Holding patterns


I’ve often heard that giving shoppers too much structure can reduce impulse buys. True or not, the idea is that if people know exactly where to find what they want, they’ll be less likely to randomly encounter other things to buy. And judging by how haphazardly some stores are organized during the holidays, I have to wonder if the lack of logical merchandising is actually a planned event.

Let’s assume that a store purposely puts the most sought-after items in the back, or on an upper floor. Customers who come in looking for those items will therefore have to walk past a lot of other things on their way to the desired products. Given the philosophy I mentioned above, perhaps this is a smart approach. But there’s often one thing missing: a suitable traffic flow that lets customers see the impulse items along the way.

Thinking about one store in particular, customers would stream in the door and then get stuck in the middle. If they tried to go around the sides, they would run into a snaking checkout line that had overflowed from the usual location. The end result was a slow and laborious movement through the aisles, without much opportunity to see and experience those coveted impulse buys.

For any retailer that wants to expose customers to new products, the takeaway is rather obvious. People aren’t going to buy an item if they can’t see and get to that item. So whether you tackle this problem with directional signage or even roping off certain areas, make sure that customers have a reasonably open path to walk through the key areas of your store.