These notes add up to yet another, this time anecdotal, layer of information about a particular environment and how people use it. Our trackers crisscross this conti- nent, as well as the globe. All across the world, Envirosell trackers spend more time in stores in a month than most people do in several years. But our sweet spot remains what we've always done. Of the world's fifty largest merchants, we've worked with approximately half, and in the U.
As for the forms our trackers use? They're also marvels of data gath- ering. They have evolved constantly over the three decades we've been doing this research and are, without a doubt, the key to the entire en- terprise, a great achievement, if I may say so, in the art of information storage and retrieval, nondigital division. We have tried scanning sys- tems, exotic software packages It works, it's flexible, and thanks to Wite-Out and a copy machine, it can be changed on a dime and on the fly.
Our ability to react to what and whom we find walking through the door of wherever loca- tion we go is critical to our success. The store has six aisles and not seven, the shelf layout has been mysteriously reversed or that interactive machine we were hired to study arrived at the store nearly a month ago and hasn't worked since. Our earliest track sheets were able.
The map shows every doorway and aisle, every display, every shelf and rack and table and counter. Also on the form is space for information about the shopper sex, race, estimate of age, deSCription of attire and what he or she does in the store. Oh, wait, he paused for a moment at a mannequin and examined the price tag on the jacket it wore.
We'd mark that down, too, just as we'd note that he the man, not the mannequin entered the cashier line at and exited the store at Depending on the size of the store and the length of the typical shopper's stay, a tracker call study up to fifty shoppers a day. Usually we'll have several trackers at a site, and a single project may involve the simultaneous study of three or four locations. For huge stores like a home improvement center or a mass merchan- diser, we may put ten or twelve trackers on the floor.
By the end of a job, an incredible amount of information has been crammed onto those sheets. Over the years, we've spent tens of thousands of dollars and countless frustrating hours with computer programmers, trying to come up with a database that could handle the kind of work we do.. The big problem is that while we crunch the same numbers in the same ways from job to job, each project 'usually requires us to do something a little differently-to collect different kinds of data or to' devise new comparisons of facts we just uncovered. We've hired fancy consultants who spend six months at a crack with us, trying to build us a computer system.
And of course, our turnaround time has to he swift, so there's no time to change the system completely for each job- we may need to do one new comparison for a project today and then not have to perform that function again for seven months. In the early '90s, Microsoft Excel came along. Where had it been all my life? It wlis designed as a spreadsheet program, intended for ac- countants to do the relatively simple calculations they require. It also had a fairly simple way of writing macros, or lines of code, that allowed you to make the alterations easily. It's as though Microsoft built a very nice bicycle, which we then turned into a data-busting all-terrain vehicle.
When Microsoft became a client and we showed them what we'd done with Excel, they were amazed. When the videotapes come back from the sites, it's someone else's. Depending on the size of the store, we may have ten cameras running eight hours a day trained on specific areas-a doorway, for example, or a particular shelf of products. The video produces even more hard data.
If, for example, a client wants us to determine in part how a particular cash register design affects worker fatigue, we may use the video and a stopwatch to time how long it takes for a clerk to ring up a sale at ten A. The list of particulars we're eapable of studying-what we call the "deliverables"-grows with every new project yve take on. As a result of all that, we know quite a few facts about how human beings behave in stores. We can tell you how many males who take jeans into the fitting room will buy them compared to how many females will 65 percent to 25 percent.
We can tell you how many people in an IBM employee cafeteria read the nutritional infor- mation on a bag of corn chips before buying 18 percent compared to those lunching at Subway 2 percent. Or how many browsers actually buy computers on a Saturday before noon 4 percent as opposed to after five P. Or how many shoppers in a mall housewares store use shopping baskets 8 percent , and how many of those who take baskets actually buy something 75 percent compared to those who buy without using baskets 34 percent.
Because this science is being invented as we go along, it's a living, breathing field of study-meaning we never quite know what. I like to think of retail as the dipstick of our evo- lution. As we change as a species, those changes show up both in how we shop and what we shop for. That said, there are constants that relate to what we are biologically, and much of this book is about those con- stants. For example, we discovered a phenomenon ,that journalists love to report-what's become known as the 'butt-brush" effect-completely as the result of a happy accident. As part of a department store study, we trained a video camera on one of the main ground-floor entrances, and the lens just happened also to take in a rack of neckties positioned a ,near the entrance, on main aisle.
While reviewing the tape to study how shoppers negotiated the doorway during busy times, we began to notice something weird about the tie rack. Shoppers would approach it, stop, and shop until they were bumped once or twice by people heading, into or out of the store. After a few such jostles, most of the shoppers would move out of the way, abandoning their search for neckwear.
We watched this over and over until it seemed clear that shoppers-women especially, though it was also true of men, to a lesser extent-don't like beiIig brushed or touched from behind. They'll even move away from merchandise they're interested in to avoid it. When we checked with our client, we learned that sales from that tie rack were lower than they expected from a fixture located on a main thoroughfare. The butt-brush factor, we surmised; was why that rack was an underperformer.
