​​​​​​​Hershey Thinks Outside the Box for Halloween Merchandising

Shelley Christianson, Hershey Co.

Rosemont, Ill. — Corrugate boxes typically line stores’ seasonal aisles during Halloween, with retailers prescribing color schemes that group products by price or type. But Hershey Co. thought that the merchandising tactic was making it harder for shoppers to find what they wanted, obscuring a brand’s familiar color palette and seasonal creative along with the size and unit-count of the package.

The manufacturer partnered with Lombard, Illinois-based market research firm Explorer Research to test the theory. They shared their process and results in September at the Path to Purchase Expo.

In some stores, Hershey took its bags of candy out of the corrugate boxes and placed them directly on the shelves. The company made no changes at a group of stores with similar demographics to provide a control for the study. Explore Research monitored how long shoppers spent in the seasonal aisle and how they interacted with the products. They observed 600 shoppers between the test and control shops, measuring conversion along with how much time the trip took, with an eye on when shoppers were grabbing product immediately or spending time searching the aisle.

The study found that shoppers in stores without the boxes spent less time reading labels or picking up product since purchase triggers like piece count, size, price and brand name were more visible. Removing the extra packaging also ensured shoppers would never be disappointed after making their decision by reaching into a box only to find it was empty. Conversion rates were higher at those stores than at the control locations. “It was more efficient and it drove higher engagement for the shopper,” said Shelley Christianson, Hershey senior manager of shopper insights.

Explorer Research also intercepted some shoppers as they left the aisle to ask them about their experience, conducting 400 10-minute interviews. They found that impulse purchases increased 9% in the test environment. “People have a task mindset,” said Anne Stephenson, partner at Explorer Research. “If you can make that task easier, if you don’t frustrate them, you open them up for discovery. A frustrated shopper typically will not be buying multiple items.”

Eye-tracking provided a way to check against what shoppers were saying. It found that shoppers were scanning for brands, since they wanted to buy confectionery they liked in case they wound up with leftovers after doling their purchases out to trick-or-treaters. Shoppers often decided what brand they wanted to buy before they entered the store and were mostly concerned with size and count at shelf. The study also found that dramatic seasonal bags were more effective and that shoppers wanted to check if a product had nuts in it.

The results helped Hershey get buy-in from their retail partners, which they needed since taking product out of the boxes was more labor intensive. But it did reduce labor at the end of the season because the shift resulted in greater sell-through.