What Retailers Can Learn From a Famous Chocolate Company

As far back as the 1920’s, Hershey allowed consumers to tour their factory. And long after public access to its manufacturing facilities ceased, fans continued to express interest in seeing how the company made it’s chocolate. So, in 1973, the original Hershey’s Chocolate World opened in Hershey, PA, providing the masses with a first-hand experience of the chocolate-making processs.

According to the company’s website, “Hershey was the first food and confectionery company to create this experience, solidifying our spot in history as the leader in innovative, experiential marketing.”

“Our goal is to always create new and exciting experiences by connecting fans with what they are smelling, tasting, touching (and even hearing) when it comes to chocolate. Our Hershey’s Chocolate World attractions give us the one-of-a-kind opportunity to engage with fans, as well as test (and taste) the latest and greatest innovations.”

~ The Hershey Company

Based on the quote above, it’s obvious that the Hershey company understands the importance of providing value upfront and going straight for the heart.

“Companies today need to find a way to connect with empowered customers on an emotional level if they want to get their business.”

~ Vision Critical

So how can retailers connect with customers on an emotional level? Suzanne Jones, Vice President of The Hershey Experience, offers some helpful insight:

Retailers Must Consider Shifting Customer Expectations

As the leader of the The Hershey Experience, Suzanne Jones uses experiences to profitably build rapport with Hershey’s brands around the world.

Her mission is to “make our world sweeter, one experience at a time” and she’s always coming up with innovative and delicious new ways for Hershey consumers to experience and enjoy their favorite chocolate treats.

Take, for example, the permanent S’mores attraction in the company’s Times Square location, where guests can enjoy Hershey’s s’mores year-round right from an authentic camper. And they’re not just any s’mores. They’re made with special ingredients, including homemade graham crackers—with a hint of smoky flavor—and a full Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar.

But not all retailers are continually thinking about innovative ways to engage their customers. In fact, many of them are slow to pay heed to shifting customer expectations.

A decade ago, grocery stores had a entire aisle dedicated to diapers, another aisle for paper towels, and perhaps another for toilet paper. That thinking doesn’t work today, though. Many consumers now get these items by subscription, and it’s shipped directly to their front porches every month. This subscription model reflects a big shift from a retailer’s perspective, affecting how much real estate they need and how to use it. But they’re not adjusting fast enough.

“All this is happening amid the broader emergence of the experience economy, with a significant increase in shopper expectations,” Suzanne Jones told Retail Dive. “Retailers are now expected to engage and entertain shoppers while doing everything they can to avoid delaying them.”

There are three ways that retalers can use their physical stores to connect with customers on a more meaningful level:

1. Tell a story

“Retailers need to understand that to truly take a storytelling approach, the consumer always has to be the hero of the story,” says Jones.

The problem retailers are trying to solve is what makes the story interesting. A grocery store, for example, could offer products that don’t typically share a shelf, such as greens, salad dressings and croutons, to communicate that they’re thinking of intuitive ways that their customers might shop, instead of the way things have always been done.

While some retailers may not have the means to feature gardens or entire farming operations under (or sometimes on top of) their roof like Amazon-owned Whole Foods, the important thing is that they start with the solution they’re offering the customer and go from there.

2. Help consumers see beyond the sale

Retailers serve as mentors and helpers, providing consumers with everything they need to solve problems in the moment, as well as give them a platform to go out and discuss it with others.

Consumers today have powerful platforms at their disposal to share their experiences—whether they’re good or bad. And it’s not just about individuals using Facebook or Instagram to talk about an amazing new snack.

It’s also about sharing photos of the family coming together around the backyard firepit on a Saturday night to share that snack—the purchase is simply fuel for the experience.

3. Move beyond the merchandising box

Modern retailers and brand owners now recognize and accept that customers want it all—value, convenience and experience.

A great example of a retailer executing this tricky balancing act is Sheetz, a convenience store and a made-to-order, quick-serve restaurant.

Another retailer that makes it’s store as more than a warehouse is Hyvee and Wegmans, which features high-quality dine-in options, along with expedited shopping using their own version of click-and-collect.

The Takeaway

According to CMO, if retailers can learn how to maximize their stores’ potential and use them to emphasize their purpose, the physical experience can become their brand’s key differentiator.

Like the Hershey Company, this boils down to retailers using their physical premises to give consumers a memorable, tactile, sensory experience, along with access to expertise.

However retailers choose to do it, they must remember to find ways to connect with their customers on an emotional level if they want to get their business.

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Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and two small business e-books. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime. A graduate of Brigham Young University, she worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current writing position at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with small business owners.