A few weeks later, we heard that sales from the rack had gone up quickly and substantially. Since that day we've found countless similar situations in which shop- pers have been spooked by too-close quarters. In every case, a quick adjustment was all that was needed. So the idea of a body bubble gets applied to shopping-and we can push the idea even farther. A teeming cluster of people can be exhilarating. At Yan- kee Stadium, or even a sale at the local fashion emporium, we show up expecting company, and a lot of it. Sure, we can get claustrophobic and sometimes even scared, but after all, we're the ones who put ourselves there.
Where butt-brush kicks in big time is where we get bumped :and we don't expect it.. Another such "accident" of patient observation and analysis hap- pened during a supermarket study we performed for a dog food manu- facturer. After giving it some thought, we realized that for the elderly, pets are like chil- dren, creatures to be spoiled with sweets.
And while feeding Fido may not be any child's. Parents indulged their little ones' pleas for treats here just as they did over in the cookie aisle. Because no one had ever noticed who exactly was buying pet treats, however, they were typically stocked near the top of the supermarket shelves. As a result, our cameras caught children actually climbing the shelving to reach the treats. We witnessed one elderly woman using a box of aluminum foil to knock down her brand of dog biscuits.
Move the treats to where kids and little old ladies can reach them, we advised the client. Even the plainest truths can get lostin all the details of planning and stocking a store. A phrase I find myself using over and over with clients is this: The obvious isn't always apparent.
Similarly, in a department store we watched an overweight man trying to find his size of underwear at a large aisle dis- play-and saw him stooping dangerously low to reach them, down near the floor. In both cases, logic should have dictated that the displays be tailored to the shoppers who use them, not to the designers whGl made them. Move the concealer up, we advised, and put something aimed at younger shoppers down near the' floor.
Young shoppers will find their products wherever they're stocked. In some studies, we synthesize every bit of information we can pos- sibly collect into a comprehensive portrait of a store or a single depart- ment. A major jeans manufacturer wanted to know how its product was sold in department ,stores, so in one weekend we descended on four sites, two in Massachusetts and two in the Los Angeles area.
Each department was similar-the jeans section was a square area that held , from eight to twelve tabletop displays and some wall shelving. We started by drawing a detailed map of' each, showing the displays and the aisles leading into and out of the sections but also where any signs or other promotional materials were posted. During that weekend we tracked a total of shoppers and observed many more on camera. We paid particular attention to the "doorways," our term for any path leading into or out of an area of a store.
Until the client knew which paths were most popular, it was impossible to make informed decisions about where to stock what or where to place the merchandising materi- als meant to lure shoppers. By the time our study was completed, we could say what percentage of customers used which paths into each of the sections. Once we knew that, it was clear, for instance, that much of the signage was misplaced- common sense dictated that it be positioned to face the main entrance of the store, when in fact most jeans shoppers came upon the section from a completely different direction.
Even the client's big neon logo and a monitor shOwing rock videos were faCing the wrong way if their job was to signal to the greatest number of shoppers. If they seemed to be showing jeans to a companion, we noted that, too. Our interviewers also questioned some of the shoppers captured on video so that their demographic information and their attitudes and opinions could be correlated with their behaviors-to see, for example, ' whether young shoppers with high school educations who say they depend on brand name when choosing jeans read price tags.
After the research is done and the numbers are crunched and analyzed, we see what sense can be made of what we've learned. Or maybe there's another determining factor-maybe men who are accompanied by females and entering the sectioI? In that case, the best table would be nearest the women's merchandise. But no one knows for sure until we collect the data. In other instances, we're hired to study some small retail interaction in great detail.
A premium shampoo maker who wanted to know about the decision-making process of women shoppers who buy generic, or store-brand, beauty products commissioned one such project. The client was interested in the "value equation" women bring to each shopping experience-how does the shopper who buys from the generics section at the supermarket in the morning and then from Bloon. Does she judge that her skin deserves the premium brand but her hair can settle for the generic?
Once upon a time, only the budget-conscious bought store brands, but now you find them in everyone's shopping basket. What's the secret? Let's call her shopper number 24, a thirtysomething woman in yel- low pants and a white sweater, accompanied by a preschool-age girl, who enters the health and beauty aisle of a supermarket at A. A Science Is Born 15 on a Wednesday morning.
She has a handbasket, not a shopping cart, and has already selected store-brand vitamin C capsules and a large con- tainer of Johnson's baby powder. She is also holding a shopping list and a store circular. She goes directly to the shampoo shelves and picks up a bottle of Pantene brand, reads the front label, then picks up a bottle of the store brand and reads the front label, then reads the price tag On the Pantene, then reads the price on the store brand, and then puts the store brand in her basket and exits the section forty-nine seconds.
In that brief encounter, there was lots of data to collect- what she touched, what she read, and in what order-about twenty-five different data points in all. If, in one day, we track a hundred shoppers in that store's health and beauty aisle, it amounts to twenty-five hundred separate data entries. As the woman exits the section, we interview her, asking twenty questions in all. Soeach of the twenty-five data pOints has to be cross-tabulated with each of her twenty answers-a cross-tab chal- lenge, take it from me. I make much of the accidental nature of the science of shopping, and perhaps it's because this all began almost by accident when I was a stu- dent and admirer of one of America's most esteemed social scientists, William H.
