This is the question that my colleague Jan Collins and I discussed while watching customers in a busy shopping centre. I was soon making numerous notes as Jan shared her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities of keeping retail stores attractive to shop in and easy to navigate during the busy festive season. Here are the fruits of our discussion.
If you make it difficult for people to enter your store it doesn’t matter how attractive the merchandise is, how well it’s priced or how wonderful the service is from your staff – people will choose to shop elsewhere.
Stock in dump bins or racks around the doors attracts people BUT narrows the width of the entrance way. If the customer is concerned about knocking something over as she navigates this, she may decide not to enter. She could well tell herself, “I’m not going to breathe in so that I can squeeze past this merchandise or go sideways and shuffle through. No way!” Remember, she has lots of other options.
When a customer is looking at clothes and they are packed so tight on hangers that she can’t get individual items out easily or can’t put them back, she may not even try. Racks must not be overfilled as customers are unlikely to work hard to browse rack merchandise. They have other choices. I guess the good news is that if you overfill the racks you won’t have to restock them often… because your merchandise won’t sell (that’s the bad news).
As you build your displays check that customers can bend down easily to see items on the bottom shelf without blocking the aisle.
If customers have bags from other shops, or a shopping trolley, it will put them off going down narrow aisles. Jan says your aisles need to be at least 1.2 meters wide so customers are able to move around unobstructed.
While we are on the topic of accessibility, give thought to people in wheelchairs and parents with pushers or prams. Get some volunteers representing different customer types to check out your store and give feedback. You can video record their comments on your phone and share this with your team. This will have impact.
Most of the time, when people are stocking up at the supermarket or doing ‘chore’ shopping for Christmas presents, they are on auto-pilot; they are in the ‘adaptive unconscious’ mode. This is when your brain processes the constant stream of stimuli without your conscious awareness, and is attracted to the familiar while blanking out the multitude of other messages.
To counteract this, focus your merchandising by displaying your best-sellers and high profit lines between the eye and hip level of your typical customers. And keep freshening it up so that there is something new to attract your customers’ attention and shake their conscious mind into action.
Even if you don’t have time to remerchandise all areas of the store, give priority to prime positions and end displays. Rotate the stock on these to attract customer interest. Start merchandising from the front of the store. That way, even if you run out of time to refresh all prime positions the section you have done will be visible to the customer and be transmitting the message that, “Yes, we do have new and interesting items for you to check out.”
As we move through December, stores start to look tired. Shelves become empty. Merchandise gets messy. It's understandable – there are often more customers through the store in December than at any other time of year. It’s hard to keep up appearances and it can be a challenge to maintain store standards.
Yet it’s a challenge you must meet. How much business can you afford to lose? If your front displays are half empty for just one day think of the income you have foregone, and not just on that day. It means that these disappointed customers are unlikely to come back in the lucrative pre-Christmas period.
Keep your store looking fresh and inviting throughout the festive season and you will earn the right to become the preferred choice for your customers at other times of year.
Work out which lines can be promoted at the counter. They should be low price point stocking fillers appealing to the majority of customers. Be careful not to put too much merchandise or information here as 70% of the space should be available to conduct business. Remove everything, and then only put back what is completely necessary.
If you have a window display, make sure the items in the window are still in stock in a variety of sizes. Imagine how let down people will feel if you tell them the merchandise in the window is out of stock? You could have lost a stressed, time poor customer for life.
At the end of each day, set aside an extra half hour to an hour for support staff to clean up the store and focus on store presentation. Refill shelves. Wipe fingerprints off the glass. Make sure you are proudly prepared for the next day.
Stay alert, keep thinking like a customer. Each time you and your staff go to and return from the loo or from lunch, notice which windows attract you. Ask yourself, “Why is this? What made me pause? What are customers seeing in the windows that will pull them into these retail stores?”