Service and Selection: Finding the Balance


One great strength you have as an independent natural products retailer is your broad selection of hard-to-find, high-quality products. But for first-time natural shoppers, this massive selection can be overwhelming. You remember the jam study, where a large independent high-end supermarket known for its selection presented two sample tables of jam. One table had six choices, the other 24. There was a demo person at each table to explain the products and offer tastings. Which table sold more jam? If you said the table with six choices, you’re right. Customers said the table with 24 jams was overwhelming, and many left without buying anything.

Here are some tools to help you strike the most effective balance between optimum choice and maximum sales.

1. Have a reason for every product. As a test, every one of your front-line team should be able to explain—in 10 seconds or less—why a particular product should live on your shelves. Compared to other options, for example, the formula might be more synergistic. Or the ingredients are higher quality. The form may be easier to ingest, or the value-for-quality equation is more attractive. Here’s a tip: A product simply being “new” isn’t enough today. Years ago, when you were struggling to fill your shelves to make your store look full, any new product would do. Today, this is not the case. There are too many “Me, Too!” products that aren’t superior in any way to items you already carry.

2. Make it easy to find. Remember, we are focusing on the new, uninitiated shopper who may be visiting your store for the first time. Not only are the products unfamiliar, their purposes are also unclear. For supplements in particular, offering both branded sections as well as structure/function sections is best. Call out body systems such as joint health, circulation and digestion, and create platforms for group interests such as gender, age and lifestyle for women’s health, children and sports fitness, to make finding products easier. You cannot be too clear. Big signs above the section, as well as perpendicular shelf talkers that extend into the aisle from the tag molding let customers know where they are in the store.

3. Engage the customer. Your greatest strength is—and will continue to be—providing personal attention and guidance through your trained staff. Even though you have nutritionally knowledgeable team members, you may still need to role-play and train how and when to engage the customer. Is she making a bee-line for the women’s health section, or is she tip-toeing into the aisles looking like a deer caught in the headlights? Being aware of body language and being prepared to use words and phrases that immediately defuse tension and demonstrate empathy can mean the difference between a customer walking out empty-handed and leaving feeling more hopeful than when she came in, with products in hand and solutions in mind. WF

Jay Jacobowitz is president and founder of Retail Insights®, a professional consulting service for natural products retailers established in 1998, and creator of Natural Insights for Well Being®, a comprehensive marketing service designed especially for independent natural products retailers. With 35 years of wholesale and retail industry experience, Jay has assisted in developing over 1,000 successful natural products retail stores in the U.S. and abroad. Jay is a popular author, educator, and speaker, and is the merchandising editor of WholeFoods Magazine, for which he writes Merchandising Insights and Tip of the Month. Jay also serves the Natural Products Association in several capacities. He can be reached at (800)328-0855 or via e-mail at

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, August 2012