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Tips on Selling

Dealing with distracted shoppers

Keeping customers engaged can be a struggle for retailers but there are strategies that can help. FRANCESCA NICASIO reports.

It’s no secret that shoppers these days are more distracted. Between social media updates, smartphone notifications and life in general, people simply have a lot more on their plate, and all of these can distract them from shopping.

The problem is particularly prevalent with online shoppers. Research from software company Namogoo found that the majority of consumers are multitasking while shopping online. Of those surveyed, 57 per cent shop online while at work, 51 per cent shop while doing household chores and 32 per cent shop while cooking.

Other activities include shopping while dining out with family and friends, running errands, commuting to work and exercising. Throw in distractions such as smartphone alerts, children, pets and competing stores and it’s easy to see why it can be hard to grab the attention of consumers.

While some interruptions are hard to avoid, such as an unexpected call or a crying baby, other distractions such as shoppers checking their phones in the middle of sales interactions can be overcome or even prevented altogether.

Here are some ways to do just that.

Mind the decompression zone

The decompression zone is the first few feet inside a store. It’s the entry area that customers use to adjust to the new environment. Think of it as the first impression zone of your store. Here, shoppers are prone to distractions, which is why retailers should keep it simple and uncluttered. Avoid placing too many products or fixtures in this area, as people will likely just walk past them.

"Each shopper requires a different approach depending on his or her mood and personal preferences – for instance, while some customers may feel distracted by nearby salespeople, others may need handholding"

Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, says, “By the time the person is starting to engage with the physical environment, some of the stuff you’ve put by the door is blown past.”

Underhill advises sellers to display a small number of key items in this area and use “lighting and flooring that contrast with the outside environment” so customers will slow down and take note of what’s around them.

In addition, retail experts Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender recommend that shopping trolleys, baskets and floor signs be placed at the end of the decompression zone to ensure that customers actually see and use them.

Keep shoppers interested

Train salespeople to recognise that each shopper requires a different approach depending on his or her mood and personal preferences. For instance, while some customers may feel distracted by nearby salespeople, others may need handholding.

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to greet shoppers and acknowledge their presence when they walk into your store. Aside from deterring potential shoplifters, greeting people makes them more aware of their surroundings and helps them focus.

Greeting customers also gives you an opportunity to direct them to the right aisle or to remind them of any deals or hot items that they may have missed when they were in the decompression zone.

Have salespeople offer shopping trolleys or baskets. As Kizer and Bender note, “Studies show that customers with shopping [trolleys] spend 25 per cent more in the store and up to 15 minutes longer browsing.”

Offer relevant content

The best way to grab someone’s attention is to present them with messages that are relevant to their needs. This holds true whether you’re trying to reach people online or offline.

On the e-commerce front, effective websites offer content that speaks directly to each customer. This can come in the form of an extremely relatable Instagram ad or an online assortment curated for the shopper.

An example of this is Showpo, an Australian e-commerce company that sells women’s clothing. Showpo uses AI to personalise web content so that each user sees products that are relevant to their individual tastes and preferences.

“With this visual merchandising tool, [the website’s content] is based on what you looked at and what people like you have checked out,” Showpo founder Jane Lu explains, adding that her company doesn’t want “to show content or products that don’t matter to the individual” since the attention spans of consumers are dwindling.

You can apply this same principle offline by making sure that you treat customers as individuals. If dealing with returning customers, have a look at their purchase history so you can recommend the right products.

This level of personalisation gives customers a more compelling shopping experience, which makes them less prone to distractions.

Use technology

Worried that customers are too distracted by their smartphones? Don’t be. Instead of being frustrated with technology, find ways to use it to your advantage.

For instance, T-We Tea in San Francisco embraces technology through mobile payments. Rather than discouraging smartphone use, they invite shoppers to download the PayPal app so they can complete purchases without having to whip out their wallets.

"Are your visual merchandising efforts distracting people or converting them? Which parts of your store are confusing your customers?"

This not only gives people faster checkout but also allows T-We Tea to add a cool factor to their shopping experience. Owner Christopher Coccagna calls it “a very sexy sales experience” and it helps the business make a big impression on customers.

Other stores are using smartphones and social media to spread the word about their businesses. DK’s Donuts & Bakery in Los Angeles offers deals to customers who make a purchase and check-in via Yelp. Doing so encourages sales while putting the business in front of their customers’ friends and followers.

Team Manila, a clothing store in the Philippines, has special hashtag stickers on its fitting-room mirrors to encourage shoppers to snap social-media selfies while trying on clothes.

These are just a few examples of retailers utilising technology to be more awesome. Instead of seeing smartphones as shopper distractions, they see them as tools that can help forward their business. Adopt the same mindset and find ways put your customers’ gadgets to good use.

Spruce up store displays

Make use of updated and attractive store fixtures. Don’t skimp on shelves, counters and equipment as these all contribute to the shopper experience. For instance, you may want to replace your clunky cash register with a sleek iPad-based POS system. Doing so frees up more space and reduces visual noise for your customers, thus helping them focus on the products that you’re selling.

You should also think about your displays. Are they directing shoppers to focus on the right items or are there too many things going on? A good rule of thumb is to decide on a focal point – highlight just one item and lay out the rest of the products around it or use complementary elements like plants to enhance the look and feel of a shop window.

Use foot-traffic analytics

Your store’s design can either grab customer attention or scatter it. One of the most effective ways to ensure that your store is doing the former is by using in-store analytics to track shopper movement.

Are your visual merchandising efforts distracting people or converting them? Which parts of your store are confusing your customers? Beacons, people counters and other foot-traffic tools can help you answer these questions.

Go omnichannel

Whether you’re selling online, offline or both, you can bet that your customers will be looking at multiple screens as they go through their shopping journey. That’s why it’s important to establish an omnichannel presence.

You need to adapt and ensure that shoppers can easily engage with your brand if and when they switch to a different device.

This starts with creating a responsive website that works equally well on various screens. If possible, allow your customers to create accounts so that they can access their shopping trolleys via multiple retail channels.

If you’re running a bricks-and-mortar store, find ways to gather customer data in-store so you can connect with them via email or text.

There are two easy ways to do this:

Collect customer details at checkout – Ask shoppers if they’d like to provide their email addresses or phone numbers so you can get in touch with updates. Consider using your loyalty program to further incentivise customers who give you their info.

Offer free WiFi – If possible, set up a guest WiFi network to which shoppers can connect so they can go online while in your location. Set up your WiFi system in such a way that shoppers would need to provide their contact info before connecting.

Using these strategies will help stop distractions, keep customers happy and encourage sales conversion.

Francesca Nicasio

Contributor • Vend

Francesca Nicasio is a retail expert from Vend, a POS, inventory and customer loyalty software for merchants. Learn More:

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