William H. Whyte, or "Holly," as his friends called him, was, in his active days, a quixotic, beloved figure he died in By the time they finished, they could tell you everything about every bench, ledge, path, fountain and shrub, and especially how people interacted with them, using them as places to lunch, sun, socialize, people-watch, nap or just happily and peacefully loiter. Whyte and his colleagues would measure everything-the ideal width of a ledge for sitting; how. Whyte, who started his career as an editor at Fortune magazine, was, essentially, a scientist of the street-the first one, which is amazing when you think of how long streets existed before he came along.
His work has ,been used to make public spaces better and more useful to citizens, which in turn made cities better and more useful, too. Whyte's methods were a kind' of lens through which a physical environment could be studied and improved, and my work on behalf of shopping owes a great deal to his methods. Back in , I was a part-time instructor at City University of New York, teaching courses in fieldwork techniques for the environmental psychology department. I was also working in an establishment of which I was part owner, the Ear hin, a bar in downtown Manhattan.
There, I had a customer who had been hired to design a system of signage at Lincoln Center, the performing arts complex that's home to the Metropolitan Opera House, Avery Fisher Hall-about a dozen theaters in all. He told me they needed someone to look into the usage and circulation patterns of the underground concourse that connected the buildings to parking garages and the subway. There was a small, makeshift gift shop down there at the time, but Lincoln Center wanted to see if a larger store might be viable there.
First, though, they needed to make sure that a store wouldn't create congestion in the pedestrian walkways. With my customer's help, I got the job. A Science Is Born 17 So I recruited a few of my students to help and we took some cam- eras, staked out our observation spots and went to work counting and mapping.
The crowding question was easy enough to answer-we roped off an area exactly the size of the store they wanted to build, then watched and filmed pedestrians streaming through during the. We suggested then that with the room available, they should add some benches down there, to make it something of a destination rather than just a corridor.
I also strongly recommended that they dQuble the size of the ladies' room, and they declined to take that ad- vice, too. As I was compiling the data to write the report and looking at the many hours of film I had shot, I realized that from one of the camera positions I could see inside the gift shop, allthe way to the cash register.
There, as I watched, two customers lined. Next to her was a teenage girl whose purchase required just one small brown paper bag. I couldn't see enough to tell exactly what was going on, but I was intrigued. She needed to pay quickly, before intermission ended, and she had to arrange to have the boxes delivered to her. There was also the matter of having sales tax waived owing to her diplomatic status. A complicated transaction, to say the least.
But this had to wait while the clerk handled the transaction with the teenage girl, who had arrived at the register first bearing her selection- a ballerina pen. It was clear even to an academic like me that the cash register pro- cedure could stand a little reorganization and clarification. These two transactions should not be competing for the same clerk's attention.
And then the lightbulb clicked on. Goffman held the intellectual high ground in their argument, but at one point I clearly remember thinking, 1'd have a lot more fun workingforJack than for Erving. Erving's hiding in his ivory tower. Jack is out there doing stuff. Not long after the Lincoln Center assignment, I was sitting with some friends at a nightclub in Greenwich Village.
One of the guys at our table was a young executive with Epic Records, a division of CBS, and I described to him my bright idea of measuring what happens in stores-the thought that there might be something worth learning by turning scientific tools on shopping. And over the course of a few beers , my idea must have sounded interesting, because the guy said, "Why don't you send me a proposal? I sent it over qUickly, then waited. For, oh, about a year.
Of course I tried writing again and telephoning during that time, but no pne ever returned my calls. These were the dark ages of the science of shopping, remember. And then, out of the blue, I heard from a woman who was in charge of market research for CBS Records. She said that they had found my proposal in a dusty file somewhere and were all quite fascinated by it, and was I still interested in studying a record store?
Sure, I said, inwardly rejoicing that 'a major American corpo- ration was actually going to underwrite-to the. Now, nearly decades and close to two million hours of videotape and much personal observation later, that study seems almost charm- ingly rudimentary. But at the time, it felt as though the discoveries came flying fast and furious. For instance: In the late '70s, when the study was being done, tradi- tional singleS rpm records-were still big sellers.
But our film showed that most buyers of 45s were adolescents-and the chart was hung so high on the wall that the kids had to stand on their toes and crane their l l,ecks to see what exactly was at the top of the chart. We suggested to the manager that the chart be lowered, and a week later he called to say that sales of 45s had gone up by 20 percent.
Just like that! Lower the chart! It worked! Many times they won't even enter a store if the line to pay looks long or chaotic. At this store, there were several big displays of new releases as soon as you walked in, just a few feet from the cashier. This was fine as long as the store was empty, but if customers were in line, their bodies com- pletely hid the displays.
Put up a stanchion and a velvet rope to keep the line off to one side, we suggested, and again, our advice had an instant effect-sales of records from the displays went up immediately. Doesn't all this sound just the least bit obvious? It does to us, too, especially after we've spent so much time watching and filming and timing and interviewing and so on.
Until then, however, these were the kinds of problems that had remained hidden in plain view. Following customers, the reason became clear: Because the LP covers were bigger, it was easier to read the song lists and see the pho- tos, so cassette shoppers would browse in LPs, make up their minds, and then go to the tapes section to find their choices. Our suggestion was to make the aisles wider in LPs so that shoppers wouldn't feel crushed and rushed, a definite sales killer. Also, we thought the store should in- vest in more durable carpet for the sections that got Significantly more traffic.
