Celebrity Bashing at Retail

Discussion
Nov 07, 2008

By Tom Ryan

Often described as trashy,
mean-spirited and packed with lies, supermarket tabloids remain fairly
easy to find at grocers, pharmacies, c-stores and big discounters across
retail. Much more available are the gossip-driven and
often equally sensational celebrity magazines. About the nicest
compliment consumers make about these mags is calling them their one guilty pleasure.

The cream of the crop
appears to be the National Enquirer, which is currently running
a story about Larry King catching his wife cheating on him. The Globe covers
the alleged collapse of the late Paul Newman’s widow, Joanne Woodward.
The Star is running a story about a one-night stand between Lindsay Lohan and
Justin Timberlake. People talks about Madonna’s divorce. InTouch leads
with a story about Angelina Jolie being pregnant
again.

Not all the stories are
designed to shock. US‘ new issue leads with a story on Barack and
Michelle Obama with
the headline, The Amazing Journey. People is running another
piece probing what kind of dog their children, Malia and
Sasha, should get. But with intense competition among the crowd of celebrity mags,
covers are more often filled with tales of celebrity affairs, celebrity
drug use, and the ever-popular celebrity cellulite photos.

A very random survey
of stores in Manhattan found most of these magazines were easy to find,
though randomly displayed. One national pharmacy chain had many of these
celebrity magazines featured prominently on the sales counter, but other
stores of the same chain only had them in the magazine section.  A
local pharmacy had a separate stand for the National Enquirer, Globe, National
Examiner
and a horoscope magazine alongside many more mainstream magazines
such as US, InStyle, Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Marie
Claire
.

Some general supermarkets
featured many celebrity magazines alongside checkout lines with a few mainstream
magazines hidden below. The more upscale the grocer, however, the fewer
the tabloids. Whole Foods didn’t have any celebrity magazines. Its magazine
mix included Outside, Yoga, More, New York, Natural
Health
, Travel & Leisure and Elle Décor.

Meanwhile, Weekly
World News
, which hasn’t been in print since August 2007, was just
sold to Neil McGinness, a former executive
at National Lampoon magazine, and may be making a comeback to
supermarket racks.  Known for concocting stories involving alien
invasions, fantastic archeological discoveries, and the half-human, half-bat
Bat Boy, the paper continues to have an online presence. A current article
covers Governor Sarah Palin shooting Bigfoot
from a helicopter.

Discussion Question:
Do the magazines displayed at the front-end provide a means for one store
to differentiate itself from the competition? Should retailers stop selling
some or all of the supermarket tabloids or celebrity magazines? How should
they decide which magazines to sell or not?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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15 Comments on "Celebrity Bashing at Retail"


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Mark Barnhouse
Guest
Mark Barnhouse
13 years 6 months ago
Magazines offer the highest GMROI of any product line on the front ends of supermarkets, so a retailer who chooses to not carry them at that location is cutting off his dollars to spite his face. Do celebrity magazines (and let’s make a big distinction between People and Us on one hand and National Enquirer and Globe on the other) hurt a retailer’s image? No, they don’t–people expect them, and they aren’t so guilty about buying them as they once were. The readership demographics of the higher-quality celebrity magazines encompass a far larger spectrum of American society than most people realize. The junkier ones like Globe and National Examiner are suffering a decades-long decline, appealing primarily to the less-educated and less-affluent, but you will find People being bought by everyone from hair stylists to bank loan officers to people with eight-figure annual incomes. Do celebrities like seeing themselves at checkouts? Of course they do, including at the aforementioned Gelson’s (although I haven’t been in one of their stores for some time, so I can’t swear… Read more »
Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
13 years 6 months ago

As a youngster my mother would say that you can tell a person by his friends. You can tell a store’s customer base by the magazine rack. NASCAR Hotties & Vanity Fair readers rarely mix although all inquiring minds want to know.

David Schulz
Guest
David Schulz
13 years 6 months ago

I have to agree with many of the others; if your customers buy the publications, why not sell them? The last thing a retailer wants to do is position itself as a an arbiter of social mores. What happens when PETA shows up because someone wearing fur is on the cover or the anti-gun people when some big game hunter is written up? Remember how Walmart was bashed by the literati for its position on Playboy.

