March 22, 2021
Shoppers are looking for advice and guidance when they make the transition from tobacco to vape. Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski looks at the ways retailers can fulfil this crucial role
One thing is clear: There are vape sales out there for retailers who invest in category. According to JTI, the vaping category was worth £292 million to the traditional retail channel in the past year. Meanwhile, other emerging next generation nicotine categories are also finding a foothold in many stores. The nicotine pouch market is worth almost £1,000,000 per year in the UK, while the arrival of the Ploom brand into the heated tobacco offers the first major challenge to Philip Morris’s IQOS system, making it almost certain that 2021 will see far greater growth for this sector as competition builds.
Yet, with a category growing so fast (and in so many directions), store owners need to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge to be able to guide and educate their shoppers through what can be a sometimes-bewildering web of flavours, products and subsectors.
Having the ability to educate your shoppers is a far easier prospect if your team is ready with the right facts, able to answer tough questions from sceptical shoppers.
“Having up-to-date knowledge on the latest products is key to offering an informed and good level of customer service. In order to confidently talk about new products, retailers should use all the platforms available to them – including JTI’s trade retailer website, JTI Advance,” says Lyle Mitchley, reduced risk products and brand portfolio manager at JTI. “This will help them to understand key category insights and product developments.”
Duncan Cunningham, corporate affairs director for Blu in the UK says this kind of staff knowledge can help create a shopper journey that can lead new customers to getting the right product for them: “Many shoppers new to the vape category are often overwhelmed by the breadth of different products on offer and if they don’t know the category already, they probably also won’t know what products will be right for them. This is why it’s so important for retailers and their staff to understand the products on offer in store, and who they’re best suited for, so they can effectively advise them on which vaping products they should opt for.”
So, what advice do manufacturers have for creating this customer journey?
Chris Carr, UK sales director for Edge brand owner NextGen360 explains how an effective conversation between staff and a customer should go:
“Establishing what kind of smoker a customer is, or was, will play a massive role in being able to effectively offer an alternative solution. If they were a heavy smoker, it’s likely that they will most easily transition to a higher nicotine strength product in either a tobacco or menthol flavour as these options best replicate their previous habit.”
However, Carr says the most important element of successful customer service is having advice that can be adapted depending on the needs of each customer: “If they are a lighter smoker then, equally, lower strength e-liquids would be a better option. It may be that the customer wants a total separation from smoking and might prefer a fruit flavour – the important thing is to ask these questions and understand your client. Do they travel a lot? Do they work from home or in an office? Try to politely learn as much about their lifestyle as you can – armed with this information, a savvy retailer who understands their product offering can easily assess which product is most likely to appeal, and therefore generate a sale.”
Clearly, this kind of adaptable and in-depth support requires well-trained staff and Duncan Cunningham at Blu says there’s a range of ways store owners are able to provide this training:
“There are various ways to train staff. First and foremost, it’s essential they know what products are stocked in store and where they are positioned on the gantry, so they easily find them. This is especially key for best-selling lines so they can always keep an eye on stock levels to avoid running out. This should also be a focus for any liquids or accessories, so they know to upsell where possible.”
Retailers can also offer more hands-on support, providing staff with an opportunity to get a real-world understanding of the category.
“One particularly effective way of improving staff knowledge on vaping products is through running product demonstrations using samples of the devices being sold in store. Allowing staff to handle the products themselves and get to know the different components using demonstration models, or sample liquids, will really help them understand more about how they work, so they can pass this information onto customers. Using similar demonstration models can also be a great way to educate customers on the devices before they buy so they leave the store fully informed on how to use a product.”
Cunningham adds that giving staff the opportunity to read up on the trade press (that’s us!) is a great way to ensure that this knowledge is kept up to date in a fast-moving sector.
Among the key knowledge that staff need to have on hand to help educate customers is the way e-liquids and capsules can be matched with a compelling, if relatively limited, selection of devices
According to Lucas Bartam, boss of Real Trading Ltd’s VapeStation brand, this is again where range comes into play. “E-liquids is the key product in any vape display. Vapers consume more e-liquid than devices or coils so it makes sense to focus more on 10ml liquids, shortfill and nic shots. However, it is still important to offer devices and coils to capture new vapers, and maximise the share of wallet of existing customers.”
