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The Psychology of Shopping: A Retailers Guide to a Better Customer Experience

How harnessing the science behind your customer’s actions can make your business boom.

Picture this:  A woman walks into a gift shop, husband in tow, breezes past the punchy sale-sign near the door and drifts to the right in a loop of the store. After several steps she stops near a table of candles and looks confused about where to go next—the aisle splits offering her a left and right path. After a few seconds of indecision, her bored looking husband catches her eye. She sighs; smiles wanly, and off they go out the door.

What went wrong here? Why didn’t the woman notice the sale sign? Why was she confused about the path around the store? And what happened with the husband? From an outside perspective it’s hard to tell, but with the psychology of shopping in mind, we can pick apart the scenario to discover the hidden truth behind her actions. A truth that you can apply in your store to keep customers around longer and increase sales.

Why didn’t the woman notice the sale sign?
In the scenario the woman, let’s call her Janice, walked right past the supposedly eye-catching sale sign at the front of the store and drifted to the right. This is a normal shopping pattern, consumers tend to survey the whole store briefly as they enter and then move to the right to start walking around. It’s not until they are more than a few feet into the store that they notice anything like signage. Your Solution: Move the sale sign, store directory, event announcement—anything you want people to read—a few feet further into your shop and to the right. Do this and see how many more people notice it.

Why was she confused about the path around the store?
As our prospective customer, Janice, started to make a loop around the store she got confused when she reached a fork in the road. Her moment of indecision allowed her to notice her husband’s discomfort and she decided it was time to leave. In the US people tend to walk a store by moving to the right and circling the store—so the split in the path interrupted Janice’s shopping pattern. Your Solution: Setup your store so that there is a clear loop that shoppers can travel in a counter-clockwise direction. Instead of having pathways off the loop, offer vignette areas that are open, so customers don’t have to choose which direction to travel.

And what happened with the husband?
It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to see that Mr. Janice was bored. Most likely nothing in the store appealed to him and, and as much as he was trying to be patient, he felt like he didn’t have a reason to be there. Your Solution: Give husbands an excuse to be in your store. Create a small sitting area and stock it with manly magazines. Smart retailers will also add merchandise in that area that could appeal to men. Same concept applies to mothers who bring their children shopping. Create a designated play area with blocks or books to give mom some more time to look. Bonus: children are playing with the books and blocks, and not with your sellable merchandise.

With a few smart changes that pick up on your customer’s psychology, your store will become more shopable, meaning potential customers will stay longer—and likely buy more. Your first steps are putting signage where people will see it, making sure there is a clear travel path and creating a space for men and children to relax. Understanding the psychology of shopping isn’t rocket science; it’s just smart retailing.

Learn More: Suggested resources for understanding how your customers think and how to respond.
The New Rules of Retail by Michael Dart – Predicting the future of shopping and how technology is already changing the way we buy
– Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill – A look at the psychology behind how people shop
– Specialty Shop Retailing by Carol Schroeder – The bible for running a specialty shop including chapters on successful store design and merchandising

Melrose International is an industry leader in wholesale home décor, giftware, and seasonal items. Providing outstanding products, service, design, and value since 1985!

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