catering to shoppers’ need-states

New formats of existing retail brands seem to be popping up all over the place.  Best Buy Mobile bby_mobile was introduced a couple of years ago as a store-within-a-store concept — the company then launched standalone Best Buy Mobiles and recently announced plans to open 40 more this year. 

Petco just launched Unleashed unleashed(with more personalized service and “hipper attitude” than the original format) and Baskin-Robbins has been testing Cafe BR cafe-br(featuring a make-your-own-sundae bar and higher-end desserts such as fondue) and BR Express (a smaller store focusing on soft-serve ice cream.)

These new formats seem to be a great way for retailers to appeal to more shopper need-states.  A need-state is defined by a group of consumers who seek similar product benefits and attributes in a particular usage occasion.  Need-state segmentation overlays usage occasions onto attitudinal classifications.

For example, in the snack foods category, there might be some consumers who are looking for a snack to tie them over between meals, while others are looking for something to eat post-workout (two different usage occasions) — but they share a desire for healthy alternative (same attitude).   Unlike attitudinal or demographic segmentation approaches which classify consumers into discrete groups, with need-state targeting, a single consumer can experience different need states over time — and thus be reached in multiple ways.

Typically need-states have been used by manufacturers to drive product development.  By understanding different purchase drivers, manufacturers develop different product variations and brand extensions — e.g., a healthy snack food that’s packaged in portable packaging might fulfill one need-state while a more traditional pack lends itself to another.

What’s interesting is that more retailers are getting in to the game.  Best Buy Mobile is targeted specifically to people shopping for cell phones and services.  These consumers may be the same ones who browse the aisles of the big box retailers’ regular stores in search of the latest gadget, but when they are specifically looking for a mobile solution, Best Buy wants Best Buy Mobile to be their go-to store.

Likewise, Petco’s Unleashed boasts a smaller format, is located in high-traffic locations, and emphasizes community — perfect for the pet parent who is already passing by the store and needs to drop in for a quick purchase or some friendly advice.  Baskin-Robbins’ Cafe BR concept seems more like a destination (a great post-movie date place), while BR Express’s name makes its target need-state clear.

With these new formats, these brands expand their appeal, giving existing customers more options and reaching new customers who previously hadn’t found the brand relevant or convenient.

New formats also provides other benefits:

  • emphasizes select brand attributes — Best Buy Mobile is described as having “one of the largest selections of carriers, handsets and accessories available anywhere, as well as a highly-trained staff to help customers make the most of their mobile phones…Employees undergo at least 80 hours of intensive training, as well as continuing education on mobile phone technology and trends.”  As such, the new concept shores up Best Buy’s credentials in wide selection and knowledgeable staff.
  • reinvigorates the brand image — Unleashed has a more urban contemporary feel than its master Petco brand.  By embodying these attributes, Unleashed helps update and improve Petco’s brand image.
  • opens the brand to new opportunities — Jimmy Fitzgerald, VP of concept innovations for Baskin Robins’ parent company explains the chain’s new formats by saying: “This allows us to open doors and go into places we really don’t fit — upper-scale malls and downtown locations.

So it seems these new retail formats hold a lot of potential for their parent brands.  It will be interesting to see how well they do — and who else jumps on the new retail format bandwagon.

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