From milk and eggs to Phil Collins, retail scavenger hunt gives lessons on supermarket strategy

Sam Keagy (left) and Jo Jeffers (right) inspect a store display during a “retail scavenger hunt” assignment for a course with Assistant Professor of Marketing Pam Richardson-Greenfield.

Much can be learned about marketing just by walking through the aisles of a grocery store.

There are the brightly colored product labels and the eye-catching promotional signs. There’s the smooth but peppy ’80s and ’90s music wafting from the overhead speakers, making the grocery store an easy-listening time warp where Phil Collins and Mariah Carey are forever atop the music charts.

And, milk and eggs? Why are those big-selling items stocked all the way back in the far corner of the grocery store?

“It’s a perfectly coordinated, consumer-centric shopping strategy,” explains Pam Richardson-Greenfield, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Marketing at Radford University, to her students gathered inside the local Food Lion. Store managers and store designers “want consumers to walk all around these aisles to get your basic milk and eggs because they know you will see something else to purchase.”

“It’s about enhancing the shopping experience,” she continued, “from product placement to the music you hear as you shop.”

The lessons from the grocery store are plentiful and are among the many Richardson-Greenfield imparts to students enrolled in her Retailing (MKTG 343) and Principles of Marketing courses (MKTG 340). To help teach those lessons, she developed what she calls a “retail scavenger hunt.” It allows students to venture into a local store and see firsthand the material Richardson-Greenfield is teaching in the classroom. And, it gives students a chance to work as teams, even in a time when everyone is practicing physical distancing.

“The basic premise of marketing involves the four Ps,” Richardson-Greenfield explains. “Product, price, promotion and placement. The retail environment is the perfect place to observe the marketing mix firsthand.”

To begin the hunt, Richardson-Greenfield gave her students a list of items to search for on various aisles and shelf locations throughout the grocery store. She also asked them to look for and identify promotional tactics and observe additional services that are offered to customers.

“Do you smell bread cooking?” she asks. That is a strategy, Richardson-Greenfield says, to keep customers in the store longer, thereby increasing impulse purchases.

“No product is placed in the store without a strategy and data for support,” Richardson-Greenfield says. “Going through the store, students see marketing and retail strategies in action — alternate placement of a product, different pricing techniques and the placement of private label products versus national branded products.

“And also, in terms of the retail atmosphere,” she explained later, “I want my students to think about going into retail stores as marketers instead of consumers. With a marketing perspective, students will begin to question “why” retailers do certain things and begin to see “patterns” with various executions. As an example, products are placed on endcaps, not to advertise a promotional sale of the product, but rather to serve as a “reminder” for a potential purchase.

The scavenger hunt accomplishes Richardson-Greenfield’s goals for her students “because it brings to life,” she says, those concepts taught in the classroom.

Those lessons will serve Richardson-Greenfield’s students well, particularly those who plan to pursue a career in marketing. “One of the essential developmental tasks in an entry-level marketing position,” Richardson-Greenfield says, “is to learn the field—to learn your brand’s category and learn about your competition. The only way to do that is to visit retail stores and assess their environments.”

Before Richardson-Greenfield began teaching in Radford University’s Davis College of Business and Economics, she worked in brand management for more than 10 years for such companies as Unilever, Philip Morris, Kimberly-Clark and Glory Foods.

Her experience and knowledge are assets to her students and the University. “But, sometimes they want to hear from another voice,” she jokes while explaining the first scavenger hunt that took place in the fall and one of the reasons she asked Radford Food Lion store manager Jamie Jones to speak with her students.

Jones, who has more than 20 years of experience combined working in the restaurant and grocery business, spoke about what it takes to be successful in his business and imparted advice to students seeking to follow a similar career path. He also informed students of career opportunities at Food Lion and encouraged them to apply for the company’s management-trainee program, regardless of their major.

In all, the scavenger hunt, combined with Jones’ talk, lasted only 50 minutes, but it gave Richardson-Greenfield’s students a wealth of knowledge about what goes into the careful planning to ensure the success for grocery stores in terms of sales and promotions as well as providing customers with a pleasurable shopping experience.

“I’m going to continue doing the scavenger hunt,” Richardson-Greenfield says, “because the students enjoy it!  It gives them a chance to get out of the classroom and see for themselves the strategies we discuss in class and how they are effectively put into action.”

Apr 15, 2021
Chad Osborne