The Third Shelf

By Doug Stephens

There have always been two “shelves” in retail. The first can be found in the retail store and is where the product is most often evaluated and ultimately purchased. The second shelf is in the consumer’s home and is where trial usage takes place and with any luck, loyalty and advocacy built.  For the last several centuries, marketers have spent all of their time, money and energy understanding how consumers behave in front of these two shelves.

However, there is now a third shelf that marketers need to get their heads around quickly.  The third shelf is the precise place, moment or opportunity, outside of the store or the home, where the consumer can consider, interact with or even buy your products.  It’s now up to marketers to decide where this shelf (be it physical or virtual) is to be built for their products.  Interactive media and mobile technology is giving brands third-shelf opportunities almost anywhere and everywhere they choose to put them.

For the high-end sunglass manufacturer, the third shelf might take the form of an augmented reality store where beachgoers can virtually try on and order sunglasses using their mobile device and have them delivered directly to them at the beach – where they need them most.  For a sandwich shop it might be an interactive menu conveniently placed at a commuter train station, enabling customers to text their lunch order on their way to work – when they’re thinking about it.  There is no limit to where the third shelf can be and in a sense that’s the challenge.

The ideal third shelf location can only be found by meticulously mapping the consumer’s path through the world. It’s a matter of understanding the precise moments or circumstances that your products are either consciously or unconsciously considered, needed or desired.  For example, there are plenty of places that parents with toddlers think about their need for diapers besides the store shelf or at their home.  It’s up to marketers to figure out where those places might be and decide how best to build a third shelf there.  In the process, you may even find that your product is abundantly more desirable and relevant on the third shelf than it is within the context of a store.

The time has come for all brands to claim their space on the third shelf – wherever that might be.  In the new era of consumerism, the world is your store.

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