By Howard Riell, Associate Editor
As convenience stores look to attract more female customers, industry figures indicate that the health and beauty care (HBC) category offers retailers an opportunity they might not have considered before.
While no one is claiming that c-stores will ever take the place of the cosmetics counter at Macy’s, having the right products in the right sizes and in the right kind of setting can generate additional sales.
“While c-stores don’t shun women, the nature of the c-store experience isn’t about attracting women,” explained Jane Brody Koenke, chief creative and inspiration officer for Marina Maher Communications LLC in New York City. “C-stores are set up to accommodate quick beverage, snack and gasoline purchases—get in, get what you need, get out. Men buy. Women shop. (They) like to spend time looking at, trying on and experimenting with HBC products. The premise of a c-store is counter-intuitive to attracting female customers.”
J. “Bubba” Kirkland, senior vice president of merchandising and foodservice for E-Z Mart Stores in Texarkana, Texas, doesn’t believe the c-store industry does a good job with health and beauty aids, and for a very practical reason. “This industry is not able to purchase on the same level as ‘big-box’ locations, therefore we can’t be competitive. So we back down on the category as a whole and just try to serve the immediate consumption, emergency use.”
That said, convenience stores can pick up additional sales in this category.
“Take a look at items that non-convenience store competitors are selling and pick a few to get competitively priced on. You will have to give up margin, but in turn, incremental sales may come,” Kirkland said.
At the moment, few c-stores chains seem to be putting their eggs into the HBC basket—yet.
“I haven’t seen any real examples of convenience stores marketing directly to female consumers,” said Linda Landers, CEO of Girlpower Marketing in Newport Beach, Calif., a public relations and marketing consultancy that specializes in understanding the diverse segments of the women’s market, “so as a general rule I wouldn’t say they do a good job. Female customers typically will frequent a convenience store based on location or because of an immediate or distress need. In my experience, more often than not, the person at the counter—typically male—barely even looks up at me as I make my purchase.”
MORE THAN MAKEUP
“Overall c-stores, as a famous cigarette ad once said, ‘have come a long way, baby,’” said Cherri Prince, principal of the Cherri Prince Co. in Odessa, Fla., a consultancy that develops strategies and research tools to help marketers meet the needs of women.
“More and more of them are cleaner, brighter and offer a wider array of items time-pressed women need. After all, as more women have entered the workforce over the past 30 years, more women are also commuting and enjoying the convenience of c-stores. Yet there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to attracting and winning over female customers,” she said.
Prince led the strategy development behind three straight years of double-digit growth for Kellogg’s Special K, Rice Krispies and Silk.
HBC still seems to be more of an afterthought in c-stores than part of a deliberate strategy to attract female shoppers, said Prince. Clearly marked sections are a good place to start.
“The worst-case scenario is finding the tampons by the lighter fluid or the baby wipes by the chicken noodle soup,” Prince said. “HBC items can be difficult to find in the store and this can be incredibly frustrating. The last thing she wants to do is to go ask the cashier, ‘Where are the tampons?’”
Koenke, who led the creative team for Procter & Gamble’s Health & Beauty Category Reinvention campaign, said she has not seen c-stores even try to create an experience for women and HBA. “For that reason alone,” Prince said, “a c-store seems to be a good place for women to ‘fill-in’ their go-to beauty products when they run out, but an unlikely place for women to spend time shopping for HBC products.”
The good news for retailers, she continued, is that convenience and price can definitely drive those ‘fill-in’ purchases at c-stores.
“But unless c-stores change the experience to give women reasons to buy HBC on-the-go, c-stores aren’t the most likely place for women to shop for beauty products,” Prince said.
Business as usual won’t get women in to shop for HBC, Koenke stressed. “They need to bring something new, exciting and coveted to the HBC category to inspire women to shop there. And they need to break the news in a big way. They’d also need to plan it carefully so they wouldn’t alienate their loyal male customers.”
While merchandising is a huge part of retailing, she said that it should not be looked to to drive sales by itself.
“It’s about more than just the footprint of the displays,” Koenke said. “It’s about changing the experience, which in turn will change the mindset. Done the right way, HBC has a huge opportunity at c-stores.”
“C-stores are actually well positioned to address women’s needs with ‘got-to-have-it-now-and-fast’ items from fem care to pain relievers and from diapers to deodorant,” Prince said. “The single-serve or small-sized versions make the most sense from the female and retailer perspective: women are very form- and brand-loyal in HBC, so she isn’t going to want to invest a lot in a full-size pack of a brand or form that isn’t her usual choice.”
Besides allowing retailers to broaden their HBC offerings, small or travel sizes of items can be positioned to women as purse-sized. “This is the perfect size of Advil or hair spray or mouthwash to have at the ready in her purse—a woman’s personal c-store with leather handles,” Prince said. “With 70% of moms today in the workforce, retailers must also meet the spur-of-the-moment HBC needs of her kids, too. Single-size diapers, wipes, and children’s allergy or pain relievers are crucial for the commuting mom in a pinch.”
LOYALTY AND VALUE
HBC products and related items are often purchased in a c-store as more of an impulse or emergency purchase.
“Women typically prefer one-stop shopping, where a large amount of their shopping can be completed, versus a smaller store that would be typically used for convenience and for ‘fill-in’ items,” said Landers of Girlpower Marketing. “Women also seek value, and the perception, rightly or wrongly, is that convenience stores are more expensive than other store formats. Distress purchases are the main reasons that women come in for HBC items.”
In order to be successful in marketing to women and maximizing their HBC sales, retailers should offer more than convenience, Landers suggested.
“Also, understanding their location and proximity to other businesses could help,” Landers said. “For example, if a convenience store is located next to a business with a large number of female employees, or a college with a large number of female students, that should be considered in the types of HBC items they stock.”
Listening to a woman’s needs is also important in building loyalty, she added. “Ask returning female customers what products they’d like to see made available in the store, and then stock them.”
Indeed, Landers underscored, talking to female customers is critical to success. “Find out what they want and need, and make sure they feel heard: 85% of women make all consumer purchases, yet 91% of women feel marketers don’t understand them. Women want honesty and authenticity, and to know they’re being listened to.”
Women also appreciate services as much as they do products, Landers said. “Find a way to provide a helpful service that will ensure women will tell their circle of friends.”
While beauty aids aren’t considered a typical convenience product offering, tweaking the c-store culture just enough can spur more category sales.
Going the Extra Mile
Jane Brody Koenke, chief creative and inspiration officer for Marina Maher Communications LLC, suggests that convenience stores that want to commit to making the health and beauty care (HBC) category might want to think outside the box. Among Koenke’s suggestions for driving HBC sales at c-stores:
• Create a unique experience: “Imagine a lipstick or nail polish vending machine next to the gas pumps; an amazing new technology that helps overcome the lack of ability to try before they buy; (or) a strong rewards program specific to HBC,” Koenke said.
• In-store mini-spas: “Looking at it in a completely different way,” Koenke said, “what if c-stores took their major barrier and turned it into a benefit by creating ‘beauty-in-five’ spas where women could stop in and in five minutes have their makeup done and buy a few products?”