My final memory from that study 'comes' from a video clip I. Only after watching him take the tapes over and over on the film did I notice that the bag he slipped them into was from a chain that had no location at that mall. I passed this tidbit on to the client's security executive and told him that they should be watchful whenever such "wrong" bags were spotted in their stores remember, this was before security tag- ging.
I got back a note saying that they had prevented several thousands of dollars in theft using that method of detection. And thusly, a science was born. Before the science of shopping existed, there were at least two other ways to measure what took place in a store. The most common way of viewing a store is to simply examine "the tape"-the information that comes from the cash registers, which tells what was bought, when and how much of it.
This is how virtually every retail undertaking, from the largest, most sophisticated multinational chain to the corner newsstand, does it. It's a fine way to see how the store as a whole has performed this quarter, or this year, or on any given day, or even time of day, and is,in the end, the measure of a store's overall health and growth or decline that counts. But as a diagnostic tool, or as a way of figuring out what happens in the store and how, it is not very useful. Sales research records your victories; what it does not do is look at where you are lOSing.
When businesspeople attempt to infer too much from sales data, it can be downright misleading. Here's a good example, from a chain drugstore in a Massachusetts mall. Based solely on total sales, our client was pleased overall, and in particular with how the aspirin section of the store was performing.
But based on all our many previous studies both of drugstores and of the aspirin category, one crucial figure was on the low side. The prod- uct conversion rate-the percentage of shoppers who bought-was below what we expected. In other words, plenty of customers stopped at the aspirin section and pi,cked up and read the packages, but too few of them actually bought aspirin. And the conversion rate for aspirin is usually high-it's not the kind of product you idly browse; you tend to go to that aisle only when you're in need.
So we spent some time spe- cifically watching the aspirin shelves, and we trained a video camera on them, too. Over the course of three days, a pattern emerged. The aspirin was displayed on a 1l? That might lead one to expect that the aspirin would sell well, but just the opposite happened. The main customers for cold drinks were teenagers, and our observation showed many of them entering and making a beeline for the coolers.
In fact, this was a favorite place for the mall's young employees to grab a quick cold soda during breaks. These young shoppers were supremely uninterested in aspirin. The shoppers, often seniors, who did want aspirin stood a little nervously at the shelves, searching for their usual brand or figuring out which was the better deal while also trying to stay clear of the teenagers tearing down the aisle.
In fact, a substantial number of aspirin shoppers became so irritated or thrown off balance by the teenagers that they would prematurely break off their browsing and walk away empty-handed. It was a modified version of the butt-brush effect-the shoppers weren't being jostled exactly, just a little rattled. And when we timed shoppers, we found that they were spending less time at the shelves than our expe- rience led us to expect.
This is something that comes up in our work all the time: A store. Sometimes those functions co- exist in perfect harmony, but other times-especially in stores selling di- verse goods, like cold drinks and medicines-those functions clash. We also saw this in a Harley-Davidson dealership, where a roughly three- thousand-square-foot showroom has to make room for well-off male menopause victims looking to recover their virility by buying bikes, blue-collar gearheads who are there for spare parts, and teenage dream- ers interested in the Harley-logo fashions.
All three groups want nothing to do with one another. When a premises' functions clash, a way must be' found to accommodate as many uses as possible. In this drugstore, we advised our client about what we had learned and suggested a coun- terintuitive move-that the aspirin be relocated to someplace off the. Fewer total customers would come upon jt, we knew, but more aspirin would be sold. When they moved the shelves, sales rose by 20 percent. And it performed admirably-almost everyone stopped for at least a cursory browse, and the percentage that bought at least one book was high.
Which meant that, according to the cash register tape, the table was a resounding success;. Except that as we tracked shoppers, we found that the number who would go to the tabie and then travel through the rest of the store was lower thal1 it should have been. In a case like this, every hour on the hour a tracker would hurry through the entire store and note how many shoppers were in each section, including the register area, the cof- fee shop and so on.
And in fact, taken section by section, the number of shoppers who were penetrating the rest of the store was uniformly down.
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Also, our track sheet maps of customer travels began showing a telltale shallow loop-shoppers would enter, hit the bargain table, then maybe visit one or two more displays, but they never strayed far from the front of the store before heading to the cashier. This was no coincidence, needless to say-customers were choosing from the dis- count table, then going direcdy to the register, paying for their bargains and leaving without even brOWSing the bestsellers or any of the other books selling at the normal profit margins.
The success of the table was causing the failure of the rest of the store. So much for what can be learned from the ,register tape. The second means of learning what goes on in a store, employed by the most famous names in market research whether political, com- mercial or any other is simply to ask people questions about what they just saw, or did, or considered doing. That can happen in person, online, on the. Let's take a telephone poll conducted by the Democrats and the Re- publicans, for instance, or just the shopper interviews that take place as you exit a store or a shopping center.
