Retail Optimization studies can help you increase retail sales by providing a deeper understanding of your shoppers’ behavior. In this article, we provide a simple example on how Retail Optimization can help uncover potential problems and improvement opportunities that ultimately lead to converting visitors to your store into buyers.
We conduct Retail Optimization studies through observational research, typically observing and noting your potential customer’s behavior throughout their visit to your store from the very first approach to your storefront, all the way to checking out, occasionally combining this with a questionnaire as they exit the store.
There are many factors throughout a store visit that can influence sales including the store layout, signage, product grouping and categorization, placement of the checkout counter, staff training, etc. And these can sometimes affect the shoppers in ways you might never have expected.
In a recent study, we compared the shopper behavior at two different mid-range clothing stores in the same shopping mall (Times Square, Hong Kong), particularly observing the time spent in each store by man-and-woman couples. One of the shops had a much higher average of time spent in the store and more frequent conversion from visitors to shoppers than the other one.
Scenes from the Mall
Picture these two representative scenes taken from the two different shops. A 30-something affluent extremely bored-looking man is sitting down on a bench right in the middle of the clothes racks while his wife is browsing hastily around the dresses. In the other shop, another 30-something affluent man is amused playing with a videogame on a flat panel subtly placed on one of the walls, while his wife is also browsing around.
After 4 minutes, the woman in the first scenario goes back to her husband, and they both exit the store empty-handed (to the disappointment of the woman and the store). In the second scenario, the woman goes to her husband to find him entertained, and after an extremely brief exchange of words, she goes back to her shopping. This couple ends up leaving the store after almost 20 minutes with not one, but 2 hats, and with some other garment.
To understand the foundations of our findings, let’s first consider the following:
Women are the buyers
Most women love shopping. They are the most frequent buyers. Most women get a high sense of satisfaction not only in buying products, but simply in the act of shopping, as an activity in itself. They love browsing, looking at products, trying, comparing the qualities of products and their prices, etc.
Men don’t like shopping
Especially when it comes to necessities… Typically, men want to get their intended purchase and get out as soon as possible. They enter a store and head straight to the section where they think their product is, get it without too much comparison, and get out as soon as possible.
More time spent in a store equals more purchases
The more time shoppers spend in a store, the more likely they are to buy something. Stores who know this use a variety of mechanisms to keep shoppers longer, and some do it better than others.
Considering their different shopping behavior, men and women don’t make very good shopping partners. The man gets bored quickly with the shopping, which puts pressure on the woman to stop shopping prematurely. No wonder why many women prefer shopping with other female friends, and often spend entire days doing so. And for the same reasons, shop owners usually prefer seeing women coming to a shop together.
But women do occasionally drag their husbands or boyfriends out shopping, and usually the visit to a store or a mall doesn’t last long. So the challenge to shops is: how to keep couples shopping longer?
Keeping the Boys Busy
To keep the male shopper happy while his partner is browsing, stores would have to invent strategies to ease the boredom of waiting.
The retail chain Marks & Spencer in London has set up in a few of its stores a "lounge" area where men can lean back on leather sofas, play with a video game, watch a match, even have a drink and munch on snacks. This allows women to shop to their heart’s content without feeling the pressure of a bored partner waiting and loitering in the aisles…
Smaller shops don’t have much floor space available for a sofa, much less for a lounge, but there are a few things a shop can do to cater to the bored waiting companion.
The shop with the videogame in our example had done something right to positively affect sales, even if it did not have the luxury of having floor space for a single bench. While a videogame might not have been appropriate in the second shop, there are a few things it could have done to capitalize on its bench and make the waiting more comfortable.
First, the bench was inconveniently positioned right in the middle, closely surrounded by clothes racks, making it very uncomfortable for anyone sitting there and for anyone trying to examine goods on adjacent racks. Placing it on the side, out of the way of shoppers would already have been an improvement.
But even if a bench is out of the way with plenty of leg space, one quickly gets bored staring at racks. Our recommendation was to place some magazines of interest to men right next to the bench. This could distract the waiting partner long enough for his wife to try out that dress she liked and buy it. And perhaps they might even want to buy the magazine!
Optimizing your Own Store
This is only one simple aspect of Retail Optimization, and may not suit every store’s need. As said earlier, there are a number of factors that can influence sales.
Opportunities are different across different stores and with different target shoppers. To fully capture all the opportunities in your own store, you need to do the fieldwork and look at the behavior of shoppers in your particular context. What can you learn from doing research in your own store, and how can you turn that knowledge into increased sales?
David Jacques is Founder and Principal Consultant of Customer input Ltd and a pioneer in the field of Customer Experience Management. He has created the first Framework that brings together cohesively every aspect of Customer Experience Management. He is also passionate about having an in-depth understanding customer values to create emotionally-engaging customer experiences not only at individual interactions but also seamlessly between them.