Keep Up With the Competition: Tips from Expo West

Retailers had better wake up to the realities of today’s marketplace, according to Corinne Shindelar, CEO of the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association (INFRA). “If you think, ‘I don’t have any competition at all,’ you aren’t paying enough attention to how much business is taking place online these days,” she said to begin a seminar called “How Your Store Can Make the Most out of Competition.”

To set the template, Shindelar noted that while business at natural retail stores is still booming, conventional supermarket revenues grew only 2.9% in 2013, less than the 3% rate of food price inflation. In other words, they are in trouble, and natural stores should also take caution. To keep up with the fierce competition from other natural stores and online outlets, she presented some specific advice retailers should follow.

Tip number one is to price check the local competition “all the time.” Number two is to follow consumer research studies from the likes of NMI, FMI and Hartman Group, as these help you stay on top of the trends. 51% of consumers want digital receipts at checkout, Shindelar also explained, with the lesson being that retailers should be letting technology play an increasingly important part at their stores.

Keep in mind that there is a high level of awareness among consumers of certain product attributes, she said. Do you highlight your store’s dedication to areas like gluten free and non-GMO? Shindelar also advised retailers to do their own research before the competition moves into your market, not after. Be proactive, not reactive. She suggests that stores ask some customers if they would fill out a survey for a small discount, asking them to give you feedback with a critical eye.

Stores should train and retrain staff to make sure everyone is on the same page with customer messaging. Also recognize that competition can actually present a challenge to staff morale. Don’t cut your marketing budget! Shindelar advised that stores need to continually tell the essential aspects of their story. Finally, she told retailers to take the threat of competition and turn it into an opportunity to really get to know themselves as a business.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, May 2014