystem. It also can provide new inspiration. If you want to try out the beauty products. You can’t do that online.

With in-store experiences, you can create inspiration. It could be a cooking lesson that inspires you to go beyond your shopping list. You can also click and collect: just set a time to pick up something on your way home.

Can you discuss an example of the Endless Aisle?

One of the early examples of an Endless Aisle experience was in a high-involvement category, tires. It allows customers to come in, use the self-service platform to type in the kind of vehicle you have, and the road conditions you experience. It gets you down to an assortment of tires where you print it out and decide which tire is right for you. It gives you user reviews, everything you expect from an e-commerce experience while you’re in the store.

In the case of Walmart, a kiosk was positioned within a store’s automotive section. If it’s in stock, the store associate easily pulls it. If they don’t have it in the store, it can be shipped to you within two days. It gives you confidence that you’ll get what you want, at the best price, from the biggest selection.

Retailers have been feeling a great deal of pressure from Amazon. How do you assess the impact Amazon has had on shopping? And aside from the Endless Aisle, what are the ways retailers can respond?

Amazon spent a lot of time and effort early on – and made no money – to get people comfortable with the idea of buying online. It has transitioned shoppers in a very significant way. Brick-and-mortar retailers rely heavily on their footprint and their real estate to be a point of difference, to be a place where consumers get immediate gratification.

Retailers are now trying to neutralize two-day free shipping. They’re telling shoppers, “I’m not going to charge you $99 a year for free-shipping like Amazon Prime; I’m going to just ship it to you for free.”

If stores can challenge those Amazon features and then offer a greater browsing experience and immediate gratification, the pendulum could swing back in retailers’ favor.

The bottom line, and the Endless Aisle is an example of this, is that retailers need to offer a variety of digital touchpoints, be more omnichannel in ways that allow consumers to personalize the shopping experience, and from there, use the insights to keep building the relationship with customers to maintain that brand loyalty.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.