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When was the last time you looked at your POS?

By Helen Dugdale.
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In this month's Guest Blog, Wilf Leek from Carter Design talks about the importance of point of sale. 

A question I suspect most of us have been asked by friends and family is a simple one, apparently - “What do you do at work?

And it is one that I have tried to answer in many ways, and am still seeking the best way to convey, to those outside of my industry, just what it is I do all day Monday to Friday and sometimes at weekends too.

“I run a business that designs and manufactures point of sale displays for the retail sector” is the literal truth, but what I have discovered is that, for the vast majority of people, “Point of Sale Display“ is somewhat meaningless - it is something they come into contact with almost every day, and yet rarely consciously notice.

So if the vast majority of consumers don’t consciously notice it, why bother?

Well, where should I begin?  As you might expect, in our consumer-dominated Western societies, there has been a great deal of research into what prompts a buying decision for just about any type of product you can imagine, from the largest to the smallest purchases.

What that research has told us is what we might have expected anyway – that a purchasing decision is a complex one, driven by many subconscious factors, not the least of which is the desire to make a good purchasing decision. Good quality, good value, the right product benefits etc. Much of that research also supports the proposition that sales can be increased by the skilled design and use of good supporting displays at the point of purchase. Simply because it aids the final consumer choice.

The very term “Point of Sale display” (OK, we’ll call it “POS” from here on to save time) covers such a wide range of things – some store groups consider “POS” to be simply their price ticket strips, others maybe the hanging signs that tell us what products are where in their store. And for some brands who are also retailers, their POS has to be a key and supportive part of their retail theatre.

Pretty much as soon as you move away from commodity items like staple foodstuffs, most retailers will expect their brand suppliers to supply not just the product, but the supporting materiel – including POS, and sometimes very sophisticated POS.

Brands will spend huge sums developing their product and its primary packaging, then further huge sums on marketing – usually mostly the media spend. All of this is aimed at creating an image in the potential consumer’s mind of just what that product could do (and hopefully do better than the existing one they buy) for them. And when that expensively-targeted consumer ends up in the retail environment they are searching for the images planted in their minds by that huge media spend – key visuals, product or brand colourways, product benefits, straplines, etc.. What a good piece of POS will do is impactfully convey all of those things to help the consumer find, identify and then choose to buy that specific product often in an incredibly “noisy” retail environment.

So good POS can make a huge difference to sell-through (and can also be a key part of the sell-in to the retailer in the first place). It will reinforce the products USP and benefits, convey the brand values, iconise the key visuals from an advertising campaign. While being easy to re-stock, looking as good half-stocked as fully, fit within the specific retailers POS guidelines, convey CSR values (in terms of materials and recyclability), making sure that key details like labels, logos and product names are clearly visible on each SKU, physically placing the product within easy reach of the consumer if appropriate, and so on.

Good POS will also aid a consumer in selecting the right kind of product for them from a brand’s extensive range – dry or greasy skin?  LCD or Plasma TV screen? Long distance or sprint running shoe?

No easy task then, and all of this in a retail spectrum spanning New Bond Street to Tesco, from huge ticket items like houses (yes, the show house office will contain POS), or cars,  down to bags of crisps. And with competing products all clamouring for attention.

Finally, add to this the very different demands of promotional, experiential, and permanent POS, skills ranging from cardboard structural engineering (advanced origami if you like) to full-on 3D CAD engineering in a vast range of materials. All done at a pace and in a timescale that would make your average industrial or aerospace designer faint clean away.

So if you happen to be the next person that asks me “and what do you do”, be prepared for a half hour or so explanation………………