How we reach our consumers
Our products reach consumers through a network of customers, from multinational retailers, wholesalers and distributors to small independent shops. International retail customers such as Walmart, Tesco, Carrefour and Metro predominate in developed markets such as the US and Europe and are a growing presence in Asia. Around a fifth of our worldwide sales are channelled through ten major retail chains.
We also sell products through a more diverse group of distributors, wholesalers and millions of small independent outlets and kiosks, particularly in developing and emerging countries. This more traditional route to market – which we call ‘distributive trade’ – makes a significant contribution to our business.
This diversified distribution network supports the incomes of millions of small-scale businesses and individual sellers around the world.
In emerging markets, we have found that we can serve more consumers and increase our market penetration through innovative distribution channels. This in turn can provide new sources of income for those we partner with to distribute our products.
Working in this way is not always easy. Often we are trying to cover smaller towns and villages which are spread out over large geographic areas. Given the relatively sparse population and often weak infrastructure links, we need to find ways of doing this that are economically viable.
Engaging small-scale retailers in door-to-door selling is one way of getting our products to these hard-to-reach places. Our approach provides job opportunities by recruiting and training people to become part of the company’s sales network. This can involve providing them with extended credit, marketing, sales and accounting training and bicycles or other equipment.
To maximise the benefits for the people involved, we often work in partnership with local NGOs and government to ensure we understand the particular needs of these individuals and the socio-economic context in which they live and work. For example, Shakti, our door-to-door selling operation in India, provides work for 65,000 women in poor rural communities.
We operate similar schemes in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam which we are committed to expanding, thus creating employment and enhancing the livelihoods for thousands more entrepreneurs as well as bringing our quality brands to the hardest to reach consumers.
The Perfect Store
Our Perfect Store programme is based on the concept that for every variation in geography and outlet size, from a US superstore to a small-town independent in China, there is an optimal merchandising layout for best meeting shoppers’ needs and presenting Unilever brands. It is a repeatable model which ensures the right products are available in stores and are marketed clearly to shoppers.
A better shopping experience leads to improved sales growth, as shoppers purchase our products more frequently. The programme has led us to develop our understanding of what works in different channels and store formats, and also encouraged us to develop a range of new IT systems to facilitate measurement of key parameters, that is improving the way we do business and helping us stand out from the competition.
In 2013 we enrolled an additional 1.8 million Perfect Stores, reaching a total of 6.9 million Perfect Stores across 90 markets.