“Think mission” Unilever global director for customer and shopper marketing tells IGD

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Convenience retailing is transforming globally, according to Suzy Ford, global director for customer and shopper marketing at Unilever.

Speaking at the IGD’s Convenience Retailing conference, Ford said Unilever has identified four mega trends, which are globally impacting convenience and changing the way shoppers behave.

They are:

  • Living differently – including a reduction in household sizes, more single person households and more women in the workforce
  • Urban globalisation – there is population growth and growth of cities, where convenience and small stores prevail. Ford said that by 2020 half of the middle class will be found in Asia and there are 400 emerging markets, which will have cities that are mid-size and driving 40% of economic growth
  • Climate change – 85% of the energy created to drive the economy comes from carbon based fuels and there is a real opportunity to think about convenient, sustainable solutions the industry can give to shoppers
  • Digital revolution – a continued blurring of boundaries between the virtual reality world and physical bricks and mortar world. Shoppers are looking for convenient solutions that allow them to seamlessly shop anywhere, any time, any place.

“All the trends are fueling convenience,” said Ford, who reported 300,000 new convenience stores have opened globally in the last year.

Ford urged delegates to understand shopper behaviour and intuitively match it.

There is a need to understand shopper missions such as topping up, food for now and food for tonight, she said. 

Ford advised retailers “think mission” and then design stores based on those missions with the right ranges and merchandising.

Ford highlighted three retailer case studies where Unilever has collaborated to develop sales. 

They include Tesco Lotus in Thailand, which has created new mission-based layouts including personal care, a destination category for Thai shoppers. Top up, which was a the heart of the store, is now at the front of the store in Thailand with fresh foods alongside food for tonight. 

The layouts have been tested in virtual reality scenarios and piloted in two stores. 

“The indications are that it’s going to be a success,” said Ford.

Unilever has also partnered with The Co-operative in the UK to enhance local livelihoods via the retailer’s Community Fund. 

In an 18-month collaboration the companies worked together on a 360˚ event to raise money for the Community Fund.

It spanned 4,000 stores and included a donation to the fund on sales of Unilever products.

Ford said the initiative donated £300,000 to the Community Fund and grew both market share at The Co-operative and for Unilever.

Ford also highlighted Unilever’s Partners for Growth scheme, which has helped to drive category growth since 2004.

“The way convenience looks today will not look like this in 20 years time,” Ford warned but the industry will still “need solutions to meet shoppers’ needs”.