Suppliers are sick of retailers consistently failing to keep their promises when it comes to the implementation of promotional and category plans. Despite the thorny issue of compliance topping the agenda in numerous retail buyer meetings and conferences over the past year, retail initiatives are still not making it into store. New research obtained by The Grocer and conducted on behalf of trade association Point of Purchase Advertising International (POPAI) shows that only 53% of all display material in the multiple grocery sector is placed in store ­ little improvement on last year. And in the convenience sector the figure crashes to a mere 38%. The problem is so acute that suppliers are now openly airing their concerns. There is even talk of demanding refunds from retailers that let them down. "It may get to a point where there is an agreement between suppliers and retailers that if things don't get implemented, the retailer pays the supplier a rebate," says Angus MacIver, vice-president of insights at Walkers Snacks. Fiona Spencer, international marketing director of cleaning products company Spontex, agrees. "I think there could come a point when suppliers say enough is enough." Manufacturers complain that retailers fail to put up the PoP material and promotional display units, fail to stick to planograms or follow advice on category reviews, and sometimes don't even put the product out on sale. According to research by Walkers, compliance is extremely low, with between 30%-50% of stores ignoring its plans. MacIver says it's even worse in smaller organisations. "You can get things agreed at head office fairly easily, but chances are it will only get executed in half the stores." And for those who might shrug and say these things can happen, lack of implementation boils down to one thing ­ a lost opportunity. According to figures compiled by instore research company Storecheck Marketing, lack of compliance adds up to a lost sales opportunity in the region of £1bn. "We're losing sales because of it," agrees MacIver. "We know if people implement a sales review, then it will lead to increased sales." Indeed, in a test by Safeway and Unilever Bestfoods in six stores using PoP merchandising material in hot snacks, sales uplifts of up to 14% were recorded (The Grocer, May 18). But there are signs that the message is finally getting through to the retailers. Next week Sainsbury and Asda join suppliers, including Cadbury Trebor Bassett and Unilever Bestfoods, at the first meeting of a new compliance group set up by POPAI. According to Martin Kingdon, POPAI's general manager: "The aims of the group are to examine the processes involved in designing, producing, delivering and placing display material with a view to producing a best practice guide relevant to the industry." It is clear this is needed. Spencer says lack of clear communication is a major problem in gaining compliance. "Store managers are bombarded with information every day and I wonder whether we fail both as manufacturers and retailers to find a way to communicate with stores." Iain Copperthwaite, Somerfield's store manager in Hungerford, agrees. "You do get bombarded with information. A better channel of communication has to be an improvement." But it's not only the retailers who are at fault. Manufacturers could certainly do more to help the flow of information says Chris Leach, partner at The Partnering Group. "Manufacturers tend to overestimate the power of a buyer in his own organisation. When it comes to implementation, there are many hurdles, so the more help the manufacturer can give, the better. Rather than just focus on the buyer, they need to think that's just the first stage and consider who else they need to work with." Copperthwaite says suppliers need to make more effort to ensure the information gets through: "At the moment they tend only to deal with the buyer in head office. If you look at how many people a directive has to go through before reaching the store, it's about half a dozen. So some information will get lost." He adds that Somerfield has regional business development managers who deal with the supplier and help to remind stores about plans and promotions, which helps improve implementation. And of course, there's the question of whether manufacturers are making their message clear and simple to understand. Leach questions whether they make sure the information they give out is being communicated correctly so that the store managers can get to grips with it. Walker's MacIver says this can quite often be overlooked: "It's easy to send out what we think are clear instructions only for other people not to understand them. With planograms, you might think you know the shelving, but that can be wrong. If the stores can't understand them, they'll be ignored." But despite all these problems, is it realistic for manufacturers to consider ditching category plans and instore promotional activity? Cadbury Trebor Bassett customer relations director Chris Morgan doesn't think suppliers could take the risk. "To do it would be extremely arrogant," he says. "You're assuming that your products will always remain in front of the consumer without that investment. It's easy to take a short-term view and save costs by removing the merchandising and sales teams, but without that sharp nose at the front line of sales, you would feel things decline." And when compliance is achieved it is well worth it. McVitie's worked with Sainsbury on an initiative to enhance the presentation of the biscuit category and draw people into the aisle. The objective was to increase sales by 3%. A treatment created by PoP company Oakley Young achieved a 4% increase in year-on-year sales over a 10-week period. Sainsbury has now rolled out the programme. But while Sainsbury and others are looking to tackle compliance, there is no doubt manufacturers are, generally, reaching boiling point. Clearly it would be suicide to stop work with the biggest offenders in the multiple sector. But perhaps manufacturers ­ especially the majors ­ will push for a penalty system and demand their money back if plans are not followed. It remains to be seen just how tough they will get if retailers continue to let them down. n We want to hear your views on compliance. Why not e-mail them to or {{COVER FEATURE }}