From those two, a big fat binder full of suppositions is assembled: Forty-year-old Caucasian college-educated married mothers of two living in Northeastern suburbs and driving station wagons would prefer Jif even more if it were low-fat, for example. Or men who buy Coke at convenience stores say they would notice their brand less often if it were any color but red. Or one quarter of all college graduates eats pasta once a week. But they don't really reveal much about what happens in a store, when shoppers and goods finally come together under the same roof.
Sometimes people just don't remember every little thing they saw or did in a store-they weren't shopping with the thought that they'd have to recall it all later. In a fragrance study we performed, some shoppers interviewed said they had given serious consideration to buying brands that the store didn't carry. In a study of tobacco merchandising in a con- venience store, shoppers. If we went into stores only when we needed to buy something, and if once there we bought only what we needed, the economy would, , collapse-boom. Fortunately, the economic party that started the second half of the twentieth century has.
You almost have to make an effort to avoid shopping today. Stay out of stores and museums and theme restaurants and you still are face- to-face with Internet shopping twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, along with its low-rent cousin, home shopping on TV.
You have to steer clear of your own mailbox, too, if you're going to duck all those catalogs. As a result, every expert agrees, we are now dangerously over- retailed-too much is for sale, through too many oudets. The economy even at its strongest can't keep up with retailing's growth.
Judging from birthrates, we're generating stores a lot faster than we're producing new shoppers. In , across most of the first world, we are building stores and malls no longer to serve new customers but to steal someone else's. There is no irony that the cutting edge of retail today is no longer found in North America or.
Western Europe. Moscow, Dubai, Shanghai a? Still, here in the United States, our focus has been on same-store sales-how can you do more business in the same space or location? That focus on tactics has been another accelerant that has fueled the growth of the science of shopping. There's another reason that the science of shopping is a force today. Big brand-name goods were advertised in those media, and the message got through loud, clear and dependably. Today we have hundreds of TV channels, and remote controls and TiVo to allow us to skip all the ads if we choose to.
There's PM and satellite radio now, a plethora of magazines catering to each little special interest, a World Wide Web of infinitely expanding sites we can visit for information and entertain- ment, and a shrinking base of daily newspaper readers, all of which means that it is harder than ever to reach consumers and convince them of anything at all.
Simultaneously, we are witnessing the decline of the influence of brand names. A generation or two ago, you chose your brands early in life and stuck by them loyally until your last shopping Jrip. If you were a Buick man, you bought Buicks. If you were a Marlboro woman, you smoked Marlboros. Today, in some ways, every decision is a new one, and nothing can be taken for granted.
And many more of those decisions are being made in the store itself. It means that shoppers are susceptible to impressions and information they acquire inside stores, rather than relying on brand-name loyalty.
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The level of impulse purchasing is go- ing through the roof-in supermarkets and everywhere else, too. Even big decisions are being made right there on the selling floor. That building, that place, has become a great big three-dimensional advertisement for itself. Sign- age, shelf position, display space and special fixtures all make it either more or less likely that a shopper will buy a particular item or any item at all.
The science of shopping is meant to tell us how to make use of all those tools: how to design signs that shoppers will actually read and how to make sure each message is in the appropriate place. How to fashion displays that shoppers can examine comfortably and easily. How to ensure that shoppers can reach, and want to reach, every part of a store.
It's a very long list-enough to fill a book, in my opinion. Finally, our studies prove that in general, the longer a shopper re- mains in a store, the more he or she will buy. And the amount of time a shopper spends in a store. Just as Holly Whyte's labors improved urban parks and plazas, the science of shopping creates better retail environments- ultimately, I would argue we're providing a form of consumer advocacy that benefits our clients as well. Ten years later, the term "science of shopping" is part of the vocabulary of any merchant or marketer.
And a lot of firms now claim to do what we do. After all, observation is a seminal form of how human beings learn, so why not start an observation business? To every company that has copied what we do, I welcome you to the community of people dedicated to making our lives work better. At the same time, there are other interlopers who have truly muddied the waters. The first? Technology companies that have streamlined. They have software packages that can hook up to a facility's sur- veillance cameras and count bodies, one after another.
How relevant is it to measure the number of people passing a sign or a display? Does that mean they've looked, read or shopped?
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How many times have I heard the expression "This is going to transform retail"? Most of it is what I call techriology in search of an ap- plic;ation. It can do this and gather this piece of information, and there's bound to be someone out there willing to pay for it. I have to explain that if someone hires me I'm happy to sign documents left and right, but to call me out of the blue and expect me to review a seventeen-page legal document borders on the obnoxious. Over the years I've come up with a good plan. I've raised tens of thousands of dollars for halfway houses for homeless women in New York.
Some of the stuff I get is outright silly, like a software package de- signed to track tank movements from spy satellites. Put enough cameras with wide-angle lenses into your ceiling and voihl! Quite a few of these companies are backed by serious venture capital money and propelled by slick presentations, expensive Las Vegas dinners at the appropriate conventions and lots and lots of promises. The venture capital firms see them not as research or consulting firms but as software ventures. Once in place, the output is automated; you sign a two-year contract that promises you weekly reports.
The only problem is that two months later, you look up from yet another weekly report and ask, what in the world do we do with this? We have a number of clients who defected from us and bought a fancy software package only to return to us two years later. We were happy to have them back.
