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Getting Ghosted by Retail Buyers? [Here’s How to Get Your Products on the Shelf]

The retail media landscape is full of advertising platforms, ad placement types, and marketing opportunities for brands—but this can get overwhelming to those who are new or unfamiliar with the space. How do brands even get on digital or in-store shelves in the first place?

In this article, we’ll bring it back to the basics to help you understand how to work with brokers/buyers to get your products on shelves as well as tactics to then get your products off the shelves with winning advertising strategies. Tinuiti’s Bridget Marino, Associate Director of Walmart & Emerging Marketplace Search recently spoke to TJ Vareka, Head of Sales at KMG Group in an online session Getting Your Products on (and then off) the Shelf – Strategies for Working with Brokers and Creating Winning Advertising where they provide expert insight into the ever-evolving world of retail media. 

Let’s start by diving into a few tips for getting your products into major retailers.

How to Get Your Product on the Shelf

Selling across multiple retailers is critical to scaling your business. But how do you ultimately get your items on—and off—the shelf at major retailers? The process first starts with getting to know the various retail buyers in the business. These connections can be made through email, networking sites like LinkedIn, or finding connections organically. Leveraging relationships is key in this initial step so you can get meetings on the books and get access to key retail media networks.

Vareka noted that many brands wonder if they should send care packages to certain retailers to make an impact and show off their product. Retailers like Target and Walmart discourage this practice and might actually see it as crossing the line. It’s important to keep a balance between the eagerness to get in stores and coming across as overwhelming to buyers.

Hot tip: If you’re not able to make a connection directly with buyers, keep in mind that in many cases the inventory team is a stepping stone into the buyer position as that team is eager to be involved and to learn more. 

How Long Does the Process Take to Get on Shelves?

Vareka noted that getting products in stores like Target and Walmart isn’t an overnight task…

“In terms of how long from start to finish it takes to get on the shelves, it typically takes anywhere from 6-9 months.” 

During this timeframe, there are a variety of review steps including the initial sharing of your brand, sampling, etc. If you’re looking to stand out, Vareka shared he once saw a brand cook french toast and waffles for a buyer off-site so they could get a true taste and feel for the product. While not every brand might get a similar opportunity, it shows that those who want to get into these big retailers need to get creative to keep retail buyers interested and engaged. 

But what do you do if you’re simply not hearing back from these buyers?

Ghosted By Buyers – Now What?

Vareka notes that, “One of the things that stirs the most anxiety with brands is not hearing back from the buyer or having a significant period of silence.”

If you’re not getting feedback or response, Vareka recommends reaching out to the brand with marketing updates and relevant retailer launches to stay in front of the buyer. While it’s important to get feedback from these buyers, it’s good to remember that there is a fine line between staying top-of-mind and becoming a nuisance. Provide them with helpful resources rather than just a sales pitch.

Who to Include in These Conversations?

For brands that are selected to be on shelves, Vareka noted they typically have 90 days to prepare (which isn’t a lot of time). For brands that are in the earlier stages, this requires a lot of work as they need to build their forecasts, manage inventory, and so much more. In many cases, once given the green light, brands may need to prop up an entirely new team or add additional roles to coordinate with these major retailers.

During these conversations, it’s important to include these teams from the start:

  • Sales teams (data and velocities)
  • Supply chain and operations teams (forecasting and production timelines)
  • Marketing teams 

The Keys to Being Prepared

When going into conversations with buyers, it’s important to have the following information and data on hand as many require/need this information to get the ball rolling. 

 

 Diagram displaying key considerations when negotiating with retail buyers

 

Preparation for these conversations is a key element in getting products on shelves at these major retailers. When going into conversations, you should also have the following information at the ready: 

Costing

  • Cost of Goods 
  • Trade Funding
  • All other Costs (accruals, spoilage, free case of goods, etc.)

