Store Planners Try to Lead Shoppers

Discussion
Jan 08, 2009

By Bernice Hurst, Fine
Food Network

  1. Reasonably safe bet: Shoppers
    prefer to find what they want, when they want it.
  2. Reasonably safe bet: Shoppers
    are often willing to be tempted by something they didn’t know they wanted.
  3. Reasonably safe bet: Shoppers
    rarely spend time considering either 1 or 2 and generally accept it as
    retailers’ responsibility.

Supermarket planners
are so well versed in persuading people to buy things that stores often
look alike. An article in The Economist examines some of the thinking
behind the planning but includes hints that crossing the line between being
helpful and coercive could be counter-productive.

Referring to "decompression" and "chill" zones
in Sainsbury’s and
"greeters" at Walmart, the article explains
how such tactics are designed to get people into the mood for shopping and
make them feel welcome. The Economist points out that shoppers understand
they are encouraged to walk to the back of the store, past things they may
not be looking for, in order to find basics or the pharmacy. What they may
not understand is that their mobile phone locations can be tracked and examined
to see where they stop to browse, or
"dwell." Or that while security cameras may be on the lookout for
shoplifters, they can also watch shoppers making their decisions in
order to measure how long it takes and then sort them according to age, gender
and ethnicity to help manufacturers decide how and where to sell and advertise
products.

Eric Spangenberg, dean at Washington State University’s College
of Business, recognizes that shoppers have to "buy in" to the
way in which their needs are met and are happy to cooperate if they believe
they are benefiting. But he is also aware that "stealthy" psychological
targeting can be dangerous, with customers rebelling at the thought of
being manipulated. If they believe their choices are being influenced too
much, he said, "the counteraction can be so huge it can put someone
off buying anything at all."

Basically, it’s a pretty
tough equation to balance. The Economist raises questions and offers
warnings but doesn’t provide answers.

Discussion Questions:
To what extent do consumers understand the ways in which retailers try
to predict and drive their behavior? What’s the risk that shoppers will
feel they’re being manipulated by such techniques? Overall, do shoppers
find the techniques helpful or intrusive?

[Author’s
commentary] Reading reviews and an extract from Martin Lindstrom’s "Buyology" makes
me wonder how retailers and manufacturers feel about their so-called secrets
being "exposed." And whether said secrets will have any effect
at all on the way people shop or feel about shopping. The book may be a
public service or it may be storm in a teacup
– do people either need or want to be told what tools are used to separate
them from their cash?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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13 Comments on "Store Planners Try to Lead Shoppers"


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M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
13 years 4 months ago

Reasonably safe bet: Shoppers already believe that retailers try to manipulate them and aren’t surprised when learning of new methods to do so.

Reasonably safe bet: Most shoppers believe that they, more than other shoppers, are too smart to be manipulated and thus feel in control, unthreatened, and above the fray.

Reasonably safe bet: Most shoppers would opt in to a CMR (Customer Managed Relationship) if they understood and believed that they were in control.

K Okita
Guest
K Okita
13 years 4 months ago

Speaking purely about groceries, I’m a fairly good customer for supermarket marketers. I don’t do lists, and I often enter the store with at best, a vague sense of what I want to buy. Maybe I’ll have 1 or 2 specific items, and the rest is whatever strikes my fancy at the moment I pass by. The monitoring by camera or cell phone seems a little creepy, but in general, I don’t really care that I’m being subtly manipulated to make impulse buys.

Retailers just have to be careful to prevent abuses or leakage of data, and to avoid seeming too “big brotherish.” I think people will feel differently about being watched by a camera to prevent shoplifting, and being studied and tracked by a camera as they shop.

Ron Larson
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

The issue should be, what can a retailer do to attract their target audience and please them to the point that the store becomes “their store”? Generalizations on what the average shopper does or wants do not necessarily translate into what will satisfy the profitable segment and need-state being targeted.

Mary Baum
Guest
Mary Baum
13 years 4 months ago
“The manager that opened that day placed all the TVs on flatbed carts at the front of the store ready for customers to buy. No HDMI cables present, no Blu-Ray stack outs nearby, no associative upsell products anywhere. Just a huge loss leader, nicely gift wrapped on a flat bed cart ready to go out the door. To save time and resources, we were better off placing $400 in an envelope and then handing them out to customers walking in the door.” I just finished reading Dan Kennedy’s latest book, about managing people and profits. This would have been a textbook case of staff sabotaging the owner’s promotional efforts, and it’s every bit as egregious as the examples he lists. Clearly this manager doesn’t understand one of several things: – How this specific television promotion was supposed to work. – The purpose of loss-leader promotions, or sales promotions in general. – The purpose of running a store, or of being in business. It’s also possible that this was a one-time slip-up, because the manager delegated… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
13 years 4 months ago

Everybody yearns to learn customers concerns. We of the marketing world have developed an insatiable desire to know all about what’s hidden in the hearts and the wallet-releases of consumers. As retailers, consultants and suppliers learn more about what make a people sigh and buy, customers become vulnerable to hidden signals and merchandising soirees within the four walls of a store.

