December is the month most of us will spend more time in retail environments than any other time of year.
While some people love to shop for the sake of shopping, when most of us go out, we have a plan. We make lists. We set time limits. We budget.
Retailers also have a plan. To sell us more than what is on our list, to keep us in the store longer than we planned, and to spend more money than we budgeted.
It’s not a level playing field. There is a lot of science that goes into retailing from store layout to atmosphere to merchandizing.
My first introduction to the psychology of shopping was in the jewellery business.
The bread and butter of that business is the bridal market. Engagement rings, particularly, which are the high price point, high margin merchandise. That section of most jewellery stores tends to be isolated. There are usually comfortable chairs to sit in. The counters are low to invite sitting in those comfy chairs. You want to give potential buyers a sense of privacy. We played music to enhance that sense of privacy making people more likely to ask more questions, spend more time, handle more items.
I really got interested in the science of retailing, though, when I took a first year geography course in university. There was a fascinating section on mall design.
Parking is set up to encourage entering through one of the anchor stores. When you enter, there is no clear path to the mall. It’s like a maze. When you get to the mall, there are no windows to help you forget there is a whole world out there in which you could be doing all kinds of better things.
There are no clocks to encourage you to lose track of time.
Did you ever wonder why in almost every grocery store you’ve ever been in the produce section is to your right inside the entrance?
Most people are right-handed and we tend to turn right when we enter a store and proceed in a counterclockwise fashion. All those glistening, colourful fruits and vegetables are enticing. They get you in the mood to eat and hence to buy.
Dairy? Way at the back because these perishables are everyday items. To get to them you have to pass by all kinds of things that weren’t on your list, such as chips and pop and large displays of specials.
It’s hard to walk out of there with just what you had initially intended to get.
At the cash there are always low price point, impulse items.
After walking past all that food and filling your basket, it’s hard not to be hungry. And there it is, a beacon of milk chocolatety, gooey caramelly, peanutty and nougatey goodness, a Snickers bar, because you’re just not yourself when you’re hungry.
One study indicated people take home as much as 60 per cent more stuff from the grocery store than was on their list.
Knowledge is armour, but just knowing all this stuff does not impart immunity.
Last week I needed a couple of things.
List: dog food, pair of gloves.
Time allotted: 10 minutes.
I went to Canadian Tire. I wasn’t entirely sure where I would find the gloves, so I turned to the right and proceeded in a counterclockwise fashion. I managed to resist picking up some ammunition, you know, just because I was there.
I was not so disciplined with the display of plaid hoodies I had to pass to find the gloves. C’mon, 70 per cent off. It’s winter. You can’t have too many plaid hoodies, can you?
Looking at gloves got me thinking maybe I should get a tuque too. I decided against it. After all, I’ve got a brand new plaid hoodie.
So, I picked up the dog food and headed for the cash where, convenience of convenience, they had a nice Thinsulate tuque for only $7.39.
Items: dog food, pair of gloves, plaid hoodie, tuque.
Time spent: 20 minutes.
You got me Canadian Tire.