The internet may have killed off teen title Smash Hits but other sectors of the fiercely competitive magazine market are still going strong. The latest ABC circulation figures, for July to December 2005, showed women’s weeklies riding high with sales up 7.4%. Big winners in terms of sales included Reveal with a 42% increase; OK! with sales up 23.5%; and Closer, whose sales overtook Heat for the first time.
Within the male-dominated forecourt market you might be thinking ’so what’! But you should think again, because as more forecourts become true convenience stores - and therefore top-up shops for men and women alike - so magazine sales patterns will change. Anecdotal evidence of this comes from a high-profile petrol retailer (who did not want to be named for fear of offending his news supplier), who said his site was still being allocated ’forecourt’ titles by his news wholesaler when he really was a c-store and therefore wanted a c-store range. His news supplier could not seem to grasp this, so he felt he was missing out on many sales - and as he couldn’t even get hold of the Radio Times, he definitely was. That’s because the Radio Times - as the second biggest magazine title by sales - is a very profitable one. Incidentally, OK! is number one.
In addition to anecdotal evidence, the cold hard facts of women’s magazines’ sales success in forecourts comes from WH Smith. The company reports sales of women’s interest titles up 12.5% through grocery multiple forecourts to account for 45% of sales in the period July to December 2005, and up 4.6% in traditional forecourts, to account for 33% of sales. Interestingly, men’s fashion and lifestyle titles, such as FHM and Loaded, are performing particularly well in grocery multiple forecourts, with sales up 15% in the period July to December 2005, accounting for 14.4% of sales.
The ABC figures report that men’s weeklies, Nuts and Zoo, are selling well, while in men’s monthlies Loaded’s relaunch paid off with a 20% year-on-year increase in purchased copies. Other titles that are selling well include rock music magazine Kerrang!, footie title Match and BBC’s Top Gear.
There should be no doubt that the newspaper and magazine category remains an important one for forecourts. According to data from shopper research company HIM, newspapers generate footfall for forecourts. The average forecourt shopper visits their forecourt shop 2.2 times a week, but those buying newspapers visit 2.8 times a week. And according to the IGD’s 2005 Convenience Market report, newspapers are bought by 25% of all forecourt shoppers, which means they are second only to confectionery (bought by 29%) when it comes to rate of purchase.
Tom Fender, director at HIM, says it would seem quite logical for store staff to think that newspapers are sold only in the mornings. But they’d be wrong, because research has found that 25% of people shopping between midday and 3pm intended to buy a newspaper, but only 21% did so. Fender explains: "Shoppers were also let down after 7pm, when 10% intended to buy newspapers, but only 7% did so. This confirms that there is good demand for newspapers through the whole day. From midday onwards not all sales intentions were converted - a 3-4% slip in intentions may not sound much, but it could account for 30 to 40 shoppers per store per day leaving without the newspapers they intended to buy. And of all those people who failed to buy something at a forecourt, 11% failed to buy newspapers."
Fender reports that slippage occurs in magazine sales too - 6% of forecourt shoppers arrived intending to buy a magazine but only 4% did so.
He says: "The biggest opportunity to increase magazine sales occurs between Monday and Wednesday and after 7pm. Three per cent of all shoppers bought a magazine between those days but 7% actually intended to. After 7pm, 7% intended to buy a magazine, but this time only 1% bought one. We know that availability and service standards deteriorate past 5pm in forecourt shops and this is costing operators and suppliers sales and, potentially, customers."
Magazine shoppers are valuable ones as they spend 20% more per trip (£4.34 on average) than the average forecourt shopper. And they also buy newspapers, confectionery, lottery, soft drinks and cigarettes. Says Fender: "By looking at these items you can almost visualise a clear route from the store’s entrance to the till. But have enough forecourt operators seen this pattern? And how many are beginning discussions with their suppliers to highlight further sales opportunities?"
The average newspaper shopper is valuable too, spending £2.54 per trip on average - that’s a lot more than the price of a morning or evening title. Fender says this highlights the fact that failed newspaper sales due to poor availability are costing retailers sales in other categories too.
So the message is, get your newspaper and magazine category right and other sales will follow.
THE WAITING GAME
The Office of Fair Trading released its draft opinion on the newspaper and magazine distribution chain in May 2005, which seemed to signal more choice for retailers as to who supplies them with magazines. However the OFT’s final decision has still not been made public and the longer the wait, the more likely industry insiders fear it will go back on its draft proposals.
THE HIM WAY TO INCREASING NEWS SALES
- Merchandise newspapers both inside and outside the store and make sure the top seller (usually The Sun, then the evening paper) is available on the counter.
- Make sure availability is good in the external dispensers. If titles are out of stock there, shoppers will think they’re out of stock inside too.
- Do not merchandise newspapers on the floor below magazines - up to 6-8 times more people buy newspapers versus magazines.
- If you dispense newspapers via a news cube unit, make sure the top titles are facing the shoppers.
- Display front pages clearly as the front page headlines trigger impulse sales.
- If you are concerned about hitting MEL (minimum entry level) targets, first buy from a local newsagent (at reduced margin) to build shopper awareness.
- The most important thing for newspaper shoppers in forecourts is speed of service -- they don’t want to queue. Independent forecourts may want to trial honesty boxes. WH Smiths has these at many of its really busy stores such as in railway stations -- where people pick up a paper and simply drop their money into the box.
Robert Malek, who owns the busy Roundswell Services in Barnstaple, Devon, says newspapers and magazines are a very important category in his store. "We get lots of regular customers who pick up special order magazines and papers.
"Our best selling newspapers are the Sun and Daily Mail. Our local weekly is very popular and so is the regional daily - both products are real footfall drivers but Sunday is by far our busiest day for papers. Reduced price offers and things like free DVDs always help boost sales.
"When it comes to magazines, Autotrader and the women’s titles are the best sellers. We have just started displaying magazines on the paper stand - radio and TV titles - and they seem to be going quite well.
"Our wholesaler has helped us by periodically reducing our worst sellers and monitoring our returns to maximise sales. We spend a lot of time on the news category and have dedicated staff who manage it. This has really paid off, with sales up by 30%."