Updated: 1/18/2012 11:20 AM ET|
6 ways stores keep you there longer
The longer you are in a store, the more you are likely to spend. Retailers know this, and once you walk through the doors, they work hard to keep you inside.
Retailers now face a greater struggle not just to attract customers to their bricks-and-mortar stores but also to keep them there for longer and increase the chances of making a sale.
The same technology that makes it possible for consumers to shop online while on the go or at home, rather than having to rely solely on traditional stores, also makes it easier for consumers to be more efficient when they do decide to shop in a physical store. Anyone with an Internet connection can effectively pre-shop on one of the many sites that offer price comparisons, display store catalogs and highlight special deals. Armed with a smartphone, shoppers can do all of this while in the store to ensure they are in and out more quickly.
"New technologies have changed the dynamics of the shopping experience for many consumers and given them the tools to maximize their time," said Daniel Butler, the vice president of retail operations for the National Retail Federation. "In some cases, you have consumers who are so well-educated in the store's selection that they actually know more than the person working there might."
It's not only that consumers have more technology on hand for shopping, but also that they have less time to shop in general. As Butler points out, it was more common several decades ago for families to have a single income earner, leaving time for the other adult in the household to run errands and shop during the week.
But with more families having both adults working 9-to-5 jobs, there is less time for either of them to shop. Indeed, some households have seen their free time constrained further in recent years by the recession, as many workers have been forced to shoulder greater workloads and put in longer hours at the office.
From a consumer perspective, it might seem irrelevant whether you're in the store for five minutes or 30, as long as you make a purchase, but from a retailer's perspective, the longer you hang around, the more likely you are to buy additional products that you may have otherwise overlooked had you left the store sooner.
The great challenge for retailers going forward, then, is to find ways to entice savvy shoppers to stay longer without feeling they've wasted their time.
"If you get the customer to stay a few extra moments in the store and spend a little extra money, all while giving them what they wanted, then you've won," said C. Britt Beemer, the chairman of America's Research Group, a marketing firm. "But if the customer leaves feeling they've wasted their time, then the retailer loses."
For that reason, retailers must be especially creative in finding ways to both attract customers and encourage them to stay and spend. MainStreet spoke with several retail experts about steps that stores can take (and in many cases already do take) to entice their customers to stick around.
1. Adding in-store demonstrations and videos
Consumers may come to a store to shop, but as many retailers have found out, they'll stay to learn.
"Years ago, department stores used to have working kitchens where customers could stand around and watch experts prepare dishes. Now, we're seeing more stores do this kind of demonstrating," Beemer said.
Williams-Sonoma frequently hosts cooking classes in stores. Apple advertises free workshops to teach people how to use its products. Music shops such as Guitar Center offer weekly recording lessons.
Smaller retailers can easily apply these same tactics to their businesses, whether it's a hardware shop that has a local vendor come in to talk about new tools and how to use them, or a small beauty supply shop that has a weekly event where a makeup artist comes in to show off store products. Butler argues that business owners can just put a video of a lesson or demonstration on a TV in the store to create a learning environment.
Such visual demonstrations not only have the potential to boost the time a customer spends in the store. According to Butler, they also help "make customers feel a part of a community built around the store's business," a fact that may make them more likely to come back.
2. Engaging customers' 5 senses
Part of the reason many consumers continue to shop in bricks-and-mortar stores rather than solely online is for the opportunity to physically interact with products, which makes it all the more important for stores to appeal to as many of the senses as possible.
"When stores offer a more sensorial experience, consumers are generally just happier being in that environment," said Donna J. Sturgess, the president of Buyology, a research firm that studies marketing psychology.
With that in mind, she recommends a range of options for stores to consider: Add live music or play videos to entertain shoppers, spray light aromas in the stores, offer free samples of foods to entice consumers, and let shoppers touch and interact with the products whenever possible.
As Sturgess notes, there is certainly such a thing as being "overloaded with sensory experiences," something she says one might experience in a candle or soap store where the scent can be so overwhelming it turns customers away. But underwhelming the senses can be almost as detrimental to keeping customers in the store.
3. Stocking the store with surprising finds
To keep customers shopping, retailers must strive to design their stores in a way that confronts shoppers with items that pique their interest and keep them browsing.
"One of the things that really keeps people in stores longer are new and unexpected discoveries," Sturgess said. "This is what transforms shopping into an experience and not just a transaction."
Sturgess highlights stores like Urban Outfitters and Costco that are packed with a range of products intermingled with one another. For example, in Urban Outfitters, one might be browsing for pants one minute only to stumble upon a stack of new books.
Along the same lines, Beemer emphasizes the importance of signs placed throughout the store. Adding signs that advertise new seasonal products or special deals can be an effective way to direct consumers to other sections of the store.
"Everything within a good store signage program is intended to keep the customer in the store longer and to spend more money," he said.
4. Improving customer service
As useful as each of the above steps may be to entice customers, none compares to the importance of great customer service.
"The No. 1 thing that keeps a customer in the store longer is having a representative to help them who is friendly and knowledgeable," Beemer said.
However, the bar for quality customer service is arguably higher now than it's ever been. It's no longer enough for representatives to know the store's selection or the basic specifications of a product; consumers can find out much of that information on their own online or on the smartphones in their pockets. Sales representatives today must be experts on the products they sell and even on the industry as a whole, and should be able to provide insight that the shopper wouldn't be able to find elsewhere.
As an example, Beemer and others point to Apple, which has a special Genius Bar that features experts who handle tech support and offer opinions on your gadget needs as well.
