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traffic flow Archives - Mark Heckman Consulting

Tag Archive for traffic flow

It’s About Time ….Making the Case for Shopper Time Management

Most would agree that we have entered in a period of radical change in shopping behavior. Almost nothing is the same as it was a mere five years ago. New on-line competitors, technology aided shopping apps provide shoppers new options and retailers new ways to compete for shoppers. Through all of this progress, there is one thing that hasn’t changed. There are still only twenty-four hours in any given day.

To that very point, while shoppers are interested in new tools to help them save money, early returns indicate that shopping apps and new in-store technologies that save the shopper time are the ones rising to the top of the pile.

Traditionally, retailers almost totally ignore the “time investment” shoppers make to buy from them. Ask any retailer what their shopper’s average trip length is or how fast shoppers buy once they are in one of their stores, and you will likely get blank stares.

Aside from some attention to expedite the checkout process, retailers continue to assume that their shoppers relish looking for new ways to invest more of their time exploring aisles, alcoves, reading labels and scrolling directories. In 2015, this is nothing more than a retailer’s fantasy. To demonstrate this misguided mentality, store footprints have continuously grown over the years and along with it the corresponding decline in shopping efficiency.



The More Options Shoppers Have, The Less Time They Have for any One Retailer!

To put a finer point on it, food retailing study after study tells us that as much as 85% of the shopper’s time is wasted in-store navigating massive stores with extraordinary amounts of products, searching, seeking, but NOT BUYING. Aside from the most ardent “price shopper”, “time” is the shopper’s most prized possession.

Retailers, whether they be bricks or e-commerce, that invest in new ways to give some of the precious commodity of time back to the shoppers will rule over their respective marketplaces.

The Payoff and Rationale of Shopper Time Management
What we steadfastly know is that the faster shoppers buy, the more the buy. Conversely, the long it takes for a shopper to make a buying decision, the less likely they will make one at all.

In fact, shopper time management is the first logical step in a shopper centric merchandising. Dr. Herb Sorensen, noted expert on retail shopping behavior and author of the top selling book, “Inside the Mind of the Shopper”, lays out a new road map for retailers. He refers to this map as the Five Vital Tenets of Shopping Behavior.

5 vital

Use the link for more detail on the Five Vital Tenets http://acceleratedmerchandising.net/?page_id=90

Following this guideline represents both a new and necessary methodology of in-store merchandising. Every step of this process is focused as to how the shopper shops, not how retailers would like them to shop. The Five Vital Tenets of Shopping Behavior is predicating on understanding the importance of element of time in the success of connecting products with shoppers in an efficient manner.

As retailers begin to measure and react to shoppers’ “habitual” tendencies when they engage bricks and mortar retailing, connecting shopping efficiency with basket size and shopper visitation increases will provide the empirical justification for changing the mindset of how physical stores are designed and merchandised.

The data is compelling. The relationship between a shopper’s ability to buy faster and every retailer’s goal of increasing sales is irrefutable.

What’s Next?
Seldom does any thing in retailing happen quickly. Adaption speed of Shopper Time Management will be no exception. Retailers are deliberate beasts and venture in a step-wise fashion into new business paradigms, as they are heavily invested in the current retailer-brand monetary ecosystem.

The good news is this. In high volume retailing, even step-wise, incremental gains in shopper efficiency can produce significant impact to the bottom line. It’s time to incorporate the element of the shopper’s time in the mix of merchandising metrics. Those retailers that do so will find their time-starved shoppers thanking them with more of their dollars and enduring loyalty.

The Forgotten Category Metric…”Location”

I could very quickly list about a dozen metrics that category managers use with some regularity to evaluate  category performance.  Dollars per linear foot, percentage of total sales (distribution), days of supply, and inventory holding costs are just a few of those.   As a matter of fact, the savvy category manager more often complains of having too much data and too many metrics than not enough.

But yet among the plethora of information there is an almost “mystical” absence of any information about how the placement of categories and departments effects performance.

Let me explain.  Many of us have seen thermal maps that depict where shoppers go (and don’t go) when they shop the store.  Simply put, there are aisles, alcoves, and even perimeter locations that are dying from under exposure.  Shoppers just don’t go there.

The thermal map here depicts a supermarket all the various areas of the store that are well populated with shoppers (green-yellow-red) and those areas that are less frequently traversed, (blue-deep blue).  Notice there’s more blue than any other color?

The reason for these “vast wastelands of retail” are two fold.  One is rather intuitive.   The products that are merchandised there have little or no appeal to the shopper.  They are either redundant with other similar products that shopper has already purchased, or they are just very uncommonly purchased items, with very low household penetration numbers.

