It's a head-scratcher, all right. You run to Best Buy to look at digital cameras and wind up with laundry detergent in your basket. You're cruising the aisles at Staples seeking printer ink and bump into a display for shaving cream and deodorant. And while buying hardware at Home Depot you find literal software: toilet paper
The Wall Street Journal offers an explainer about why big box stores are busting out of their bread-and-butter categories. The story suggests that the retailers are using such must-have staples to boost foot traffic and make up for some of the profits that they've lost to online retail competitors.
The report said that Richfield-based Best Buy terms the strategy "floor optimization." A Staples' marketing executive calls the updated product line "traffic drivers." The consumables may help the big retailers close the gap in what may be a permanent drop in traffic as Americans buy more online. U.S. shoppers made 3.8% fewer shopping trips in 2013 than they did a year earlier, according to market research firm Nielsen.
Stocking unexpected products from outside a store's basic brand is a widening phenomenon, but not a new one. In 2007, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted that Wisconsin-based Menards added a grocery department to many of its stores with up to six aisles devoted to frozen pizza, cereal, condiments, cookies, chips, canned goods and soda – but no produce or fresh meats. The company began offering "...an array of items beyond the traditional paint and hardware categories, including mattresses, appliances, laundry supplies, candles, best-selling novels, magazines and office supplies." The story said the products are designed to "...make it easy for customers to make an impulse purchase...or accomplish two needs in the same store."
In February of this year, KXNews in North Dakota reported that the Menards in Dickinson has been routinely selling out of milk. The hardware giant keeps milk prices competitive to bring customers in with the hope that they will find something else that they need.
The Wall Street Journal story said Best Buy is getting good results with home soda machine supplies that bring customers to the stores. Soda Stream International's Scott Guthrie told the Journal that nearly one-third of the people who buy soda machines return to the same store when they need CO2 gas refills or syrup. Stores "love these planned visits," because it increases the likelihood shoppers will pick up other items while in the store, he said.
Which is why you have that jug of Tide in your Best Buy basket.