"If the customer feels the representative is trustworthy and knowledgeable, they are more likely to ask for their opinion or advice and to stay in the store longer. If not, they may feel their time is wasted," Beemer said.
5. Making the most of customer downtime
As much as retailers may struggle to keep consumers in stores longer, they often seem to overlook the instances when customers have no choice but to hang around, whether it's waiting for a prescription to be filled at a drugstore or for a pair of pants to be hemmed.
"There is an opportunity to engage customers while they wait for service and leverage that downtime, but that often seems to go overlooked," Sturgess said.
She recommends display videos in checkout lines and other waiting areas that show how to use a product or perhaps highlight community programs the store is involved with. Likewise, representatives might take these opportunities to inform waiting customers about other promotions.
"If the customer doesn't want to participate in this, that's fine, but at least give them the option to do so," she said.
6. Catching you on your way out
Once customers decide to leave the store, retailers have one last opportunity to keep them there a little while longer.
Some retailers, according to Beemer, have begun to offer coupons and discounts at the cash register along with the receipt, to encourage the customer to turn around and pick up an extra item or two.
"Stores won't do this as much ahead of time because it's not as effective at getting you to buy more . . . but when the salesperson gives you a 20% off coupon with your receipt, it might get you to go back and stay a little longer," Beemer said.
This article was reported by Seth Fiegerman for MainStreet.
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Wal Mart does this also, My wife worked at Wal Mart and they were always changing the location of items and was told that the reason was to keep the stores from looking old and stale.
Of course this is stupid thinking, but it kept my wife employed moving things around all the time.
My biggest complaint at Wal Mart or any other store for that matter is to think you are going to get what you need and get out, but of course it has moved and you have to track down a clerk, if you can find one, to find out where it went and of course, they usually don't know either and now you and the clerk are running around the store looking.
I would rather have old and stale and at least find what you need without looking around a store to find a clerk that don't know where it is either.
All those things are well and good but i keep walking out of Sears and Home Depot before I'm finished because they turned off the air conditioners to save money here in florida.............
You have to wonder what some stores are thinking. I don't understand why there is for example 14 checkout registers in a store and only one is open with a long line. I guess the theory is that they are saving money by only having one employee working since there is not that many customers.
I think this is backwards thinking that is really self defeating. May be the reason there is not that many customers is because there is too few check out registers so people get in the habit of shopping some where else that has more open registers and can get in and out faster,
So a downward spiral develops where fewer and fewer checkout registers are open because there are fewer and fewer customers and there are fewer and fewer customers because there are fewer and fewer checkout registers open. This is why I don't shop at Albertsons and shop at other supermarkets where there are more registers available and you can just go right through.
Keeping me in stores doesn't translate to me spending more money. So catch me on the way out all you want.
I guess I'm getting old and bull headed but I pay little attention to advertisments for I feel like most of them are gimmics.
I always know exactly what I want before I go to the store and thats exactly what I buy and if the price is not what I want
to pay I dont buy.
Prices are jumping like rabbits and I am continously downgradeing my list every month. After hearing on the news that
prices were going up 4% I went to the store and found some of the items I buy monthly had went up 23%.
I do watch prices closely and an item I usually buy for one dollar had jumped that 23 cents and after doing some checking
I found that everything I buy had went up fifteen to twenty cents I dont know how that news article got their four percent
figure. Stores have to make money and they have more gimmics than Monty Hall ever had deals.
Amen to the Walmart experience. First the store is as big as a mall, then there is no one to ask where things are located, and finally you spend more time in the check out line that the whole rest of your time in Walmart. Next they mistreat their employees so they are seldom nice. I actually get a sick feeling when I know I have to go into a Walmart. Sometimes there is no other choice because only they have what I need. I order many many things online and not from Walmart because I have such a negative feeling about Walmart.
I usually get each person in the line help the person in front of them unload their carts, help the checker bag my items and move women with small children in front of me because it is the only way to get out of their faster and feel good.
I have watched a women with three small children and pregnant stand in check out for 40 minutes and of course the children get cranky. I usually ask everyone in the line to move a mother with small children , elderly and disabled to the front of the line. Only once did I get a jerk that would not do it. Then if the women has more children than hands and has to try and juggle them and a cart in a busy parking lot, well it is just an accident waiting to happen. I usually ask for the manager and have them escort the lady to her car and push her cart.
So anyway, in todays world consumers need to stick together and help each other. We can all get by with a little help from our friends.
For the most part, this is rubbish. If someone is easily steered by supposed marketing tricks (real or imagined) there's no helping them anyway. The lack of open checkout lanes is a result of cutting back employees and does not happen because a store wants you to stay longer. That isn't logical thinking. What - keep you a miserable prisoner so you'll pick up a package of ChapStik or beef jerky that wasn't on your shopping list? I don't think so.
If Walmart-like stores wanted to increase sales, they would always have MORE registers open because the checkout process and the shorter waiting time will likely determine where a person drops their weekly check next time. It's a balancing act when to call someone up to open a register. It's not part of a grand design to make you go down the electronics aisle again.
Conversely, temperatures work to get people to leave, not keep them there. McDonalds figured that out years ago - when's the last time you waited for a table in a McDonalds resturant? During busy periods, it's cold by design. To get you out sooner so tables are available.
Great. Wonder who funds this firm. Which retailers have marked up their prices to pay for the development of new ideas to part us from our money?
Personally, I favor the K.I.S.S system (Keep It Simple, Stupid): skip the ridiculous frequent-shopper programs, give me a decent-quality product at a competitive price, and treat my time and expenditure with respect -- meaning STOP trying to manipulate me into spending more. Those of us with a brain are offended by the attempt, and LESS likely to shop at those places again.
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