When I was 17 I entered a beauty pageant in a small rural holiday village, as a man (boy?) dressed as a woman. I borrowed a dress, somehow secured a blond wig and had my make-up (and I use that term loosely here …) applied by some all too willing female friends. Alongside all the other young women in their late teens and twenties pulled from the crowd to enter the pageant that day (feigning indifference while all secretly longing to be pulled up on the stage), I stood out. Oh did I stand out. Well that was the point. Life is too short to blend in. I flashed my legs, went into full drama-queen mode and experienced my first ever audience on a stage. (By the way I came third in the pageant, which I imagine didn’t impress the other 14 girls who finished behind an experimental teenage drag artist!)

The point here is sometimes you need to do things to stand out, to separate yourself from the crowd. While I am not advising transvestite tendencies are the key to your personal success, the basic principle certainly holds true in retailing. Unless your product stands out, likely it will not be seen, bought or ever tried.

POS Effectiveness

One of the most frequent questions I am asked when leading shopper marketing masterclasses is how to make POS more effective. It is not the most exciting world, POS. Like many things it has its own language – FSUs, Wobblers, Shelf Strips, and Aisle Ends. It is a micro-economy with agencies, designers, printers and retailers all earning millions every year from the POS industry. Yet how effective is it? Who Wins? Do we know and if we did would we change how we do things?


Standing out is always important, but nowhere more so than in the average supermarket. Depending on store size, shoppers are faced with between 12,000 – 30,000 individual items all competing for their attention. Clearly that is too many products to actually consider on every shopping trip, and so the human brain solves the problem. Habit, routine and heuristics all kick-in to get a shopper from entrance to exit in the average 40 minutes. Shoppers navigate stores they already know in record time, locating preferred SKUs in seconds.

I’ll Stick With What I Know

Given all the choice, the average shopper ‘thinks’ they engage with it all. One of my favourite interviews with shoppers is around New Product Trial. If you ask shoppers if they ‘regularly buy new products’, most agree. They like to try new things, buy on promotion or discover new items. This is their perception, as on one in every few shopping trips, they might buy a new item. The actual reality is very different. If you stop those same shoppers post-shop and ask them to place every purchase on a table (as I often have done) and then go through each SKU asking if they have ever bought it before, you will find very few new items in the basket. Shoppers tend to stick with what works and what they know. It is hard-wired into the human survivalist caveman brain. If eating the purple berries from the bush didn’t kill you yesterday, then perhaps you should eat them again today. It is the safest bet.

What all this comes down to is Attentional Blindness. Shoppers do not see new products or other options if they are already focused on entering the aisle to get something else. The famous attentional blindness experiment is shown on the video below. Watch it before reading below (otherwise it doesn’t work!)


This ad comes from a famous set of experiments called the Gorilla Test (same idea but a dancing gorilla in the background). It shows that when we focus on one thing (here the basketball), we don’t see anything else around our point of attention. Now imagine your brand or product is NOT the basketball. Most shoppers at any given time are NOT buying your brand.   They are walking past your category, buying a competitor brand or blissfully unaware you even exist. The trick then becomes getting their attention, which brings us back to POS (at last – it could have been worse, we could have ended up back discussing teenage transvestites)

The Need for Positive Disruption

Having studied this behaviour for many years I coined the phrase POSITIVE DISRUPTION. We need to disrupt shoppers along their habitual journey to the point of consideration, but we need to do it POSITIVELY. Negative disruption is easy, and was popular in the 1980/90’s with some retailers. Move all the categories and products around every 6 months, disrupt the shopper journey and you have a shopper who needs to re-engage to use the store. Yes, and you also have a really pissed-off shopper, and today you would simply send them out the door to competitor retailers. We need to disrupt the shopper in a way that engages, delights, surprises or inspires curiosity. We need to prompt shoppers, emotionally engage them and use that engagement to drive the incremental sale. And trust me, a small shelf wobbler waving in the wind at the shelf edge isn’t going to do it!

So in an attempt to get better return on all those POS Dollars, here are my TOP FIVE TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE POS based on shopper behaviour and the retail industry:


This sounds so obvious it is perhaps embarrassing to write. But very often POS design is basic brand messaging taken from consumer marketing materials (outdoor advertising or digital media) and ‘shrunk down’ for use in-store. You wouldn’t take a static billboard image and use it as your TV ad, nor would you write “click here” on your print ads. So why has this become acceptable for in-store POS? Images and copy that have been designed for use in consumer marketing have different objectives. Often they are designed to build brand awareness and equity, and work with media that has the potential for 10-30 second exposures. In-store POS needs to catch attention, trigger curiosity and compel a purchase, all in 3 seconds. It is a different objective requiring a deep knowledge of the actuality of how shoppers behave in store. Stop using agencies who are perhaps better at consumer marketing communications and retain specialists in Shopper Marketing POS. It just makes sense.