Customers knowingly or unknowingly tolerate this phenomenon and respond mainly to their own nerve-end impulses. Hopefully, retailers et al are ahead of the curve in identifying those semi-elusive impulses and place selected merchandise in the path of the customer’s shopping cart. That revenue from that “customer service” provides additional cash flow to the economy. But with this ever-expanding magic, sales still slide when the economy is plooey.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
13 years 4 months ago
Anecdotally, from listening and talking to other customers while shopping myself, my sense is that consumers have wild over-expectations about what retailers can and can’t do in some areas, and are completely oblivious about other areas. Where I see wild (and unfounded) assumptions are around things like self-checkout–that the security and actions recorded at self-checkout are far more detailed and actively monitored than they actually are. On the other hand, awareness of mobile tracking, facial recognition, footpath tracking, etc, seem pretty low, but more likely because they aren’t widespread or obvious. Definitely leaving what’s possible up to consumer imagination is dangerous, as all of the craziness of CASPIAN over RFID has demonstrated. With RFID, some consumers now believe retailers do far more sophisticated things with customer data than they actually do–and collect far more of it than they actually do. And want to do more sinister things with it than they actually do. These newer technologies like facial recognition and footpath tracking–and mobile–have every chance of becoming a valuable part of the shopping experience, for… Read more »
Liz Crawford
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

The context for shopping in-store distinguishes it from digital venues. Shopping at retail is an immersion experience. The buyer is using the whole body, locomotion, smell, sight and live human interaction. In a digital store, visuals, sounds, and to some extent human interaction, are used. This means that in the four walls of a store, consumers are still viscerally vulnerable to signals. More so I believe than in a digital context, where the environment is more controlled by the consumer.

Will a shopper use the frontal lobe to overcome the primitive smell of appetizing food? I doubt it. All the knowledge in the world doesn’t change the impact of a friendly smile or remembering a customer’s name.

Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
13 years 4 months ago

I’m afraid that the problem is most retailers and manufacturers DON’T think like consumers. They develop elaborate plans based on mounds of data and then attempt to equate the results into shopper marketing initiatives.

When a consumer enters a store, no matter what they are going to buy (planned or unplanned), they are only going to exhibit 2 types of behavior: find exactly what they want or decide if they want something when they get there. If retailers make it hard to find what they want, then they may opt out of buying it for lack of time or convenience–so no amount of marketing trickery will help them and consumer satisfaction goes down. In categories where there is more deciding than finding, the you have a chance to “spruce it up” and create some sort of positive consumer experience which may increase basket size or repeat visits.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
13 years 4 months ago
Layouts are huge element of the customer shopping experience. There are ways to have a customer friendly layout while still increasing the basket and margin through merchandising. Shoppers prefer to find what they want, when they want it: I agree but we don’t have to make it too easy for them. One of my current clients had a brand name, 40 inch LCD TV on sale for an incredibly low price for Boxing Day (Dec 26). The manager that opened that day placed all the TVs on flatbed carts at the front of the store ready for customers to buy. No HDMI cables present, no Blu-Ray stack outs nearby, no associative upsell products anywhere. Just a huge loss leader, nicely gift wrapped on a flat bed cart ready to go out the door. To save time and resources, we were better off placing $400 in an envelope and then handing them out to customers walking in the door. A better strategy would be to have a major display at the back of the store and… Read more »
David Biernbaum
Guest
13 years 4 months ago
I have studied this topic for so many years, and have given it so much relentless attention, that I almost forgot that consumers don’t know that it’s “planned”! Here is what you need to know; the “top line” version: 1. Consumers are fascinated when they read about store planning and yes, for a moment, they feel “shocked” by this revelation, however most consumers really do not overly concern themselves with it. In fact most consumers do not believe the “plan” has much impact on his or herself. Uh huh, right. 2. Truth be known, consumers “want” to buy things, and they think it’s a positive factor when they “find” something in the store that they didn’t necessarily plan in advance to buy. 3. Consumers do feel that almost all stores look and feel the same. Most stores today probably have 98% the same product assortment, with goods being placed in roughly the same places, at the same prices, and even the promotions of the goods are usually at the same time since most are brand… Read more »
Phil Rubin
Guest
Phil Rubin
13 years 4 months ago

Like all relationships between brands (merchants) and customers, there has to be the right value proposition. Customers will opt-in, or in this case submit to being tracked electronically, etc, as long as the merchant is delivering commensurate value to them. If there’s no discernible improvement to the value equation, or it is not satisfactory, they will opt-out.

On the flip side, as customers we are very much creatures of habit. Leveraging the shopper tracking technology and other capabilities to maximize in-store activities can’t be too disruptive. To the extent that customers’ routines are changed, the risk of opt-out also increases.

Rachel Magni
Guest
Rachel Magni
13 years 4 months ago
In our extensive work with understanding the “customer journey” through retail environments (grocery stores among these), following are some things we know to be true: 1) Consumers have LOW expectations for retailers. Their imaginations are limited by the years of patterns created by shopping the same way for the same stuff. They find it difficult to envision a NEW way and have very few examples of models for a “better” retail experience. 2) Consumers have HIGH acceptance for proposed changes to design, layout, fixturing and the like. They like the idea of a retailer thinking like a consumer: “this is the way I shop”, “this is the way I LIVE”. 3) Consumers understand that in order to create this new way – to think like a shopper, to develop changes to entries, wayfinding, adjacencies, SKUs, etc, that retailers need to collect consumer intelligence. Many know something about RFID already; if they don’t, it can be easily explained by putting it into context…”radio waves just like the ones transmitted by your cell phone.” 4)Most consumers can… Read more »
Dave Wendland
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

Consumers have become far savvier during the last decade. They are no longer fooled into grabbing the item at eye-level because it happens to “shout” to them. Nor are they overly inspired by the attempted traffic engineering that occurs at too many less-than-creative retailers.

It is time to create an entirely new paradigm. One that puts consumers in the center and arranges a store around their thought process. I am impressed with some of the virtual retail test centers that are studying this behavior and attempting to apply it to the brick-and-mortar experience. To that I say, it’s about time!

Retail cannot risk becoming neither intrusive nor predictive to shoppers. I believe that the retail experience needs to be treated far more like a theatrical performance–it’s time to put some excitement into retail for the shoppers’ sake…and to reinvigorate retail.

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