The second dynamic in play is less intuitive and almost completely off the retailer’s radar screen.  It is that there are overt reasons why shoppers shop the way the do, where they tend to go, and how they tend to get there.  These tendencies are so common and  have been proved to be so universal they are principles in my mind.  Without getting  into detail the individual principles here, (I would recommend you read some of the great work my mentor and ex-boss, and fellow RetailWire contributor,  Herb Sorensen has published on this topic), I will list several of the key principles for context.

1.  Shoppers like to shop counter-clockwise (right to left).  (Right handed stores are good Left handed stores, not so much)

2.  Shoppers are much more productive spenders early in their trip and spending diminishes as they progress through the store.  (There are diminishing returns on long trips)

3.  Shoppers spend only about 25% of their time “shopping” and about 75% “going” from spot to spot in the store to shop. (Improving “shopping time” can be very fruitful for the retailer)

4.  Shoppers migrate to open spaces, they don’t like aisles and cubbies, they also like open sight lines.  (Store design and layout implications are abundant.)

5.  When shoppers do visit aisles, they frequent the polar ends of the aisles much more so than the center of the aisle. (Be careful what you merchandise in the middle of the aisle, it may die of loneliness.)

Ok, I could go on and on with dozens of additional scientifically proved principals.  But I think you get the drift that with the aforementioned dynamics in play, it does matter where in the heck you put things in the store.  Here’s one example:

Looking at two nearly identical stores with similar square footage and layouts, the Household Cleaner Category in the left side diagram is place earlier in the shopper’s trip cycle when they are spending faster and in more volume and where 25% of all the shoppers are exposed to the category.

On the right side, we see the same category placement later in the shopper’s trip and in a aisle where only 12% of shoppers visit.  The end result is 6% of the shoppers make a purchase in the category in when the category is in a superior location….3X over the sales it generates in an inferior location.  This might be really important to know, if you find your Household Cleaner Category being commandeered by the big box stores.

I understand fully that not all categories can be placed in the stores “hot spots”.  But the point is that categories will perform radically differently depending up where they are placed in the store.  The good news is, there is a process that can rank and prioritize categories and match those categories to the where the shoppers are going in the store.  The results can be unbelievably lucrative for not only the category, but the overall store in terms of basket size, profitability and even shopper satisfaction….it works, I’ve seen it!!








Location, Location, Location!!

For many years in the retail food industry it still baffles me as to why more retailers and brands do not understand the importance of product placement in the retail environment.  To be clear, I am not talking about whether a can of beans is placed at eye-level, or the bottom shelf, although there are learnings to be had in this area.

But just like commercial real estate, there are “hot” traffic spots where shoppers are a plenty and conversely, “cold” forgotten places in the store that neither customer or stock clerks frequently traverse.  In fact most retailers design their stores today much the way they have for the past thirty years.  Perishables on one side or the other, Meat, Seafood, and Dairy along the back of the store and everything else is slammed in the middle…..usually driven more by logistics and the placement  of freon lines than anything to do with how the customer traverses the store.

In my humble opinion, the smartest guy in the room on this subject is Herb Sorensen.  Herb recently retired from TNS-Sorensen Research in Troutdale, Oregon, but Herb is one of those guys that will re-define retirement, just as he has redefined how we should be thinking about store design and layout.   I had the pleasure and honor of working for Herb for a brief time, but he departed much wisdom on yours truly, wisdom that I have vowed to continue to propagate whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Red "Hot" Spots and Blue "Cold" Denote Variations in Shopper Traffic

For instance, when retailers put all the sale items and perishable departments on the perimeter of the store, intuitively the “race track” around the store benefits from more traffic, but there are proven techniques to modify shopper traffic, populating “cold areas” with shoppers by eliminating barriers and strategically using “driver” or destination categories as a means to balance the traffic in the store, thus exposing more shopper traffic to more categories and departments, without inconveniencing the shopper.



While end caps are often coveted or even “sold” to the retailer’s brand partners, the amount of traffic and the likelihood of purchase various greatly from one end cap location to the next, depending upon where the end cap is located in the progression of the shopping trip as well as it’s location vis-a-vis the in-aisle location of the category.

Further and finally, shoppers spend more earlier in the their trips than later, they move faster the longer they are in the store, thus creating opportunities for “selling” and impulse buying in selected areas of the store, early on in their trip.  There are at least a dozen more “store traffic flow truisms” that are valuable principles for every retailer, no matter what store size or configuration.

Retailers who understand these basic principles of shopper traffic in their stores, can increase sales and shopper satisfaction, by leveraging this information for a more efficient trip for the shopper and a more profitable trip for the retailer!!  Measuring and modifying traffic flow in the store can be a very inexpensive way of increasing sales and making promotions more effective.     mh