Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
How Do Your Customers Shop?


October 1, 2009
By Amanda Ryder


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Why do we shop? Retail guru Paco Underhill first answered that question ten years ago in his aptly titled book “Why We Buy.” The book has now been updated and revised to include even more information on shopping habits and what tempts us to pick up a product and bring it home. In my review, I’ve compiled 28 tips from the book that explain how shoppers act, how to effectively merchandise and how to get products moving in your garden centre.

Why do we shop? Retail guru Paco Underhill first answered that question ten years ago in his aptly titled book “Why We Buy.” The book has now been updated and revised to include even more information on shopping habits and what tempts us to pick up a product and bring it home. In my review, I’ve compiled 28 tips from the book that explain how shoppers act, how to effectively merchandise and how to get products moving in your garden centre.

How we shop
1) Few shoppers enter a store and stop on a dime in the entrance. The store door marks a decompression area where the customer’s brain makes adjustments. The eyes, ears and nose are busy taking in new lighting, sounds and smells so any merchandise or displays placed in this zone will go unnoticed. This isn’t the place to place your big seller. Instead, place products about 10 feet in front of the door in an area called “the landing pad.” You could also try a “power” display – a horizontal table of product suggestions that act as a speed bump to slow shoppers down.

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2) The decompression area also isn’t the place to ask: “can I help you?” because the answer will likely be “no.” Use this area just to greet shoppers with a friendly hello. It will make them feel happy to be acknowledged and acts as a theft deterrent. That’s why Wal-Mart employs those friendly greeters to smile and welcome everyone to the store.

3) The single most important factor in determining a shopper’s opinion of service he or she receives is waiting time. People perceive waiting time accurately up to 90 seconds and after that it becomes exaggerated. What’s the best way to make a customer’s wait time fly? Talk to them – initiate contact and try to strike up a conversation.

4) Shoppers begin to take possession of an item when their senses latch onto an item. It starts in the eyes and the touch. Once the senses have started to take it in, you’ve begun to possess the product and paying for it becomes a technicality.

5) Right ahead! In retail environments and everywhere else, people walk toward the right. The front-right of any shop is prime real estate, so stock it with your hottest products to get 100 per cent exposure.

6) If a shopper is facing a shelf, they’ll reach to their right because it’s the easiest motion. They also brush the product that’s to the right of the one their reaching for. So if you want to push a new product, put it to the right of that popular container combo.

7) Women weigh the pros and cons of buying an item and take pride in finding the perfect thing whether it be shoes or just a head of lettuce.

8) Men want a retail environment that allows them to get in and out quickly. Women demand more – they need a place where they can move comfortably and don’t like to be crowded.

9) Beware of the “butt brush.” Women hate shopping below the waist and will avoid any area where they can be bumped into from behind. The narrower the area or aisle, the less time women will spend there. They like little nooks and crannies or cul-de-sacs that are created by shelving and racks because they can shop without interruption. Walk your store and note any areas where you feel cramped or could potentially be “butt brushed.”

Tips for dynamite displays
10) When you’re setting up your window displays, think about how your customers approach your store windows. More than likely, they are walking by at a brisk pace or strolling through a parking lot. Use big signage – keep your message bold, simple and short and avoid any small-scale designs that will go unnoticed.

11) In most cases, people are walking by the store from left or right and not head on. Design your windows so products can be seen from other angles besides just straight on. Keep in mind we usually walk the same way we drive – from the right – so more people will see the display if you tilt it to the left.

12) Make it easy for your staff to change window displays. If they are forced to crawl between spaces or move a huge shelf, then chances are it won’t be changed very often.

13) When a customer sees a stunning display, they may think they’ll ruin the look by touching an item or taking it to the register. Tell them it’s okay or mess it up a little (remove a few products) so they don’t hesitate.

14) When you are setting up a display, think about what it will look like when merchandise is purchased. Come up with ways to rearrange the display so it doesn’t look unattended and forgotten.

15) Displays are crucial head-turners. People face and walk forward, making it hard to spot products as they walk down an aisle. A great display can stop people in their tracks and force them to turn.

16) Don’t be afraid to have fun with your signs – doing something different is a good way to get noticed. Use a sequence of signs to deliver a message or pique interest.

17) Use your shelves wisely – shoppers will see merchandise from slightly above eye level to about the knee level. If it’s below or above, people won’t find the item unless they are actively looking for it. To avoid wasting the excess space, delegate bottom and top shelves for large merchandise or tilt the bottom shelf up slightly.

18) As our population ages, you are going to have to pay more attention to your signage. Older shoppers will need fonts bigger than 13-point type, contrasting colours, and good lighting so words can easily be distinguished.

Sell more now
19) If you see a shopper bogged down with items, offer them a basket if you can, or take the items to the cash counter. People buy more with a shopping aid like a basket. Freeing up their hands lets them pick up more items to bring to the cash register.

20) If a store isn’t kid friendly, parents will stay away. Make sure the aisles in your garden centre space can accommodate a stroller. Keep in mind, that if kids can reach something, they’ll touch it, which can be very dangerous in a garden centre filled with giftware and delicate containers. Stash a colouring book behind the counter in case a child needs to be entertained. And if you do have a product that’s geared specifically to children, put it only where they can touch it and it will be a hit.

21) Almost all unplanned buying is a result of touching, hearing, smelling or tasting something at the store. Put up a sign and encourage people to smell or touch your flowers.

22) Scent is the new frontier of marketing – more retail environments are pumping in manufactured scents to entice customers to buy. At garden centres, you have these scents built in – play them up. Put up signs encouraging people to take a deep breath.

23) People want to shop where everyone knows their name and where they feel wanted. Underhill’s studies reveal that any contact, even a greeting, increases the likelihood that a shopper will buy something. If a salesperson suggests items or offers information, the chances increase.

24) Want a great conversation starter? People in stores love to talk about whatever it is they’re shopping for so strike up a conversation. It will make it easier for you to recommend something.

25) If you want to up-sell a customer on a higher priced arrangement versus a lower priced design, customers have to be able to visually distinguish the difference. If not, they’ll always opt for the cheaper one.

26) Think about wait times during busy holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Try not to gift-wrap or ribbon-up arrangements at a cash register. Establish a packaging station to keep lines short.

27) Encourage your female shoppers to bring a friend – they talk, advise and comfort each other while shopping, spending more time and money. Try a “bring a friend, get a discount day” and make shopping at your store a social event.

Shopping stats
28) Here’s how shopping times break down for women:

A woman shopping with a female companion: 8 minutes, 15 seconds
A woman with children: 7 minutes, 19 seconds
A woman shopping alone: 5 minutes, 2 seconds
A woman with a man: 4 minutes, 41 seconds

Overall, “Why We Buy” is a great read for any garden centre owner.


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