CPGmatters: McNeil Provides Solutions at Shelf for Shoppers of the OTC Drug Category

Jul 21, 2010

By John Karolefski

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion
is a summary of a current article from the monthly e-zine, CPGmatters.

from Johnson & Johnson, the parent of McNeil Consumer Healthcare,
found that OTC drug is a complex category that leaves shoppers overwhelmed
and often confused. Consumers have to deal with a wide variety of products
and often hard-to-read information on small packages. Easily assessing product
information becomes critical when consumers are taking other medications and
need to avoid side effects from mixing drugs. People also need to shop the
section more quickly when decisions are urgently needed.

The study — focusing
on pain relief, upper respiratory and digestive health — found that shoppers
want better category organization and improved navigational messaging. Over
80 percent of them recommend organizing and messaging the shelf according to

“As they go down the aisle, shoppers want to see a proper flow of products
that make sense,” said Michael Pishvanov, associate director of shopper
marketing sales strategy at McNeil Consumer Healthcare speaking in a presentation
at the recent Shopper Insights in Action conference.

“There are certain things than can be done that can help. Using colors,
for instance, can help differentiate segments. You want to be careful and not
create a whole rainbow at the shelf, but still make some distinctions.”

than eight of 10 shoppers (81 percent) want more OTC drug information on the
product package itself, more than half (54 percent) desire more signage, and
four of 10 (41 percent) would welcome personal advice from a pharmacist.

important role of major brands was singled out by shoppers. They would welcome “beacon
brands” to help draw them to the products they
are looking for in the cluttered nonprescription drug section. Shoppers say
using well-recognized national brands such as Tylenol and Benadryl serve as “beacons” to
help navigation in the section.

“We recommend using beacon brands at top of the shelf to draw people
in,” said Mr. Pishvanov. “So, from 30 feet away, somebody can look
and — even if they can’t speak English — realize what that
category is.”

The study confirmed that all shopping trips are not the
same. The two major trip types are replenishment (people who know about a
product and are merely replenishing it) and immediate or urgent need (to treat
or cure an ailment).

That is why “we recommend developing strategies based
on trip type and not just by focusing on a category,” explains Mr. Pishvanov.

also recommended that retailers leverage their unique strengths such as one-stop
shopping and large assortments (but with better organization and navigation
cues). Other opportunities to focus on include staging promotions and relying
on available advice from a pharmacist where possible.

Discussion Questions: How can retailers improve the “shopability” of
the OTC drug category? What do you think of the suggestions in the article,
particularly the use of ‘beacon brands’ to improve navigation?

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9 Comments on "CPGmatters: McNeil Provides Solutions at Shelf for Shoppers of the OTC Drug Category"

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Dick Seesel
11 years 10 months ago

OTC drug shopping (especially for pain relievers and cold remedies) makes the cereal aisle seem simple by comparison. Brands like Tylenol and many others have added complexity through an endless stream of line extensions. (I’m still not clear on the difference between “Tylenol Sinus Congestion & Pain” and “Tylenol Severe Sinus Congestion.”) Add the growth in store-brand generics (many with their own line extensions) and it’s no wonder that the consumer is so confused.

Where to start addressing the problem? I think SKU rationalization makes just as much sense in this category as anywhere else in the store, but I wouldn’t stop there. I think it’s critical to add digital signing as a navigation tool and to provide product information. Finally, the big-box pharmacy chains need better category management: If Walgreens (for example) is really committed to be the headquarters of health and wellness, does it need to carry so much unrelated product?

David Biernbaum
11 years 10 months ago

The OTC Drug Category is confusing for the majority of shoppers for a number of reasons:

1) Large number of brands all making similar claims, lots of overlap, and yet some confusing minutia that imply differentiation.

2) Advertising/messages can be confusing.

3) Retail product assortment and the schematics that retailers use can be a blur to consumers.

4) Lack of true alternatives carried by retailers that seem to be locked in to SKU rationalization.

There is not enough room left on the already cluttered package designs to add more information. What retailers can do is to offer end-of-aisle information about what the various ingredients represent or mean. Most of the brands have all the same ingredients in various combination and mixes.

Ideally, retailer should provide a user-friendly advisor in the pharmacies that can provide attention to help consumers, as well.

