EXCLUSIVE: Why Are In-Store Displays Declining?

Progressive Grocer talks with Circana expert about how to re-think this promotional tool
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Grocery store display
According to Circana, grocery store displays have decreased at least 10% in the past few years.

As part of its market research work, Circana regularly sends teams to go into stores to gauge product placement and displays across several categories. After the pandemic eased, those tasked with tracking those items for the Chicago-based firm (formerly IRI and The NPD Group) uncovered an interesting trend.

“In 2021, we looked at the numbers and were surprised how dramatic the loss was in displays,” said Krista Marino, consultant for Circana’s in-store solutions group. Retailers that had to change displays for health and safety reasons, especially in the perimeter, didn’t seem to be returning to their previous merchandising methods.

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“When we looked at the number again in 2023, we realized we lost even more displays,” Marino told Progressive Grocer in a recent interview, noting that the data showed that grocers have lost an average of 10 displays since the pre-pandemic days. “And it doesn’t look like they are coming back.”

The dearth of displays doesn’t seem to be product driven, according to Marino. “We can’t say it’s driven by a particular department. The only ones that stayed are cold displays, and a retailer won’t remove a cold or frozen end cap,” she observed.

Industry labor shortages are one probable reason for the change, as stores had fewer people on the floor to update displays. “Also, I think shoppers got used to a cleaner store. And store formats changed, too,” added Marino.

Another contributing factor may be the unit lift that displays provide to a grocer, which used to be more than 100% but has dwindled down to 55% in more recent years. “If you’re looking at the simple metrics – looking at lift – and if it isn’t working, why rebuild it?” she pointed out, adding that the inflation-driven market has also affected basket size and consumers’ penchant for deals like “buy two, get one free.”

Re-Tooling for Customer-Centricity

So how can grocers re-think their displays for a more meaningful – and profitable –  use? “Why don’t we look at it as a way of communicating with the shopper?” asked Marino. “It’s a way for a retailer to say, ‘I see you, I hear you.'’” Using displays to convey core messages, whether it’s an inspirational meal idea or showcasing trending new products, can be effective. 

In addition, retailers can use displays to meet the needs of shoppers who are increasingly visiting the store for quick trips. offering them in-store favorites. “If I am running to the store to grab something, would it be beneficial to have an item I am more likely to buy in the front-end cap, lobby or perimeter a I walk around the ‘racetrack’ of the store?” Marino remarked.

Displays can also be used more often to highlight deals. “Shoppers are looking for value, so you can look for ways to support that behavior, including through store brands,” Marino noted. In-store displays provide a highly visual opportunity to showcase private label offerings.  

Another way to use displays to an advantage is through a coordinated promotional execution. Circana’s data shows that products supported by both a feature and a display resulted in a 129% unit lift from the third quarter of 2022 to the third quarter of 2023, outpacing the impact of each tactic on its own. 

Ultimately, grocers who know their shopper base can think strategically about displays. “Am I displaying what my shopper wants? Maybe they want private label, small packs and value propositions. But they might also want products with health or sustainability benefits,” Marino pointed out. 

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