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What makes a customer tick?

Someone walks into a store. Maybe they buy something. Or just browse. Or they come in with a list and leave with a basket full of impulse buys.

Want to know why? Here are five things that make a customer tick and will make or break an effective retail experience.

Everybody loves it, so why don’t you?​

In reality, the journey of a customer starts before they’ve even set foot in the store. They want reassurance they’ve come to the right place, looking at fellow shoppers for that. There may be a queue outside a store they've never heard of or it could be a busy high street chain on a Saturday afternoon. Foot traffic draws in foot traffic, after all. 

Once they’re in, drawing their attention to popular items as ‘bestsellers’ and ‘top rated’ communicates, “hey, these are products people love,” helping to make them more desirable and making this store seem like a good choice. Goodbye FOMO, hello new favourites.

Testimonials and reviews or real-life pictures of customers enjoying the products can also offer the ‘social proof’ they need that this is the place to be and the products for them. It’s why a store’s digital presence relies on reviews and ratings to pull customers in. We’ve all seen a customer meltdown on social media or a beaming Trustpilot review. These things are important.

Feeling cool, calm and in control

You’ve probably popped into a supermarket for a few items and waited 20 minutes at the self-service checkout. It sucks. Nobody likes being out of control of their shopping experience. Being able to shop efficiently without getting hindered by stocktake issues, poor navigation, long wait times or errors is vital. 

An effortless, frictionless shopping experience can come from aspects like clear wayfinding, flexible payment options and having access to all the information they need to make a purchase, whether that’s via staff assistance, retail collateral or QR codes.

Think of Amazon Fresh. Shoppers can simply pick up what they want and walk out of the store without any friction (although it does make you feel like a criminal.) Give customers an easy, efficient retail experience that makes them feel in control of their time and purchasing choices and they’ll feel more positively about the store.

Layout and touchpoints: what, where and why

A store isn’t just a place to buy things. Retail space is an ecosystem of customer touchpoints.

Your layout, merchandise zones and design assets are all ‘read’ by prospective customers. And they need to receive the right message at the right time to support their purchase decision. Overwhelm them with messages or obstruct their ability to move through the space easily and you probably won’t get a good result. Think of that famous sports or sofa shop in every retail park (wink wink, nudge nudge.)

Impulse triggers: I want it NOW

Whether it’s a chocolate bar at the cash register or grabbing a discount bundle deal when we only came in for that one thing, we all make impulse purchases regularly. What triggers that impulse? 

It can be retail messaging with a sense of urgency: a sale, limited stock or last-chance-to-buy. There’s also ‘bundling’ and ‘buy one get one free’ – giving customers the unexpected offer of a deal. And there are promotional displays (‘New! Just in!’) as well as key ‘zones’ that have great power to influence purchasing behaviour.

Or, it can be something that customers may never think about purchasing before seeing it in-store. Lidl, for example, has created a sense of surprise and delight with its middle aisle. Need a serrano ham leg, 48 double AA batteries and a washing line? Look no further.

Connection: a brand for YOU

A brand or retail space isn’t just an opportunity to talk to customers. It’s an opportunity to make them feel part of your brand. You’ve got something you want to say, but they have something they want to hear.

It can mean using ‘aspirational imagery’ that dials into the desires and identity of your target customer – without going too hard and hitting ‘slick and out of touch’. There might be a personalised or ‘local’ aspect to the experience or products on offer. It could include diverse representation in models and illustrations so your customer base can see themselves in the story you’ve created. It all helps them perceive a place, product and ultimately brand that is ‘for them’.

The strategy will vary for every business. The cardinal rule? Know Thy Customer.

Going, going, gone…

Let’s face it, we’ve all walked into a shop for one thing, got a basket load of other items and walked out… forgetting what we went in for. But, at least you now know why it happens (*makes note to grab milk on the way home.*)

Customer-centric approaches to retail design and strategy focus on what customers want from their ‘mission’ and what triggers and factors can help or hinder that. So, the next time you go shopping, you’ll know just why you enter a shop and why you buy something. Mission successful.


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