To assist stores in this mission, the VapeStation team prioritises getting out stores, updating their displays with the most on-trend and bestselling products. “We have periodic range reviews with our customers, we analyse sales data and swap out any slow lines, we also enhance the offering of fast selling lines to maximise sales opportunities,” Bartram says.
Another important element which the right range can bring is to offer the format and type of device best suited to different kinds of customer.
“Stocking a concise range of vaping devices designed for new-starters to compliment your e-liquid offering will be vital,” Chris Carr at NextGen360 agrees. “Simple to use starter kits like the Edge Pro and pod systems like the Edge Go are excellent options, but for those looking for a truly cigarette-like experience, stocking the innovative Edge Hybrid will be a must. As the first filtered vape, Hybrid combines the simplicity and ease of use of pod systems with a familiar filter tip, complete with an integrated menthol crushball that is sure to appeal to recent ex-smokers. This device has been specifically designed to bridge the gap between smoking and vaping,” Carr adds.
Another manufacturer which sees its portfolio as offering enough breadth of choice for most smokers to find a good quitting aid is Dinner Lady vape. “Dinner Lady’s target customer is very easy to describe: Every single vaper or smoker,” says John Taylor, chief marketing officer at the firm. “Our aim is that everyone who vapes chooses Dinner Lady, and that everyone who is thinking about transitioning from cigarettes to vaping is recommended to try a Dinner Lady product.”
And Taylor says Dinner Lady’s status as an “established and loved” brand means it is well placed to support retailers in their efforts to reach out to shoppers.
“We are able to provide the education needed when convenience retailers are introducing or expanding their vape offerings – supporting them with the specialist knowledge needed to really support and guide their customers through the myriad vape products available,” Taylor says. “And we can supply the data needed to support retailers in building their range, to demonstrate the best product mix of e-liquid formulations, flavours and strengths.”
Some support is less direct, however, and Lyle Mitchley says a key element of helping your shoppers to get a proper handle on this sometimes-confusing category is having a clear and well-thought-through display:
“By having a clear and tidy display, customers will find it easier to find their preferred product, in turn experiencing a better level of customer service. Retailers should also consider investing in shop-floor display units to showcase their range, allowing customers to browse what’s on offer. Once stores expand their range, it is best to move to a category solution where next-gen nicotine products are displayed in the same gantry to ensure quick service time and repeat custom.”
And with a clear and concise range, stores should find that they also have more space and time to bring in other growth categories such as pouches and heated tobacco.
The nicotine pouch market is one which is developing fast and is already seeing the emergence of some leading brands. These include JTI’s Nordic Spirit, Swedish Match’s Zyn and BAT’s VELO brand. In this new market, flavour is become increasingly important with flavours such as Elderflower (Nordic Spirit) and Espressino (Zyn) providing more choice to customers.
Stores can further grow sales by educating customers about the key advantages of nicotine pouches such as their ability to be used in gyms, aeroplanes and offices – unlike vape or heated tobacco.
IQOS and Ploom, meanwhile, offer possibly the closest thing to traditional combustible tobacco and both companies are offering tailored solutions and promotions to retailers to minimise the initial outlay of the devices to encourage smokers to trial this harm-reduced option.
It is further evidence that stores which spend time organising and improving their category management will have the time to educate their shoppers about this amazing category and take advantage of the ever-greater number of sales opportunities available on the market.
How to educate your shoppers on vape
Get your range ready
Stocking an up-to-date and well-planned range of products can ensure your store can cater to all kinds of customers, whether a current smoker, new to vape or an expert on vapour.
Staff education is all important
Staff are a store owner’s ambassadors and, in a category such as vape, this role is crucial. Make sure your team can provide the support and guidance customers need.
Don’t forget devices
While convenience stores are unlikely to need to stock as many devices as specialist stores, stocking a few options is vital. Offering staff and customers hands-on demonstrations will help demystify the category.
Keep up to date on trends and launches
Use titles such as Vape Business to make sure you are aware of all of the latest product launches and the best supplier advice on how to introduce these products to customers.
Utilise your brand partners’ support
Suppliers have a wide range of educational and marketing tools available to assist retailers in their efforts to showcase this category to their customers.
Don’t forget other opportunities
A well-organised vape range will provide the basis of a category that will have space for other opportunities such as heated tobacco and nicotine pouches. Each sector caters for customers in a different way.