“In our conversations with private equity groups, one of their biggest pain points is brands not having the complete picture of their cost of goods which includes raw materials, labor, production, transportation, etc. – all of those are moving targets and having a handle on them is really important,” says Vareka. 

 

Innovation & Incrementality 

  • How to define
  • True White-Space 
  • Monetizing the Opportunity (giving a rough estimate) 

Supply Chain 

  • Forecasting
  • Facility
  • Freight 

Vareka highlights that “being able to accurately forecast timeline vs. demand sometimes can be the difference between being successful or not.”

 

Marketing & Awareness Building 

  • Retailer Specific Tools 
  • External Levers (community events, activations)
  • Search engine optimization

 

Once a brand has been selected to be in stores, a variety of activations come into play, and they aren’t necessarily linear. Many of the following critical pieces will be moving all at once… 

Flow chart showing important marketing considerations for retail media

Getting Your Products Off the Shelf

Now that your products are either in-store, online, or both – it’s time to get merchandise off the shelves and into consumers’ carts. Tinuiti’s Bridget Marino, Associate Director of Walmart & Emerging Marketplace Search shared that the first thing she encourages clients to consider is how shoppers are purchasing products and the different shopping methods in place at each of the targeted retailers.

For example, check out the top five grocery retailers and their available shopping methods that Tinuiti often gets inquiries about…

 

Table showing how customers can shop from grocery retailers like Kroger and Instacart

As you can see, there are a variety of ways to shop at these retailers but Marino highlights an important point for brands to consider… 

Customers are still shopping in-store. In-store seems to be the predominant way customers are shopping across the United States, particularly with mass retailers like Walmart and Target, conventional, and specialty grocery. Many of these transactions are still done with cash, so it’s still important to maintain a healthy presence at the store level, and dare I say it, there seems to be a retail store revival happening. Brick and mortar is still very much alive.” 

Yes, brick-and-mortar stores are alive and well, but it’s still equally important to understand the other ways consumers are shopping. Many grocery retailers are embracing online marketplaces (ships directly to a customer’s home), pick-up orders (curbside or kiosk), and the increasingly popular same-day or next-day delivery. Marino notes that Tinuiti has seen a huge spike in user adoption with same-day delivery since the start of the pandemic.

Stocking Both Your Physical + Digital Shelves

Once you’ve grown familiar with the shopping methods available at key retailers, it’s critical to stock both your in-store and digital shelves. First, let’s break down our in-store merchandising checklist. These are things you need to be paying attention to as you walk through the stores so you can understand each retailer’s physical landscape.

In-Store Merchandising Checklist

Where Are Your Products Located:

  • In-Aisle
  • End Caps
  • Shippers
  • Display/ Pallet Drops 

How Are You Selling Your Products: 

  • Inventory 
  • Signage 
  • Demos

Other Things to Consider: 

  • Square feet 
  • Fully-faced 
  • TPRs (temporary price reductions)

Merchandising the Online Experience

Once you have your in-store experience in place, you’ll also need to take a look at your online presence. Marino shares that it’s important to recreate as much of the in-store experience as you can with the tools that are available at each of the retailer’s websites.

“Just as you want your in-store shelf to look full, inviting, and appetizing, the same should go for your digital shelf. Any element of your digital shelf that is not complete should bother you just as much as a gap on a physical in-store shelf,” says Marino.

 

Marino highlights a few key areas where brands have the opportunity to stand out on online marketplaces.

1. Consider Your Visuals – Make sure to include high-quality visuals that make a great first impression on consumers. Depending on the retailer, we recommend 5-8 pictures and one short product video. It’s also a great idea to take a look at competitor photos as well to see how your brand compares.

2. Include Nutrifacts (grocery-specific) – Clearly show the nutrifacts, ingredients, and allergens in your product listing. These attributes are important to customers as we all have different dietary needs and wants.

3. Craft Insightful Descriptions – Don’t forget to provide detailed product descriptions. Consumers want to know your brand, your value propositions, and what sets you apart from competitors.