Certainly no front-end magazines or newspapers would signal a certain approach to merchandising a store; but to throw something out because some customers might try to impose their values on both the store and all the other customers…What can I say. Retailing should be at least as diversity-tolerant as the rest of America.

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
13 years 6 months ago

Tasteless? Maybe. I’ve seen an awful lot of tasteless clothes that people seem to buy and wear. The magazines sell, so give the people what they want. Celebs can complain all they want, they wanted fame and fortune…be careful what you wish for.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
13 years 6 months ago

I’ve asked the manager of my Safeway who reads the tabs, and his answer was “are you kidding? Everyone.” Apparently nothing dulls the pain of grocery prices better than a juicy story about Jennifer Aniston picking out the dress for her “wedding” to John Mayer….

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
13 years 6 months ago

Take them away?! Not until you pry them away from my cold, dead hands. No wait, that was guns. What would I read while standing in line, Archie comics? Of course you keep them.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
13 years 6 months ago

I’ve lost my heart for this category since the untimely demise of The Weekly World News but for those less sophisticated consumers of far less erudite tabloids let the games begin. If you took away everything that smacks of bad taste, there wouldn’t be a lot left to sell.

David Biernbaum
Guest
13 years 6 months ago

Let your consumers determine what they want to buy with thier own spending money. If your Tabloids sales are strong then you are in the right business.

Kevin Graff
Guest
13 years 6 months ago

It’s hard enough these days finding SKUs that sell. It would seem to be foolish to even consider dropping these tabloids. Don’t want to read them? …Don’t buy them!

Mel Kleiman
Guest
13 years 6 months ago

If the public did not want them, the stores would not carry them. Remember, some of the most important real estate in most stores is near the cash register and that is where these magazines are usually found. I think that answers the question of whether or not stores should carry them.

Warren Thayer
Guest
13 years 6 months ago

If they fit your demographic, sell ’em. ‘Nuf said.

I’m thrilled to hear the Weekly World News is making a comeback. Since my kids were small, we laughed until we cried reading those stories. What many people don’t know is that many of the stories were brilliantly written satires. It just needed repositioning as satire, rather than as “trash” that was supposed to be taken seriously. With a National Lampoon person buying it, I have very high hopes.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
13 years 6 months ago

Have I commented yet? I’m sorry–I was distracted by the fantastically detailed and “accurate” picture of Sarah Palin posing with her Sasquatch catch.

What I meant to say was, ahem, that retailers should decide about this according to their brand. If these rags fit with their brand image (or at a minimum, don’t detract), then what the heck–sell sell sell! Celebs work to keep these rags in line through libel suits and the like, so I don’t see a big deal about carrying the magazines.

However, if it doesn’t fit with your brand, or you feel like it makes the wrong kind of statement about your brand, then don’t carry them! Target doesn’t. Walmart makes decisions about what kind of music it will sell, citing fit with customers…I’ll bet you that Gelson’s, the high-end grocer in Century City and the Palisades, doesn’t carry those magazines–their customers would be most unappreciative.

David Livingston
Guest
13 years 6 months ago

The key word is “sell.” If this is what those tabloids do, then by all means display them and sell them. Give the customers what they want.

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
13 years 6 months ago

Regardless of the content or type of publication, the fact is that they are products like any other. If they sell, then it makes sense for the retailer to carry them. However, in some instances I do agree that the selection of magazines could be reflective of the retailer itself. Higher-end retailers may benefit from an image perspective by selling publications that are aimed specifically at their demographic.

Is Angelina Jolie really pregnant again? I gotta find out more about that.

Jessica Sanders
Guest
Jessica Sanders
13 years 6 months ago

It is not the role of the retailer to censor products or information. Rather, an effective retailer hones in on what their customers want regardless of personal preference and provides that to them in a way that delights them.

While it might seem like a lofty goal for The National Enquirer, the fact is these magazines wouldn’t hold their coveted checklane impulse status unless customers were responding and buying.

Still bothered by what your customers want? I would suggest taking a look at the larger strategy of your retail space and think about moving that strategy to appeal to a different customer.

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