It still amazes me how little ROI is done on POS. Even global leaders in the FMCG industry often have poor implementation tracking in place. Is the POS actually in place as was designed? In the stores and location it is supposed to be? For the duration it is supposed to be there for? Often nobody knows. Similarly few companies actually PRE-TEST POS effectiveness. A TV ad is tested during development, to make sure the message is understood. POS should be no different. Testing POS effectiveness in live in-store environments makes complete sense. Before you roll it out across hundreds or thousands of stores, don’t you think it makes sense to see if it works? Does it catch shoppers’ eyes? Does it increase incremental sales? Which version of the two proposed FSUs works best in-store? All simple and basic questions that most supplier companies cannot answer. Today we have easy to use biometric technology allowing us to get POS effectiveness results in near real-time. Eye-Tracking and Facial Recognition both show shoppers engaging (or not) with POS. Invest in ROI systems for POS and stop wasting budget on POS that the business ‘assumes’ works.


Again we are back into embarrassing territory. It sounds obvious. That we should know exactly what the POS is to achieve. But again if you force many brands to answer that question, what you often end up with is either “Hello I’m New”, “Hello I’m Here” or “Hello I’m Cheap”. Few brands can stand over their POS and say “It is designed to have the following effect on shopper perception of the brand, and to compel a purchase in the following way”. POS is rarely a strategy, only a tactic, and that is wrong. If you don’t know what your POS is saying, then likely it will say nothing. Always know what you are trying to say, because when you aren’t clear on what you are trying to say, the results are never good – as this fellow Teen Beauty Pageant contestant discovered …




It goes without saying that the right POS design is no use unless it is in the right place for the shopper to see and act on. The majority of POS ends up in a sales reps trunk or in the back-room in a store. Sales reps and merchandising agencies love taking photos of recently installed POS. They go back to the hive bearing their pictures, proud of their achievements, like students walking home drunk with traffic cones on their heads. But how much of that POS is still there even the next day, the next week?

I once heard a great story from a sales rep (who shall remain unidentified!) in the Vitamins business. Their company had incentivised all sales staff to install as many FSU displays in Pharmacies as they could. They had given them all digital cameras (pre-smart phones) and asked them to take a photo of the installed FSU, each photo being their ‘tickets’ to the draw for the incentive holiday and other prizes. Of course what actually happened was that the small independent pharmacies didn’t really want another FSU (alongside the many they already had fighting for limited floor space) but the sales rep wanted the photo. So he had come up with the ingenious strategy of just using the one FSU, installing it in a pharmacy, taking his photograph and then putting it back in his trunk and driving it to his next call. Everyone was a winner. Each pharmacy was glad to see the FSU going out the door, his company saw all the FSU photos and were delighted with the brand exposure, and he won the family holiday to Disneyland. He dumped all the other FSUs he had been given and just re-used one all the time. True story. And it happens every day. It is likely happening with your POS right now!


And at last we get to the title of this blog. If you are going to make an impact with POS, build it to do just that. Shelf strips and wobblers might make sales reps feel like they have done something today, but in reality they don’t seem to do much for sales. Even a big in-store display is often not seen by a shopper, as there is nothing that unusual about it, nothing to separate it from all the other displays in-store.

You are better off building a bespoke POS campaign that actually cuts through than stick with high volume, low impact ones. Build your POS to leverage your sponsorships, build displays that create brand equity or showcase occasions, build POS that triggers interest beyond “oh look that’s on offer”.

Below are examples, some courtesy of shopper marketing specialist agency Visualise. These are brands that have used in-store POS to make a brand impact, to say something different and to engage a shopper.




POS should never be in the background. It should be brazen and loud, impressive and attention-grabbing. It needs to be the dancing Gorilla. So don’t settle for a ripple, make that splash.

And if you ever see me on stage again wearing a blond wig and a dress, you know now I’m just reliving my youth …


Positive Disruption is one of Ken Hughes’ most popular retail speeches on the international conference circuit, requested by retailers, suppliers, agencies and industry associations all over the world. Read more about the speech here

Ken Hughes is one of the worlds leading Shopper and Consumer Behaviouralists, blending his vast expertise in consumer psychology, social & digital anthropology, behavioural economics and neuromarketing to answer the question to which he has dedicated most of his career: Why do shoppers buy and how can we make them buy more? Click here to read more

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Ken Hughes, known as The King of Customer Experience on the International Conference Circuit, studies emerging consumer behaviour and helps businesses and brands establish deeper and more relevant connections with their customers.

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