4. Encourage Product Reviews – The more product reviews the better. Know that there are services available that can syndicate the reviews from your D2C website directly to the retailer platform.

Which Retail Media Tactics to Choose?

Now that you’ve stocked your digital shelf, it’s time to consider which retail media tactics to choose from to get even more eyes on your merchandise. There are a host of different options out there so first, you’ll want to consider your goals in the marketing funnel highlighted below. 

Marketing funnel illustration for retail media using search targeting

Where and how you choose to invest your marketing dollars in each of these tactics will depend on where your brand and products are in their lifecycle. At Tinuiti, we’ll ask you a variety of questions like who is your number one retailer, are there any spend commitments in place, are there any minimum spend requirements on each tactic, are you launching new products this year? The answers to these questions will have a direct impact on where we choose to make investments against this funnel.

If you’ve spent most of your career focused on more traditional retail marketing, some of the terms and tactics in our cheat sheet below might come across as daunting, so we’ve made parallels from these digital tactics to their in-store counterparts. Check out our list of retail media tactics below.

Chart showing which tactics to use for online retailers depending on funnel stage

While tactics like On-Site Display, Off-Site Display, and Streaming are all great activations to have in place, Marino specifically highlights the importance of On-Site Search…

“On-Site Search should be your digital evergreen tactic. It’s the gateway tactic to retail media and it really should be pursued with the same mindset as if your sales team were going out after circular opportunities like end caps and pallet drops. These are just like incremental, in-store display opportunities. On-site search gives us more opportunity to get products in front of our customers and diversifies where our products show up on the retailer’s website.”

Retail Media Team Structure

So now that we know our digital opportunities, who is going to be devising the strategy and the execution plan? Marino explains that this (image below) is how she’s seen sales/marketing teams structured today to support the quickly-changing retail buyer expectations.

Previously, buyers on the retail side and ecommerce teams were separate and more often we are seeing the retail buyers owning the conversations around both in-store and online marketing opportunities. This pseudo flywheel version of the sales/marketing team (image below) where the sales team, the broker team, and the shopper marketing team own trade and shopper budgets has a bit of a dotted line with ecommerce teams consulting on execution and analysis. But is this sustainable? It’s up for debate considering there are many decision-makers in this flywheel.

 Flywheel showing retail media team structure, including sales, ecommerce, and shopper marketing

Marino predicts that in the CPG industry we will see shopper marketing teams start to hire for retail media experience. This is something she actually suggests as this creates more of a clear ownership of shopper marketing budgets which includes retail media. Shopper marketing will continue to work closely with ecommerce to prioritize digital traffic flow, but we’re going to see shopper marketing teams looking to brush up on their retail media knowledge and have total ownership of in-store and online conversations with their sales team and their retail buyers. Ultimately, these shopper marketing teams are the ones who are building relationships with the buyers as the sales team is more focused on trade dollars.

Marino notes she’s been hearing from shopper marketing professionals that having an agency partner for retail media has been extremely helpful because of the evolving landscape in retail media. Agencies get exposure to a wide range of clients, categories, and products. Agencies, like Tinuiti, have experience devising different types of strategies for clients depending on needs and we often get a seat at the table for Alpha and Beta opportunities and testing.

Key Takeaways

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this blog, but let’s break down the key takeaways you need to know:

  • There are many different paths to Retail and the Consumer
  • Be fanatical about collecting data and knowing your Consumer 
  • Merchandising the online space is just as important (if not more important) than in-store
  • Structure your organization for the future of Retail Media

To check out the corresponding webinar hosted by Tinuiti’s Bridget Marino, Associate Director of Walmart & Emerging Marketplace Search and KMG’s TJ Vareka, Head of Sales click here.

If you’re looking for more insights into getting your products on (and then off) the shelf, we’d love to hear from you. Check out our services page for more information or contact us directly today for more information. 


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