Shelf-space surveys in supermarkets: objectives and best practices

Shelf space survey: 8 benefits for your brand

Margot Bonhomme
November 14, 2023 - 7 min reading

If you're one of the brands that sell their products in supermarkets, you know that shelf space surveys are essential.

But have you mastered all the issues involved?

At Sidely, our mission is to boost your sales in supermarkets, which is why we've prepared a full article on the subject.

We'll start by clarifying what a shelf space statement is, then highlight the best approaches your sector managers should take, and conclude with the 8 major benefits your brand can reap!

What is a linear survey? 

Shelf-space surveys are carried out by brands in the various points of sale of their distribution network. This practice enables them to obtain information on the presence of their products and those of their competitors in store.

This information includes prices, shelf space and any special features. 

Linear surveys can be carried out by the brand's own teams, by specialized service providers, or by crowdsourcing (surveys carried out by private individuals on behalf of service providers).

Also known as a store check, the shelf space survey is generally carried out by the sector manager, who records the quantitative and qualitative data relating to the distribution of his product in his distribution network.

What data is collected during a linear survey?

As an Area Manager, your primary objective when visiting supermarket distributors is to record their presence. As you are well aware, your distribution agreements do not mean that all the products concerned will be systematically integrated into your retailers' assortments.

The shelf-space survey enables us to determine your product holding rate. This corresponds to the number of references present compared with the number stipulated in the contract. 4 products out of 5 correspond to a rate of 80%. 6 products present compared to 5 in the assortment gives a holding rate of... 120%.

Number of mandatory products present Number of additional products present Number of products in mandatory assortment Ownership rate
4 2 5 120%
5 0 6 80%
2 3 7 71%

The shelf-space survey is therefore a crucial step in assessing the factors impacting your brand's performance at your distributors' points of sale. You'll want to note as many points as possible, such as :

  • Number of products in the range ;
  • Number of assortment products missing ;
  • Number of products not in assortment ;
  • Presence and surface of product location (without product = breakage) ;
  • Presence of product and price labels ;
  • Product prices ; 
  • Competitors' prices ;
  • Facing reserved for product ;
  • Shelf level ;
  • Type of department (e.g. organic) ;
  • Zone type (hot, cold) ;
  • Type of highlight.

sidely linear survey

The 8 benefits of shelf-scanning in supermarkets

The benefits to your brand of a well-executed shelf survey are manifold. 

Let's take a look at them!

1) Monitor compliance with central purchasing agreements 

The agreements between you and your distributors may include a number of criteria. As an area manager, it's your responsibility to make sure your partner complies with them. Here are just a few examples: 

  • Are the elements negotiated in the sales contract respected? 
  • Is your product present? 
  • In what quantities? 
  • Are all the products in the range on display? 
  • Do the prices correspond to what was discussed? 
  • Is the facing correct? 
  • Are the displays supplied by the brand being used? 
  • Are the promised product promotions and highlights being carried out? etc.

2) Improve your point-of-sale presence 

It's a good idea to compare data from different points of sale in the same geographical area. Tracking the presence of your product in each store enables you to calculate your numerical distribution rate (DN), i.e. the number of stores in which your product is distributed in a given area. 

This analysis is completed by calculating the value distribution rate (DV), which corresponds to the market share of the points of sale in which your products are distributed.

DN should be analyzed on two levels: are the right products in the right place? Are my products in the stores that sell the most? To do this, it's important to compare DV and DN rates. This is known as the "20/80 stores" rule: 80% of sales are generated by 20% of stores. This ratio may differ in reality, but the principle remains the same. Where should I concentrate my presence? This is a crucial factor, and will help you determine your sales front, i.e. the stores on which you're going to concentrate in order to maintain the link and increase their profitability.

By keeping a close eye on the presence - or absence - of competing products among distributors, you'll be able to determine your product's positioning and market share in relation to your competitors. This overview of the competition then helps you to define your sales strategy, optimize your tour planning and revise your sales targets.

3) Advise your distributors to increase sell-out

On the other hand, the use of shelf-reading data enables you to understand sales increases and decreases. By linking shelf-space data with sell-out data in each store, you can reconcile means and results.

For example, a visit to a sales outlet may reveal factors contributing to the lack of performance of your products: 

  • The shelf reserved for your product is almost empty; 
  • Missing price tag ;
  • Shelf too inconspicuous;
  • Product is in a cold zone on the customer's circulation route

In short: you understand what makes people sell, or what keeps them from selling.