The other objection I have is with what we around the office call En- vir6sell Lite, where untrained and inexperienced people are sent into the field to do the same work we do: observe what is seen, what is touched, what is read. Simple as it sounds, these terms have to be defined care- fully or what you get out the other side of the process is gobbledygook. We now have a number of competitors who sell a lower-priced version of what we do.
You get what you pay for. He or she is certainly part of the equation we're studying, the provider of product services and shopping experiences, as it were. The retailer is also the one who's expected to absorb all our lessons and then apply the principles of what we've learned. The marketer needs to understand how his or her prod- uct or category of goods is shopped and bought.
And since it's his or her own store we study, it's fair to ask: How much doesn't the retailer' already know? Well, more than you might think. For example, it's a testament to the until-recently uncharted state of the untamed retail environment that an extremely intelligent and able man, a senior executive in a mul- tibillion-dollar chain, could be so very wrong when asked this simple question: , How many of the people who walk into your stores buy something?
You'd know that, wouldn't you, if you were he? He knows all that. When I asked how many of the people who walk into his stores buy something, his answer was: all of them, pretty damn near. And when I say it was his answer, I mean it was also the answer of the huge, PC-net- worked, data-chewing, number-crunching, cipher-loving organization at his command. Everybody there agreed: What we call the conversion rate-the percentage of shoppers who become buyers-was around percent.
After all, this corporation reasoned, their outlets were destina- tion stores, so people didn't go there unless they had some very specific purchase in mind. Hence, they believed, the only time shoppers didn't buy was when their selection was out of stock. I was asking the question because we had just performed a large- scale study of this chain's s. It was a very good conversion rate for stores of this kind. But it was about ,half of what this man thought it was. To be precise, 48 per- cent of shoppers bought something.
The man, because he believes in the value of information, was taken aback but eager to hear more. Some in his organization, though, were incredulous, outraged, insulted: and certain that we had made a terrible miscalculation. So they performed their own homegrown version of our study, standing at the door of a store or two, counting the number of people who went in and the number who emerged holding bags. Which, in the end, was very posi- tive news for them.
It meant that a good company could change some very specific things and become even better. Our findings were also important to that companis big picture. We showed that meaningful growth-which Wall Street demands and everybody else is pretty fond of, too-can be stimulated at the store level, without having to expand the empire, an expensive strategy that always runs out of gas sooner or later. In , same-store sales are the bellwether for a chain's good health.
The marketer was equally in the dark through the end of the twen- tieth century. Until the past decade, there was sales data or the com- , pilation of register tapes. Today, however, almost all major consumer product companies have shopper- and consumer-insight groups. They often fiercely debate the difference between what happens to people in the store shoppers and what happens once they get their products home consumers.
All in all, insight groups have been a positive change. Yet for the marketers sitting in their suburban campuses, there are often some pretty striking disconnects. In , it is easier to collect data than to figure out what it means, much less map out what you can or should do about it. Since the science of shopping was invented, there are now a lot of companies talking about the scale of their databases-we tracked a million shoppers with security cameras and so on-yet, in the end, what does it mean?
To me, ten years after I wrote the first edition of this book, the rightful evolution of the science of shopping is for a corpora- tion to look at what they do with this information and, based on what- ever measure they use, ask themselves: Did it make or save us money? Let's go back t the basics. Conversion rates vary wildly depending on what kind of store or product we're talking ;tbout. In some sections of the supermarket, the conversion rate probably is around percent I'm thinking of 'dairy or toilet paper here.
Whatever's being sold, though, I think. Marketing, advertising, promotion and location can bring shoppers in, but then it's the job of the merchandise, the employees and the store itself to turn them into buyers. Conversion rate measures what you make of what you have-it shows how well or how poorly the entire enterprise is functioning where it counts most: in the store.
Without conversion rate, you don't know if you're Mickey Mande or Mickey Mouse. Yet conversion in its Simplest form has its limits. In the past ten years a number of companies have rigged up electronic counters on the doorways of stores, then hooked them up to the register. Voila-instant ongoing conversion rates. Yet the real story is often hiding in the details. What's the difference between men and women? What happens when you add a kid to the process, or an African- or Latino-American? That counter at the door counts bodies, and that's all it counts, never mind the fact that it's unlikely a family of four Wili walk out of a store lugging four big-screen TVs, one per person.
Yes, some of the more upscale ones can calculate body mass and get some gauge on people's gender, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it. We get a lot of calls from companies that installed counting systems, and three months into the daily stream of data, they're still wondering how they can turn that information into an ongoing, proactive, workable tool. For store managers it can be frustrating when the home office fires off numbers, and they respond, "Well, of course we have lower conversion numbers, because we get more casual, time-killing people in the door; as you might notice, we're located neXt to a kitchenware store and thus attract an entire army of exiled male spouses.
It's all about what happens within the four' walls of the store. I can think of other underutilized ways to measure what happens inside a store. Once I asked a major cosmetics executive how much time women actually spent shopping for makeup per store visit. The average shopper who bought something spent only thirty seconds more. The average time spent in a hypermarket, or multidepartment store-whether a'Wal-Mart Supercenter in the U. That's stopwatch time. But if you ask someone how long he or she spent in a store, that person will often double that number.