Dr. Stephen Needel
11 years 10 months ago
Discussion Questions: How can retailers improve the “shopability” of the OTC drug category? What do you think of the suggestions in the article, particularly the use of ‘beacon brands’ to improve navigation? We should have a snopes.com for research like this so that we don’t waste our time. 40% of shoppers are not seeking OTC advice from pharmacists–this should be obvious after standing in a drug store for half an hour or talking to a pharmacist and asking them how often someone comes up for OTC advice. Nobody wants MORE information on a package unless it is easily readable and understandable–and it is barely readable now (due to font size). And shoppers are notoriously bad at giving us feedback about the quality of shelf sets or new ways to set them–research we have published numerous times. It is unlikely that a good set based on a chronic need is likely to be a good set for an acute need–McNeil can spend a lot of time searching for and testing alternatives that will never respond to… Read more »
Dave Wendland
11 years 10 months ago

This is truly a topic of passion for me–as well as our company. Helping consumers more easily and effectively navigate the OTC aisles within the retail healthcare space has been our focus for 30 years. Working with manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers we have been innovating at shelf.

And I agree with McNeil’s strategy that the time is ripe for a revolutionary change at retail. Although an evolution has been ongoing (e.g., SKU rationalization, improved shelf signage, shopper marketing/insights, etc.), consumers want to make well-informed decisions at the shelf and retailers have an opportunity to deliver an entirely new and refreshing experience.

Joan Treistman
11 years 10 months ago
There is an opportunity to learn from best practices in other categories. Focus on the package and immediate surrounding signage. Don’t expect that signs will be read, but rather that signs will help guide the way. Therefore, the fewer words the better. Use color coding to help point out that this section is different from the others and make it a one, two message. This area contains this kind of product. From that point on the packages take over. Consumers don’t have the time and won’t take the time to ask for a buddy to walk along the aisle with them. In these categories, shoppers make up their own mind. They’ll take the time to make an informed decision, but it’s a finite amount of time. Marketers need to learn what that is. Take a look at what happens at the shaver and razor section. Observe the shampoos and conditioners display. Any category where consumers have many choices and an extreme number of line extensions can assist the understanding needed for OTC. Many years ago,… Read more »
Roy White
Roy White
11 years 10 months ago
OTCs, and in fact, the whole HBC department, have been plagued with this issue for some time. Remedies are really at this point almost at the complexity of hair care, the poster child of a complicated mass of SKUs, options and brands. However, the issue for remedies isn’t as simple as a mere multiplication of symptom-specific products–and symptom-specific is certainly a plus for someone who isn’t feeling well and needs guidance on doing self-care correctly. A couple of other factors add to the confusion. One is the branding of like or similar products for different symptoms in different packages. Another is different delivery systems of remedies–here also a plus in that it represents innovation on the part of branded manufacturers–but again it adds to the number of products a shopper needs to review prior to purchase. Another issue is the impact of private label. Price is very much paramount these days, and in many instances there is a substantial price disparity in remedies between the branded and private label items. The net result is a… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
11 years 10 months ago
So, 81% of the shoppers want more information on the package? Go see the FDA. The product information on OTC Drugs is not creative marketing words thought up by some packaging expert. The FDA approves every word, color, size of font (even the size of the logo), every space and even every period. If all the products sound the same, it is because all the products are the same. This isn’t cereal, cookies or laundry detergent. These are drugs. One wonders why J&J actually carried out this research. The findings are the antithesis of the shelving strategy that CPG companies want to execute. To Richard Sessel’s point, the difference between “Tylenol Sinus Congestion & Pain” and “Tylenol Severe Sinus Congestion” is one facing or two facings. (Add multiple sizes and its 3 facings versus 6 facings.) Or, could you imagine Pfizer telling their sales people that we no longer want the multitude of Robitussin varieties shelved together, but we want to break them up and integrate them with competitive products by symptom? In OTC confusion,… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
11 years 10 months ago

OTC drug shopping is where I wave the white flag in stores. I ask the pharmacy staff for assistance. Maybe this is an area where the brand manufacturers should take notice of what others such as wines, sodas, and cereals are doing to get the shopper’s attention. As for me, if the product cures two of my three ailments such as cough and sluggishness, I will probably purchase it and hope there are no side effects.

Herb Sorensen, Ph.D.
11 years 10 months ago
If they fix OTC drug merchandising, then what will I use for an example of a retail disaster? And Gene Detroyer notes the “helpfulness” of government here–the FDA–as a reminder to those anxious to get more government involvement in health care! I don’t know the details of what sells to whom here, but I’m certain that OTC has a big head and long tail as well as any other area of the store. I can’t think of a section that would benefit more by the retailer simply tagging the top ten selling items in the section, and telling shoppers, “THIS IS WHAT MOST PEOPLE BUY HERE!!!” No need to remove alternatives. Some people will reject the “wisdom” of the crowd and select one of the rest of the plethora. Personally, I’ve asked the pharmacist, and had no confidence he wasn’t more focused on selling what he wanted to sell, than what I might really need. Do you really think pharmacists are right on top of this hellish selection? They’re probably watching the same commercials I… Read more »

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