PL Buyer: Repetition Syndrome

Apr 29, 2010

By Kathie Canning

Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of a current article from Private Label Buyer, presented here for discussion.

When my husband and I were newlyweds back in the mid-1980s, our Toledo, Ohio, neighborhood was home to a rather fanatical fan of "Let the Music Play," an electro-funk, freestyle song that was a major hit for lady singer Shannon. This particular neighbor blasted that song — and that song only — from his car stereo’s speakers (car windows wide open) as he drove to and from work, to and from the grocery store, to and from his girlfriend’s place … well, you get the picture.

After living through a month or so of this drive-by concert, I came to despise that song. And even after all these years, I never want to hear it again.

You see, too much repetition can turn a person off from even a good thing, whether that good thing be a song, an exercise routine or even a store. Yes, a store.

We’ve all heard much talk about the need for destination-type private label products to set a retailer apart from the competition. But such products also can go a long way to fend off "repetition syndrome," and keep folks coming back for more.

Frequently changed displays and creative merchandising are great, but might not be enough to hold the interest of shoppers, especially newbie store brand aficionados. That national brand equivalent (NBE) pasta sauce might be priced right, but mom probably is getting mighty bored with it by the ninth or tenth purchase. How long will it be before she comes down with repetition syndrome — and seeks out Store X across the street to soothe her symptoms?

Because they stray at least a bit from the national brands’ norms in terms of flavor, formulation, packaging design or another attribute, destination-type products help stave off repetition syndrome. Target is one of several retailers that excels here. (Archer Farms’ Maui Onion Potato Chips, anyone?)

An even better approach calls for frequent jumbling in the lineup of such unique products, through the rotation of different flavors, colors, scents, etc., throughout the year — or through the creation of a handful of limited-time-only offerings. Such a strategy is almost sure to boost shopper enthusiasm for a store.

Although NBE (and value) offerings certainly play an important role in store brand programs (and in many consumers’ budgets), they run the risk of becoming repetitive if they are the only "songs" in the store.

Discussion Questions: To what degree does adding destination-type products to the private label mix help reduce repetition syndrome? Given the quest for value, what’s the best way retailers can keep their private label mix fresh?

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3 Comments on "PL Buyer: Repetition Syndrome"

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Dr. Stephen Needel
12 years 21 days ago

Ms. Canning assumes repetition syndrome is the norm but there is little evidence to support this assumption. But, if we just focus on food categories, yes, there are some categories where variety seeking is the norm (and pasta sauce is probably a bad example of that). If you rotate flavors, as she suggests, you run the risk of alienating shoppers who came in for those Maui Onion chips and didn’t find them. Instead, give shoppers a reasonable amount of choice in the PL selection and that should satisfy their variety needs.

Li McClelland
Li McClelland
12 years 21 days ago
Sure, repetition syndrome may be a significant issue for those people who are hard wired to dislike sameness or repetition. But for people who are hard wired to appreciate and find comfort in “the known,” repetition syndrome is not an issue whatsoever and in fact it can be quite unsettling when they cannot find the product they want. There are millions of people worldwide in each category, as well as lots of folks in shades of the middle, I’ll wager. The first illustrations that came to mind this morning of this psychological difference in humans are those who, at one end of the spectrum, vigorously choose a different vacation spot each year, versus those families who happily set off to the same beach cottage or mountain hideaway each summer. The people who want to try out various breeds of dogs over a lifetime, versus those who want only tried and true boxers (or labs). This sort of innate preference model applies to food choices and product selection (including songs) as well. How repetition may influence… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
12 years 21 days ago

“It seems to me I’ve heard that song before, it’s from an old familiar score…” Most people like repetitive exposure to their favorite songs, products and many other things that appeal to them. Of course, repetition does dull some senses but it can greatly arouse others. Think about it.

We are in an era that is showing more imagination in PL product creation such as by Target, Trader Joe’s and others. And if even in Toledo some songs begin to singe some ears, there is still gold associated with some of the oldies. To me, PL is moving ahead pretty well as it increasingly blends a growing blend of the truly new with the golden oldies. So to PL I say, “not to worry.”


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