With Black Friday just around the corner, store displays are already decked out for the holiday shopping season, when many retailers bring in the bulk of their revenue. The National Retail Federation and Shop.org predict that holiday sales this year will increase by 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion.
In a competitive retail climate, where brick-and-mortar stores must compete with online retailers in many cases, stores employ subtle strategies designed to inspire spending. We talked to Dan Stanek, a retail strategist and executive vice president at the Columbus, Ohio-based brand experience firm Big Red Rooster, for insight into these strategies.
Ever wondered why the holiday season starts earlier and earlier for some retailers? “When retailers can break the holiday earlier and get the merchandise out on the floor they start the consumer thinking about the holiday earlier,” says Stanek. “They’re trying to prevent that person from maybe going into another store.”
Of course, some retailers take the opposite approach. “Companies like Nordstrom say they’re not going to do it until at least after Halloween and are using it to their advantage,” adds Stanek.
Stores use a few different layout techniques to drive foot traffic and encourage sales. For instance, IKEA’s layout creates a labyrinth “where you are directed specifically through the environment in a very planned way to expose you to all of the merchandise,” explains Stanek.
As you wander through the store, the hope is that you’ll discover products you hadn’t realized you “need.”
“Other [stores] create more of an exploratory type of environment or deploy the most common type of layout which is a loop layout which directs customers around a main defined pattern, spreading traffic around,” he adds. “Flooring patterns and even lighting patterns direct customers in a way that creates movement.”
Retailers use music to attract a certain type of customer and create an environment that’s consistent with their brand—pop music for a brand that’s young and hip or classical music for a brand that’s more upscale and elegant. The tempo and volume of in-store music also impacts consumer behavior.
“You can have them go faster or slower depending on the tempo of the music,” says Stanek. You may not even realize how a store’s music influences your mood and your decision to linger in the store or make quick, impulsive decisions.
Many stores use holiday-themed smells such as pine, cinnamon, or mulled cider to evoke warm fuzzy feelings. “You can generate a very strong emotional hook to customers through scent to reinforce categories,” says Stanek. Researchers have studied the impact of sound and scent on the overall store experience and—no surprise here—found that Christmas smells and sounds are more effective when used together to create a cohesive holiday environment.
Some retailers change their window displays and bring in new merchandise constantly in the hopes of luring you back to the store and creating the impression that a sweater or statement necklace could be gone by next week. “Some retailers bring in goods on a more regular basis so that they can create more scarcity,” says Stanek. “Zara is one that is known to have a very limited time period for their looks and they replace their merchandise much more regularly.”
So, what should you do to make savvy purchasing decisions in light of all these retail techniques? Stanek says many consumers are already coming to stores armed with pricing information and a list of items they plan to buy. “They’ve been very savvy about finding the best places for the merchandise they are seeking,” he says.
Several national chains are offering price-matching this holiday season, so don’t be shy about bringing your smartphone and asking a store to match the online price for an equivalent item.
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