The changing face of general merchandise

The general merchandise category in petrol and convenience (P&C) is an ever-expanding category, with more brands entering the market as suppliers experiment and broaden with new product ranges to mirror changes in consumer expectations.

According to Dustin Laine, National Sales Manager at Rocko’s Australia, consumers are now seeking out more variety in convenience store merchandise and are willing to spend more money on products.

“While it can be a challenge, it’s important for retailers to constantly evolve their offer to provide a full category solution,” Laine says.

“Today’s consumers are confident about spending more money in an impulse setting. For a long time, there was a sort of stigma around making sure products in convenience were under a certain price point, but consumers are becoming accustomed to spending a little bit more as we see more well-known, high-quality brands enter the channel.”

P&C is a key focus for Rocko’s Australia, says Laine, adding that the general merchandiser tailors its product ranges specifically to the channel.

“The convenience channel has proved just how strong it is, having maintained its strength and performance throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and in the years following,” says Laine.

“We’ve partnered with some big retailers and have established very strong relationships, which we believe is key considering the level of competition we’re now experiencing in the channel.”

Ryan Price, Growth Specialist at Queensland-based brand-partner Evonic, says service stations in Australia have transformed into world-class curbside retailers.

“As a brand-partner, we want to make sure these curbside retailers have the same access to world-class digital products like the larger high street retailers like JB Hi-Fi,” says Price.

Evonic represents Cygnett, an Australian-owned digital accessories supplier, which sells its core range of mobile phone accessories in the P&C channel.

“Cygnett has more than 100 digital accessory products, but we base our strategy in P&C around our core range of best sellers, rather than selling a larger range in store,” says Price.

Price says the reason behind this approach is that curbside retailers traditionally have a smaller footprint.

“The channel can be a bit squeezed for space when it comes to stocking gadgets and accessories,” he says. “We’ve found the more gadgets you have in a service station, the more likely it is that these products end up collecting dust on the shelf.

“Having a smaller accessory offering improves the shopping experience of customers because it removes the extra layer of complexity that comes with ranging the same or similar product in multiple colours or designs. Too many options can be confusing and may even impact sales.” 

Price notes that customers are basing purchasing decisions on the practicality of products.

“We’re noticing customers are looking for products that are practical, rather than just buying an accessory on an impulse,” says Price. “This also ties into the larger focus around in-car safety; people are after accessories that ensure their phone is still accessible to them while driving, but they don’t need to hold or touch it to access it.”

Single charging solution

The European Union has announced that as of this year, the USB Type-C connector is recognised as the common standard for electronic devices. The move to standardize a charging connector type is to provide better charging technology, reduce e-waste and avoid market fragmentation.

Price says the move is a positive change for retailers and consumers.

“The move in the market towards a single connector type is fantastic. It’s great for consumers and retailers because it’s a solution that can charge multiple accessories, removing the need for multiple chargers for different devices,” says Price.

“However, the challenge lies in how retailers communicate the transition to the Type-C connector to their audience.

“Curbside retailers need to ensure staff can confidently advise on electronic products, because while the newer models of phones and computers will work with a Type-C connector, the older models will still need a different charging cable.”

Ever-changing digital market

Robby Sawhney, Corporate Head at IPL Retail, says the biggest challenge in the digital accessory space is the fact that it is an ever-changing market.

“There’s a new product, solution or upgrade released every three months or so, which is why our job at IPL Retail is ensuring we stay on top of these new technologies so our partners in the P&C channel have the most up-to-date products in stock,” he says.

“At IPL Retail, we are constantly exploring new trends and technologies in the digital accessory market. Our team is dedicated to innovating and developing gadgets that not only meet but anticipate customer needs. This commitment ensures that our partners in the P&C channel are always equipped with the most advanced and relevant products.”

Sawhney notes that an emerging trend in the digital accessory space is wireless charging.

“Wireless charging, increasingly prevalent, aligns with newer phone models but not older ones. This shift in technology mirrors changes in consumer demands, driving innovations that cater to and reshape our daily digital interactions.”

When it comes to selling digital accessories instore, Price recommends retailers start by selling a well-known and established brand.

“Once you have your digital accessories brand, reduce the confusion for consumers by selling a smaller, targeted core range in a good location,” says Price. “This allows retailers to focus on the strategies, like your food and beverage offering that brings customers into the store.”

2024 product launches

Melbourne based Smooth Wholesales is set to expand its range of summer essentials this year with a new Holy Caps range.

Daniel Avrahami, Director at Smooth Wholesales, says demand for summer essentials, especially hats and sunglasses soared to more than 65 per cent in December last year.

“Our Holy Caps range provides trendy yet affordable option for retailers,” Avrahami says.

“We recognised a gap in the market for affordable, quality headwear. Holy Caps offers stylish options without compromising on cost, making it accessible to a diverse audience. With Holy Caps, we aim to bring that personalised touch to everyone, ensuring they find their perfect cap at an appealing price point.”

IPL is also set to launch a new Tough Thread line of work socks and safety jackets in the P&C channel later this year.

“We saw an opportunity in the market for this kind of workwear and think it’s a good opportunity for service stations to provide workwear for tradespeople who, on their way to work, may have forgotten to pack an extra pair of socks or safety gear,” explains Sawhney.

In the digital accessory space, Cygnett has launched a series of wireless magnetic power banks called MagFamily into the channel.

“We launched the range a few months ago and have seen great results, so we’ll continue to focus on the range in 2024,” says Price. “The range aligns with Cygnett’s approach of helping consumers access easy and practical experiences when they are using digital accessories.”

This year Rocko’s will launch a new range of plush toys called ‘Mini-mates’, which will be available in stores early this year.

“Mini-mates is Rocko’s first inhouse brand of toys,” says Laine. “While we don’t specialize in the toy novelty space, we have experience supplying plush toys from a global brand, and felt the market was ready to see something a little different. The quality of the range is fantastic, the price point is right and initial feedback from retailers has been extremely positive.”

Rocko’s has also expanded its range in the technology space.

“We’ve added some premium SKUs at the top end of our offer which include Bluetooth speakers, earbuds and headphones,” says Laine. “However, our best-selling products remain our double plugger thongs and our eyewear range, which continue to see year-on-year growth.

“Footwear sales were up by seven per cent and eyewear sales were up by five per cent between October and December last year. Our fishing range, which we launched two years ago, is also our fastest growing category.”

Laine says the challenge facing retailers today when it comes to general merchandise is the increasing number of competitors in the sector.

“There’s probably double the number of major general merchandise players in the category today compared to five years ago,” says Laine. “Suppliers are trying to diversify so they can cover all categories, so retailers don’t have to work with more than one supplier, so there is a fair bit of replication taking place in this space, and sadly not much innovation. The challenge this poses for retailers is being able to distinguish between suppliers to make sure they are partnering with one that can offer high-quality products and service support.

“It’s no secret that the retailers who are proactive in keeping their shelves and stands see the best results when it comes to sales,” says Laine. “However, we understand that not every retailer has the ability to do that, whether that’s due to staffing, time or the size of the store. That’s where our team can step in and work with retailers, advising on best practice when it comes to merchandising by drawing on our experience in the channel.

“Positioning aside, you want to make sure your product range is presented well in-store. When stands are attractive and full of high-quality products, they can become a destination in the store and draw the customers in by themselves. You don’t need to worry about putting them in an impulse location to make the sale.”

This article was originally written by Lizzie Hunter for the February/March issue of Convenience and Impulse Retailing magazine.

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