Last Updated: November 25, 2020

You’re waiting in line at the supermarket—and, as you’re not particularly interested in staring at the back of the customer in front of you, you glance around the line.

The display of candy bars within immediate reach reminds you that you’re a little hungry, so you grab one (it’s on sale). Oh, and that magazine looks interesting. You’re already reading an article when you get to the cash register, where the teller asks if you want to donate $1 to a charity; and doing so, you write your name on a little heart placard that gets placed on the wall with a hundred other hearts from other donators. Finally, you complete your purchase(s) and get your receipt—with several extra items you hadn’t expected to buy.

What is point-of-sale marketing?

Point of sale marketing refers to all efforts that increase sales at the point the purchase is actually made. Primarily this revolves around a cash register (although a point of purchase for a business might be a meeting table, or an Internet page), and is a staple of retail and restaurant environments.

The most common method of point of sale marketing is the merchandise display, while other methods include the use of signage, receipts, and suggestive selling by the retailer at the POS. (See also Shopper Marketing)

Who implements point-of-sale marketing?

Restaurants and retailers frequently use point of sale marketing tactics to encourage customers to make last-minute purchases. However, because retailers resell other business’ products, point of sale marketing is significant to every company that sells items located at/near a retailer’s POS.

  • Grocery stores commonly place merchandise shelving in between each available register, featuring items such as magazines, candy, gum, and batteries. Sodas are often displayed in a small refrigeration unit at the end of these displays. Items near the POS frequently move at one-and-a-half to three times as fast as the same product on a shelf elsewhere in the store, and some items in high-traffic supermarkets have been reported to sell as much as 64 times faster.
  • Gas stations similarly line products at their register counter. Here, energy vitamins and beef jerky are items added to those also commonly sold at grocery store registers.
  • Fast-food restaurants commonly display desserts and gift cards at their POS. Dine-in restaurants in which customers pay at the counter instead of through their server (such as Denny’s and Sizzler) may also feature items here.
  • Retail businesses, including hardware stores, auto parts stores, hobby stores, and others place their own low-ticket items around their checkout locations.
  • Tobacco companies focus much of their advertising around the point of sale; although their displays and advertisements are subject to more legal regulations than other products.
  • Brands can purchase display space at a retailer’s POS, or even use the POS system software to promote their product. For example, Hellman’s designed a program that printed recipes featuring Hellman’s mayonnaise (and other products purchased at the same time) on customers’ receipts, which led to an increase in sales as customers put their mayonnaise to further use.
  • Starbucks is a particularly good example of POS marketing, insofar as they have low-ticket merchandise on display there, a POS software that facilitates suggestive selling, and a receipt program that encourages repeat business.
  • Non-profit organizations and causes can sell paper plaques (also called pinups, icons, or mobiles) at the point of sale, which visually represent a donation made, and offer the customer a social reward for donating (such as putting the donator’s name on display).

For what kinds of customers is point-of-sale marketing effective?

Capturing Customer Interest at the POS

  • Low-ticket items
  • Novelty and gift items
  • Sale items (the promoted items can even be perpetually “on sale”)
  • Eye level is “buy level”

Point of sale merchandise tends to focus on low-ticket impulse items which can easily be added to other purchases. They appeal most to impulse customers who aren’t particularly loyal to a brand (brand shoppers will typically find their preferred brand on its normal shelf, instead of discovering it at the POS).

While different types of retailers may have very different customer bases, POS displays tend to have a universal appeal. Despite representing an unplanned buy, POS items are particularly attractive to price-sensitive customers, as they’re commonly displayed as “deal” items, whether that means being on sale, or “new in store,” or an “item of the week.” (See also Promotional Marketing)

How is a point-of-sale marketing campaign developed?

Retailers have many options available to them in point of sale marketing, so first they need to identify what goals they wish to accomplish. Do they want to move overstocked items, increase visibility of new items, highlight a particular product line, or serve seasonal interests?