In any commercial setting, time comes in three forms. There's real time, there's perceived time and then there's a combination of the two. Now, the amount of minutes a shopper spends in a store assuming.. Over and over again, our studies have shown a direct relationship between these numbers.
If the customer is walking through the entire store or most of it, at least and is considering lots of merchandise meaning he or she is actually look- ing and touching and thinking , a fair amount of time is required. In an electronics store we studied, nonbuyers spent five minutes and six sec- onds in the store, compared to nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds for buyers. In a toy store, buyers spent over seventeen minutes, com- pared to ten for nonbuyers.
In some stores buyers spend three or four times as much time as nonbuyers. A great many factors contribute, one way or the other, to the length of a shopping trip, and studying them is most of what we do. The majority of the advice we give to retailers in- volves ways of getting shoppers to shop longer. But you've got to know how long people spend shopping your store or your product before you can know how to increase it.
What Retailers and Marketers Don't Know 33 The flip side of that measure is what we call the confusion index, or the number of people walking around stores completely at sea. Re- member that time is relative, so if the ten minutes you spend at a Target or Wal-Mart is spent walking in circles, iell feel like you've been in there , for a half hour. And in the end, while you may stumblt: on something good, if you can't find what you came in for, what's the point? One of the major victories we have won in the past ten years has been with of- fice product superstores.
In , whenever Staples, OfficeMax or Office Depot opened a new location, they used a warehouse format. Shelving 'ran twelve to fifteen feet in the air-making it a challenge, to say the least, for customers who didn't shop the store every week to find stuff.
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In many aisles, a third of the people there weren't shopping for anything in that aisle. They were brOWSing, or killing time, or, far more often, they were utterly clueless as to where the computer paper was stacked. All too many shoppers found what was on their list and left. Staples was the first' superstore to make changes based on our suggestions. They developed what we call an "arena concept," where the aisles in the middle of the store are low and get gradually higher as customers reach the perimeter.
The change, I have to say, is pretty remarkable. You walk in The full monty. Al- most no one walks down a particular aisle who doesn't want to be there. OfficeMax and Office Depot have come up with their own versions of an arena. In some cases, same-store sales are up 20 percent or higher. Do the new stores hold people longer?
You bet, and the time customers spend there is considerably happier. Here's another good way to judge a store: by its interception rate, meaning the percentage of customers who have some contact with 'an employee: This is especially crucial today,! All our research shows this direct relationship: The more shopper-employee contacts that take place, the greater the aver- age sale. Talking with an employee has a way of drawing a customer in closer. That rate was dangerously low-it meant that in all probability customers were becoming frustrated, wandering the stores lost or confused or just in need of information" trying and trying to find a clerk with an answer.
They were stocking the shelves and ringing up transactions and not finding time to do much in between. This was practically a guarantee that the store was under- performing. It was also a telling clue as to why. Across the world we, as a species, like to be recognized, but we also value our privacy. One of our clients has a rule that if an employee gets within six feet of a customer, that employee has to say hello. I don't like the rule because it takes the judgment out of the hands of the person working the floorbut I do like the idea behind it.
Here's another measure, a real simple one: waiting time. This, as we discuss elsewhere, is the single most important factor in cl,lstomer sat- isfaction. But few retailers realize that when shoppers are made to wait too long in line or anywhere else , their impression of overall service plunges.
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Busy executives hate to wait for anything, but some don't real- ize that normal people feel the same way. One housewares chain's vice president was startled when we showed him video in which a woman who had just spent twenty-two minutes shopping in his store joined a very long checkout line, stood there until it dawned on her that she was in cashier hell, and abandoned her full cart and exited the place. We weren't surprised-we see this happen all the time. After studying the teller lines over the course of two days, we informed the client that this policy would cost them about triple what they had set aside.
They dropped the plan and went to work on shortening the wait.. I One final calculation doesn't involve any particular way to measure a store, but it's a remarkable example of businessperson ignorance: They often don't really know who their shoppers are. I've already discussed the pet treats manufacturer whose product was typically stocked high on shelves, unaware that its main buyers were old people and children. In another family-style chain we studied, each restaurant devoted roughly 10 percent oHts floor space to counter seat- ing. During slow times it went unused because lone diners preferred tables, where they could read newspapers or magazines.
During busy times it went unused because parties of two, three or four wantedto sit at tables. The counters were empty even as groups of diners stood in line waiting for tables. The issue of retailers not knowing who shops in their stores comes up all the time. A newsstand in Greeley Square here in New York wanted to increase sales and planned to do so by expanding the space devoted to magazines. We pointed out that a large percentage of his customers was either Koreanthe square borders on a large Korean enclave-or Hispanic.
Stock Korean-language magazines Korean papers already sold well and soft drinks popular in the Latino market, we advised, and when they did, sales rose immediately. This related issue comes up all the time in New York, Los Angeles and other big cities: foreign shoppers in need of a break from stores and restaurants. Almost no accommodation is made for Asian shoppers, despite their numbers and tendency to spend a lot of money on luxury goods. But there are no sizing conversion charts, no currency exchange rates posted, not even a little sign or two in Japanese or Korean telling shoppers which credit cards are accepted.
