"If we went into shops only when we needed to buy something, and if once in there we bought only what we needed, the economy would collapse" — Paco Underhill, international speaker on global retail
Ever wondered why there’s a couch for you to flop on right outside the apparel section at the mall? Or why your eyes fall on the cosmetics or sunglasses counter as soon as you enter a store? Or why you always seem to end up buying more than you intended to, and certainly more than you needed to?
The answer: You’ve been manoeuvered into all these situations. Whether it is store design, the way shelves are arranged, the mood of the lighting or the piped-in music, there is a precise purpose to every bit of detailing in stores. All geared to make you spend more time and more money.
The business of retail just got trickier. As the giants slug it out in the marketplace and the competition hots up, retailers cannot afford to leaving any stone unturned in their bid to woo customers, and get them to buy.
And they’re doing so in ways that you’d never guess.
Take the couches. "Customers are constantly attacked visually at a mall, so couches and sofas help to give their eyes a break. So we usually place couches at the end of the men's section ends and the beginning of women's sections. A café is also placed strategically so they don't have to leave the store to take a break," explains S Ranganathan, customer care associate and chief of operations, Shoppers' Stop.
But it's not just about the extra comforts that a store provides; careful research goes into basics like the placement of shelves and sections. “Keeping electronic gadgets next to the jewelry section keeps the husbands busy while women take their time to shop," lets on Ranganathan. And it’s no coincidence that shoppers find racks of fashion jewelry in their line of sight the minute they’re done shopping for ethnic wear. “Up-selling is key to a retail business. We place products in such a way that a customer sees related products in addition to what he or she came to buy,” he says.
At the basis of these retail tricks lies a smart use of consumer psychology, through a play of internal elements at a store. The “butt-brush” theory — Big Bazaar keeps its store slightly crowded so shoppers end up brushing against each other and slowing down — works well for a supermarket targeted at the masses. “We play on the human emotions of fear and greed — fear of missing out on a good deal and the greed of winning,” says Rajan Malhotra, CEO of Big Bazaar
So there's a precise order to what seems like chaos to you. Malhotra says that even the retail giant's choice of flooring has a purpose. "Other retailers look down upon us because we use Kota stone, which is used in public utility buildings like bus stands and railway stations. But it's what Indians are used to walking on, and they will feel comfortable walking into such a space," explains Malhotra.
The posters at Big Bazaar are designed carefully too — to show and tell. "We put up posters showing a mother ferrying her child in a trolley while shopping. It's meant to teach her how to use the trolley to carry her child so that she spends three more hours at the store.”
In the lap of luxury
Tarini Jindal of Muse, a stand-alone concept store at Kala Ghoda, may be at the other end of the spectrum, but she has put equal thought into the different elements of her store. For Jindal, it's all about creating an air of exclusivity and luxury. "I pay special attention to the smell in the store. I burn fragrant candles (that we also sell), and use air sprays that leave the store smelling earthy and homely," says Jindal.
Muse is built over three levels, with each level having a different theme, décor and music. "The most expensive merchandise is always on the top floor. You work your way from the basic to the most expensive; it prepares a customer for a climax," explains Jindal. At Muse, the changing rooms on the first level, which sells denim, have corrugated steel sheets and brick walls, while the second level, which sells evening wear, spells finesse. "A retailer would want a customer spending Rs 30,000 on a dress to stay longer," she explains.
Through the coloured glass
You may not have paid much attention to the blue and orange of Big Bazaar’s logo. But the company has. “Blue and orange are ‘socialist’ colours and appeal to the masses,” Malhotra tells us. Apparel brand, Provogue, uses blue lighting inside its stores. “Blue light is soothing to the eyes and has a calming effect,” says Aarti Poddar, marketing head, Provogue.
Dr Narendra Sharma, professor of marketing at IIT Kanpur, agrees that ergonomic principles influence customers on a psychological level. “Store architecture and atmosphere, if used in an appropriate combination, influence customers and make them spend more time inside the store as well as visit again,” he says.
Now you know. So, the next time you end up buying things you didn’t really plan to, can the guilt.