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Opinion: Blu boss on the importance of education to vape success

March 1, 2021

Customer discusses Blu vape system with convenience retailer (Credit: Blu)

Education of staff and customers is key to a store’s vape success says Duncan Cunningham, corporate affairs director at Imperial Tobacco and Blu

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.

Proactively engaging with customers at the till point is the first step. Simply putting your best smile on and offering to explain a bit about the different products sold in the store will go a very long way to putting the customer at ease.

It’s also important to ask about their previous experiences: Are they a heavy or a light smoker? Do they have any flavour preferences (eg. menthol, tobacco or fruity flavours)? Have they tried certain devices before? If so, how did they find them? Based on their answers, you can then tailor your advice on the devices, flavours and strengths that would be best suited them.

For example, if they’re a heavy smoker that’s completely new to the category, focusing on easy-to-use pod mod devices like myblu and its range of Intense range of liquid pods including nicsalts, would be a great starting point.

Customer service also has a particularly crucial role to play at present, given the in-store restrictions in place as part of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many consumers won’t wish to handle products in order to look at them before they buy and may also be inclined not to ask questions at the till point to avoid queues building up behind them, which can be intimidating. With this in mind, retailers need to be prepared to proactively offer them advice at the till point and help shoppers feel at ease by providing knowledgeable answers to their questions that really showcase their understanding of the category.

It’s also a good idea to have a strong visual display of vaping products, positioned away from the main gantry where possible, with clear information on pricing to enable customers to browse at their leisure without the need to handle and inspect products. Where space is limited, even a small countertop unit can help achieve this, especially if it is well organised and fully stocked. Making sure it is positioned in a well-lit part of the counter will also help increase stand out even further.

Retailers can also do simple things to raise awareness of new vaping products or offers in and around their stores, for example using PoS and countertop units to drive visibility. This can also help retailers to engage shoppers in discussion about their nicotine needs. However, whether using a PoS or a standalone countertop unit, it’s important to make these look as professional as possible so we’d recommend using assets provided by brand suppliers like blu, and avoiding handwritten signs, unless expertly done.

Finally, staff education is probably the most important thing of all. If retailers don’t invest in training their staff on the products on offer, there’s a strong chance they’ll miss out on sales. However, if they make sure their staff know the products well, so they can talk comfortably to adult smokers about them and are equipped to answer any questions they may have, this will pay off massively in terms of sales and repeat visits.

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.

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.

Also, encouraging staff to read up on the latest category developments and news in features such as this in the trade press is a really great way to increase their understanding of the key trends and new products. There’s a wealth of information at their fingertips that will go a long way to help them get to grips with the category.