Smart retailers would reward employees who learned a little Japanese, German, French or Spanish- even just a handful of phrases would make a difference, as anyone who has shopped in a foreign country would realize. Restaurants should have menus inJapanese and German on hand.
But it doesn't have to involve anything so exotic for retailers to be woefully clueless about who's in their stores. I loved visiting a national chain drugstore's branch in Washington, DC, where there was a large assortment of dye and other hair products for blondes-in a store where over 95 percent of shoppers are African-Americans. I also was amused in a Florida-based drugstore chain's Minneapolis branch, where a full as- sortment of suntan lotion was on prominent display-in October.
Our technical term for it is "the biological constants. There are all the obvious differences in shoppers due to gender, age, income and tastes. Going outside North America, we face other issues, too-the relative density of a population, the weather, security considerations, a country's economic well-being and so on.
But, that said, there are many, many more similarities. You'd think it would be easy to get everything right. Yet a huge part of what we do is uncover ways in which environ- ments fail to recognize and accommodate how human machines are built and how our anatomical and physiological aspects determine what we do. I'm talking about the absolute basics here, such as the fact that we have only two hands and that at rest they are situated approximately three feet off the floor.
Or that our eyes focus on what is directly before us but also take in a periphery whose size is determined in part by en- vironmental factors, and that we'd rather look at people than obJects. Or that it is possible to anticipate and even determine how and where people will walk-that we move in predictable paths and speed up, slow down or stop in response to our surroundings.
Whether I'm in Tokyo or Paris, Cape Town or Orange County, California, whether I am two hundrt;d centimeters tall read six feet, five inches or five foot four, our basic human measures fall into a completely predictable range. I can be Chinese, Indian or Mexican-it doesn't matter. Everywhere in theworld, our eyes work and age in the same way. The implications of all this are clear: Where people go, what they see and how they respond determine the very nature of their expe- rience.
They will either see merchandise and signs clearly or they won't. They will reach objects easily or with difficulty. They will move through areas at a leisurely pace or swiftly-or not at all. Take care of the former, in all its guises, and the latter is assured. Build and operate a retail environment that fits the highly particular needs of shoppers and you've created a successful store. Take that same model and you'll notice it applies to every physical environment you interact with. Don't ask. Just watch. I know we're standing in the middle of the parking lot.
That's the point. Do you notice how everybody's moving at a pretty brisk clip toward the store? Is it because they're all so darned excited to be going there? Well, maybe, but I've spent a lot of time watching people move through parking lots, and this is how they all do it-fast. A parking lot isn't the place for a leisurely stroll. It's not Fifth Avenue, or even Main Street.
It's speeding cars, exhaust fumes and asphalt, with the usual elements on top-rain, wind, cold, heat. Okay, so let's join everybody rushing for the store. What do you see ahead? And what's in them? Or is it signs? Or is it stuff and signs? It's hard to tell, exacdy, because of how the sunlight glares off the glass. Or because it's dark out, and the lighting is too low. For the sake of discussion, let's say we actually can tell what's in the windows: some kind of display-mannequins or a still life.
Whatever'it is, though, the scale is wrong. There are too many small things there that we can't quite see from this distance. Bear in mind, too, that the faster people walk, the narrower their field of peripheral vision becomes. But by the time we get close enough to see the goods or read the signs, we're in no mood to stop and look. We've got that good cardiovascular parking-. So forget whatever it is those windows are meant to accomplish-when they face a parking lot, if the message in them isn't big and bold and short and simple, it's wasted.
We hit the doors and we're inside. Still got that momentum going, too. Have you ever seen anybody cross the threshold of a store and then screech to a dead stop the instant they're inside? Neither have I. Good way to cause a pileup. Come over here, stand with me now and watch the doors. What happens once the customers get inside?
Mean- while, their ears and noses and nerve endings are sorting out the rest of the stimuli-analyzing the sounds and smells, judging whether the store is warm or cold. There's a lot going on, in other words, and I can pretty much promise you this: These people a:r:e not truly in the store yet. You can see them, but it'll be a few seconds more before they're actually here.
If you watch long enough you'll be able to predict exacdy where most shoppers slow down and make the transition from being outside to being inside. It's at just about the same place for everybody, depend- ing on the layout of the front of the store. All of which means that whatever's in the zone they cross before making that transition is pretty much lost on them. If there's a display of merchandise, they're not going to take it in.
If there's a sign, they'll probably be moving too fast to absorb what it says. If the sales staff hits them with a hearty "Can I help you? Put a pile of fliers or a stack of shopping baskets just inside the door: Shoppers will barely see them and will almost riever pick them up. Move them ten feet in and the fliers and baskets will dis- appear. It's a law of nature-shoppers need a landing strip. The same thing is true in a hotel lobby. Throughout our work looking at the lobbies of business hotels, the lack of what we call an "information architecture plan" can have a disastrous effect on customer service.
If the concierge or bellhop has to tell people coming into your hotel all day, every day where the bathroom is, well, I don't care how much training you give people, you try answering the same question five hundred times a week and see if you don't get cranky, too. The windows, the doorways and the landing strip, ate the start of the consumers' experience, and the same goes for hotel guests. When I talk to clients, they invariably point to our findings on the transition zone, or what has been termed the "decompression zone," as among our most meaningful and useful work.
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