Posted by: Corina Paraschiv | October 22, 2008

The Science of Shopping

Have you ever heard of Paco Underhill?  He’s fairly famous in the marketing business, but chances are if you ran into him, you wouldn’t even know;  that is because his job is to watch consummers’ behavior unotticed, without them realizing they are being watched… and then report his findings to companies like McDonnald’s, HP and Coca Cola.  The cool thing though is he doesn’t just bring back some observed data for them — he comes back with insightful observations about why people bought something or didn’t.  So today, I would like to follow his footsteps in an observation day, and accompany him through his daily observations of random pedestrians.  My goal : to figure out what shops do wrong.

So picture this.  We’re mingling in a crowd in NY with Paco to follow some shoppers.  And lemme tell you it’s crowded!

Store’s Error #1 : Displaying too much in their window
With that kind of a crowd, who’d want to stand in front of a window trying to read a gazillion messages while the crowd is rubbing you from the back as it flows by?  A smart shop, rather, would display one single visible message to get the customer in the store and out of the busy streets, Paco says.

So the lady you follow somehow ends up in a trendy, youth-oriented and fashionable clothing store… and is immediately assaulted by the salesperson.  Is it a good thing to greet all customers?  Yes.  Is it good to ask them if they need help?  No because you give them a chance to actually turn you down.

that’s the Store’s Error #2 : Customer Service.  Paco explains : “In the entrance of any retail environment, you have a decompression zone where the shopper is in transition and not inclined to take in much information. Asking questions is an intrusion at that point.”

The lady walks on, and starts with her right-hand side of the store, most likely because, as 80-85% of the population, she is right-handed, Paco states.  But then she sees the isles and rushes past them at a speed that doesn’t really allow her to notice all the products.  What happened?

Store Error #3 : The Isles are too Narrow.  That leads to the butt-brushing effect, a MAJOR turn-off for ladies.

While there, we can notice, too, a family shopping for some clothes in the same area.  Now the interesting thing to know is this : Dads give in more easily than moms at childrens’ requests, guys are usually more in a  rush to get out of the shop because they don’t like it and women are actually the shoppers who really get the most out of the experience.  If you wanted to have the ultimate customer attraction deal going on, you’d make sure the shopping “looks” (and ideally, is) efficient (in terms of layout, etc.) so that the men don’t pressure the ladies too fast and you’d include samplings and hands-on trials for the guys to actually get involved with the shopping experience, according to Paco.  And of course, put things where kids can reach them – the nagging factor works wonders : “I don’t understand why McDonald’s doesn’t put the kiddie menu on the floor, which is where the kids are” (BNet’s December 2001’s Entrepreneur).

Error #4 : Not capitalizing on differences for men, women and kids


Nottice for instance how this Abercrombie store did not think of placing a waiting area for the moms of customers, or the accompanying boyfriends.  Hollister and Abercrombie are usually very good at managing the traffic in their stores – perhaps this was just one, very popular store!

Error #5 : Why aren’t complementary products grouped together?

So here is an actually decent way of organizing things; most stores decide to put similar items grouped together.  Like all tshirts together, all underwear together, etc.  Think American Eagle style.  But more and more stores are catching on to the fact that if you put shorts next to the matching tshirts and sandals, chances are your sales will increase.  Way to go, Abercrombie!

And this ends the little tour.  Now when you’ll be in a shop next time, you’ll most likely be more aware of the fact nothing is unplanned.  That banner isn’t randomly placed at the height it’s been placed at, and the adjacent product didn’t just magically find its place near another.  Everything is planned, and as Paco Underhill notices – the more companies get atuned to consummer’s behaviors, the more marketshare they can gain.

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