As I explained recently, looking at the jargon used by any group of professionals provides great insight into how they manage their operations. So I was interested to see this glossary of terms used in category management. Many of these terms relate to the supply chain side of this activity, but there are also many which relate to what I would call in-store merchandising. In other words how to present products to consumers in the retail space.
To illustrate the complexity and sophistication of such merchandising, I want to focus on one particular piece of jargon – ‘finger space‘. This is defined as ‘the distance from the top of a product to the underside of the shelf above’. Clearly there is trade off here. Too little finger space and the customer may be unable to take the product off the shelf. On the other hand, too much finger space is clearly a waste of space. Hence what we are talking about here is the management of capacity at a micro level. Just 1 cm of uneccessary finger space on one shelf, adds up to many cubic metres of unused space across a whole supermarket.
This is largely why industry norms have emerged with regards product packaging. Cans and packets tend to come in standard sizes so that they fit on the retailers’ shelves. Another benefit of this is that sourcing packaging is cheaper due to economies of scale.
An implication of this standardisation is that size and shape cannot be used to differentiate products from each other, which is why colour and artwork is used so much in product presentation. There is nowhere in the modern world more colourful than a supermarket shelf – all because of finger space.