SVP of Global Retail, Prism Skylabs Prism Skylabs
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How to ease the 5 main in-store friction points

14th Jun 2017
SVP of Global Retail, Prism Skylabs Prism Skylabs
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According to research out last year, more than half of British consumers spend roughly £21.7 billion on impulse purchases every year. This might sound excessive, but should we really be surprised? After all it’s the impulse buy - whether it be that ‘one-click’ Amazon Kindle transaction or a last-minute (oh go on then) giant chocolate bar at the newsagent’s till - that gives us that heady thrill.

E-commerce sites spend so much effort minimising so-called ‘friction’ because once someone’s impulse to buy is triggered, the window of opportunity to sell to them closes pretty fast. Any minor hitch with a site that slows down a transaction is literally a ‘buzzkill,’ giving the impulse shopper a moment to reconsider. Amazon really gets this, and with good reason. It calculated a few years ago that just one second of friction can cost it a staggering £1.6 billion in sales. That’s a pretty expensive second!

Those seconds of friction are a little less costly in physical retailing, but the opportunity to capitalise on impulse buys is still highly compelling. A large petrol station retailer I met recently worked out that if it could generate just £1 of impulse buy per customer, the revenue boost could be transformational. I’m seeing a lot of interest in this area lately and discussing with retailers how to solve this by combining in-store video analytics technology with better staff training.

Here are the top five in-store friction points and how to ease them:

  1. Bad first impression - when a shopper’s on an impulse high, all it takes is a messy store or a grumpy sales assistant to completely ruin the mood and put them off their purchase. Remote video monitoring is helping store managers keep an eye on the state of their stores and display areas when they can’t be physically onsite the whole time. Training staff to recognise the signs when an incoming customer is in “impulse mode” can help them to encourage the sale by matching the customer’s energy and helping them find what they’re looking for quickly.
  2. Can’t find the right item - often this is a case of the item being available but not quite right - either it’s the wrong size, or it’s damaged, or the price is too high. One of the surest ways for retailers to generate added revenue from impulse buys is by understanding why certain items are what we call ‘high touch / low sales’. Video analytics systems that generate pathmaps and heatmaps that provide clues to which items customers are handling, but not buying can provide valuable data to help staff members fix these problems.
  3. Not enough information to make buying decision - when a shopper is nearly ready to buy and can’t get that last bit of information they need, they may have second thoughts and abandon the purchase. This often happens when a customer isn’t able to try on a garment because the queues are too long. In other cases the salespeople aren’t knowledgeable enough about the items to help the customer. Retailers can solve the first problem using video analytics software that shows managers the times of day when changing room queues are unacceptably long so they can either free more up, temporarily limit the number of items or make it easier for customers to return or exchange items if necessary. The second problem is addressed by better training and access to online resources.
  4. Salesperson interrupts the flow in some way - when a customer goes into a store on a mission to buy something specific, a well-meaning salesperson can kill the sale inadvertently by trying to sell the customer something else or even moving in with an overbearing sales pitch when it’s not necessary. I was recently talking to a very experienced runner shopping for new trainers who, after having visited several websites, comparing prices and availability, knew exactly what she wanted. At that point she only wanted to visit the shop, pick up her shoes and go. The shop assistant wasn’t tuned into that and very nearly put her off by asking her lots of questions when she just wanted to finish the transaction. So it’s vital that retailers train their staff to tune into exactly where customers are on their buying journey and support them appropriately.
  5. Too long a wait at the tills - much like e-commerce sites, if the brakes slam on hard at the final transaction hurdle, your customers get a chance to reconsider their purchase. The longer a customer has to wait, the more likely they are to abandon their cart. Many of our customers use video analytics systems to understand what times of day the till queues are busiest and make sure they are staffed appropriately, either by opening up new tills, sending staff to process card payments in the queues or letting customers pay online, on their mobile devices.

The trigger to buy can happen anywhere, anytime. A shopper doesn’t necessarily have to be in a store or online. A person might be jogging in the park and decide they really want to replace their trainers after seeing someone wearing a pair they admire. The retailer that wins this customer’s business is the one that offers the best information and price online and that can provide most convenient opportunity to try the trainers on and complete the sale. This is very likely to involve a combination of social media channels, information on price comparison sites and a visit to a nearby store to test the trainers out on a treadmill.

So while the holy grail is to minimise the friction for impulse buys across multiple channels, it’s vital not to forget the important role the physical store plays in this process.


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