Collecting, comparing and analyzing shelf data gives you the arguments you need to better advise your distributors, and thus increase sales. In addition to shelf readings, it's also a good idea to take into account IRI and Nielsen data, which project the market share of your range and brand. 

Let's take a concrete example: you're a ham brand. The market share of ham in the delicatessen section of supermarkets is 30%, and your brand's market share is 15%. During your visit, you realize that only 10% of the aisle is devoted to hams. This has a downward impact on ham sales volume, and therefore on the department's profitability. On the basis of these reports, you advise the department manager to change the allocation of the department, increasing the representation of ham from 10% to 30% of the charcuterie department. A helping hand is well worth one in return: negotiate to be positioned at eye level in the aisle, and of course, that your brand represents 15% of the aisle.

Ideally, then, you should use the data collected in other outlets to increase the impact of your pitch to the retailer concerned by the lack of results. In fact, if you've noticed that another outlet in the same sector has implemented other practices, such as highlighting, price level, facing, or even shelf type, these are all factual arguments you can use to convince the floor manager to better promote your products. Especially when sales in other outlets have increased as a result.

Remember, the floor manager needs you to help him increase his sales!

Here's a second example: you see - with figures to back it up - that your organic product sells better when it's not in the organic aisle! Its placement in a conventional food aisle may be counter-intuitive, but it's the results that interest you in the first place. Your data can then be used to inform your strategy, but also to convince your partner. In such a case, you could advise him to put your product in a standard food aisle, but with an ORGANIC label and a revised price. If another outlet achieves 40% higher sales by selling the product for 15% less, the argument is unstoppable!

4) Determine average price

When you work with central purchasing agencies, such as Monoprix, your visits to supermarkets are generally an opportunity to discover the prices at which outlets sell your products. This is the famous "observed price".

This is a vital element for your business: consumers may be put off by a selling price they consider too high, and your distributor may have skipped over the selling price you recommended to increase his margin. If this is the case, use shelf surveys from other sales outlets to show that a lower selling price sometimes leads to higher results, including in terms of profitability!

5) Consolidate commercial relations with distributors who promote your products

When one of your distributors promotes your product, you owe it to yourself to pay particular attention to the commercial relationship. You'll want to increase the frequency of visits to monitor the impact of your actions. Your objective will be to contribute to the performance of the POS (point-of-sale promotion), by proposing, for example, to add an animation to get sales off the ground. Warning: if the operation is a failure, your distributor may no longer stock the product...

It's up to you to make the most of hypermarkets and supermarkets, which give your product a high profile, especially when it comes to exclusive distribution.

optimize mass-market sales

6) Detect any bottlenecks in order-taking and procurement

When you notice missing products on the shelves, you need to speak quickly with the department manager to determine the cause:

  • Is the layout reserved for the product empty because of a restocking problem? 
  • Is the problem logistical? 
  • is the product out of stock? 
  • Do orders take too long to arrive? 
  • Did the floor manager forget to place an order?
  • Are orders too low in relation to sales? 
  • Are sales too low compared with competing products? 

These explanations enable you to find solutions by escalating the problem to the appropriate people in the company.

7) Check that the product meets consumer expectations

The shelf survey is also an opportunity to question a lack of performance in relation to the product/demand match. Whether it's a loss of speed for the range in general, or the stronger appeal of competing products, don't neglect "market" criteria in your analysis.

So, take advantage of your visits to sales outlets to talk with the floor manager, with the aim of adapting the sales strategy and thus boosting sales, for example through events or promotions. Point out blocking points to the marketing department, so that it can adjust its messages to avoid losing its customer base, and try to adapt to their new expectations.

8) Cross-reference data to refine your sales strategy

As we've seen, in-store line-scanning provides you with a wealth of crucial data. By collecting it via a mobile CRM designed for the retail sector, you enable your brand to converge all these marketing and sales actions: 

  1. Identify the factors that really impact sales in the field; 
  2. Revitalize sales by taking corrective action;
  3. Be an advisor to the department manager, who appreciates being able to draw on your data and analyses; 
  4. Plan your sales rounds more effectively ; 
  5. Report any logistical or marketing problems that hamper sales performance; 
  6. Determine a strategy for an entire sector by centralizing data linked to different points of sale and competitors' actions.

So, developing and then defending your point-of-sale layout starts with a good shelf-space survey, using a high-performance tool that facilitates analysis. The key? Market share gains in your territory, and overall brand performance based on the analysis of real data.

Sidely wishes you happy sales!

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