Types of POS Displays

  • counter displays—typically small, as they must never block line-of-sight between the clerk and the customer
  • floor displays (“dumps”)—commonly constructed from card stock
  • shelf talkers—small signage that appears next to the product on the shelf
  • posters—when wall space is present
  • video and digital signage—suspended above customers in line

Next, they must consider the physical layout of their stores, including the customers’ paths to the POS. Supermarkets tend to have one line per register, while other retailers, such as Best Buy or Barnes and Noble, commonly use one line for several registers. This allows businesses to display different merchandise all along the lines, attracting consumers looking for distractions while waiting in line.

Product manufacturers must also consider spatial restrictions when designing POS displays, often sending agents to visit various stores to recommend variations in a displays.

These agents will also negotiate with retailers for display space—a scarce resource, as there are far more products available for display than space allows. This negotiation may take place with individual store owners, or with corporate offices which control many stores.

Fast-food restaurants and other businesses in which customers’ purchase decisions are made at the POS may establish policies and training that promotes suggestive selling, in which the clerk recommends additional items for purchase. Additionally, they may purchase POS software that incorporates this directly into the purchase: for example, by providing scripted lines to the clerk based upon what items have been rung up. (See also One-to-One Marketing)

What career titles work with point-of-sale marketing strategies?

Marketing Manager

What do they do?

What type of salary should I expect?

  • Marketing Manager
    Median annual pay: $116,010
    Top 10%: $187,199+
  • Advertising Manager
    Median annual pay: $87,650
    Top 10%: $186,630
  • Market Research Analyst
    Median annual pay: $60,250
    Top 10%: $112,560

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

  • negotiate point of sale campaigns with retailers which stock their product
  • initiate and evaluate market research on consumer behavior at the point of sale, and apply this research to product development, pricing, placement, and promotional decisions
  • coordinate the various teams (advertising, merchandising, product develiopment) involved in point of sale marketing
Education and Skills

Marketing managers have at least a bachelor’s degree in marketing or business management, accompanied by several years experience in both business-to-consumer and business-to-business marketing. Education preparing them for this career includes classes in marketing, market research, and business management.

Advertising Account Manager

What do they do?
  • pitch creative ideas for advertisements and displays that can be implemented at the point of sale
  • write short, eye-catching copy for POS signage
  • create videos and digital signage for television displays at the point of sale
Education and Skills

Advertising account managers typically require a bachelor’s degree in advertising or marketing (or occasionally, journalism or communications). Relevant experience includes copywriting, product package design, display design, and similar projects; and often begins with an internship while still in school. Their educational background encompasses communications, graphic design, video production, market research, and consumer psychology.

Market Research Analyst

What do they do?
  • use a variety of methods (including interviews, statistical analysis, and eye-tracking technology) to gather data on customers’ activity and habits at the point of sale
  • identify the demand for a company’s products in a particular retail environment, as well as their general impulse level there
  • evaluate the results of point of sale marketing tactics, and make data-based recommendations regarding strategy and implementation
Education and Skills

Market research analysts need at least a bachelor’s degree in market research or statistics. They gain initial experience in various data-collection and analysis jobs, for business, news, or non-profit organizations. Their educational background also includes classes in economics, marketing, and computer science.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

Point of sale marketing requires not only the ability to promote a product to customers, but also to make a compelling value proposition to retailers. A marketing program equips you with both the promotional and business skills you need to design effective point of sale marketing campaigns.

In a marketing program, you’ll not only develop your speaking and presentation skills, but also your ability to communicate through non-verbal means, including graphics and product displays. You’ll also learn how to tailor your communication to your audience, whether it’s the end consumer or another business retailing your company’s product. Meanwhile, classes in market research and consumer psychology will further increase your ability to understand consumer shopping behavior, and develop value propositions appealing to them and the retailers who serve them.

To learn more about how a marketing program can help you, request information from schools with degrees in marketing, and take the first steps toward an engaging marketing career.