Why Is It So Overcrowded in Some Stores?

Why Is It So Overcrowded in Some Stores?

In the spirit of full transparency, right up front I want to confess that I don’t like shopping most of the time. I am the person who walks into your store with a specific list, focuses on getting everything as soon as possible without being tempted by advertising and promotions, queues to pay as quickly as possible, and leaves relieved to have survived another dreadful shopping experience.

Of course, when things go smoothly I drive away relieved and happy that this is over for another month – but this sense of contentment is rather rare. More often than not, there is something basic that goes wrong and it irritates me. And then the “Shopping Rage Monster” comes out.

Some of the basic “Golden Rules of Retail” include being recognised, greeted, and/or thanked by friendly people, meeting staff that are neatly dressed, knowledgeable, well trained, and have a great attitude, (or, as a minimum, display some rudimentary courtesy and manners,) experiencing a store that is well designed, logically laid out and decently signposted, being able to load up on the right products that I seek, (or at least seeing some effort made to get them to me if they are not available,) realising that there is a sense of urgency to help me, and being able to appreciate the attention to the little details that make it an easy and pleasant shopping experience.

At this stage, you may be thinking, “Come on, Aki, we know this stuff. How ‘bout something new?”

The reason I bring up basic things is that they don’t all happen together most times I go for my stressful monthly shopping. Most of them are probably non-negotiable – from a customer’s point of view – but they are often neglected in the hustle and bustle of trying to run our business.

But there is one particular issue I experienced recently that upset me beyond all the others, and that is the issue of customer space. I was shopping in one of the big box mega-stores that seems to sell everything, and after going up and down the dozens of aisles filled with too many choices, my blood pressure wasn’t healthy. When I finally got near the end, I suddenly realised what the problem was: in just about every aisle that I had travelled through – and there were an endless number of them – there was a traffic jam of customer trolleys. Not because of some selfish or forgetful customer that couldn’t be bothered to park her trolley on the side, mind you, but because the stores shelf packers and forklift staff had abandoned hundreds of huge pallets filled with boxes that blocked most of the pathways.

To make matters worse, in some cases the staff would actually put up a rope barrier and literally close the aisle to all customers, claiming it was a safety risk. And, of course, the incessant “beep-beep-beep” of the forklifts added to the stress.

Now there are six reasons why this strategy is a problem for you:

  1. It looks unsightly and untidy: No matter how cheap your prices are customers want to shop somewhere that is attractive and pleasant, where all five senses are pleasantly stimulated, not aggravated.
  1. It creates a safety hazard: pallets have sharp edges, they are difficult to manoeuvre, and probably damage your shelves and floors.
  1. It is irritating for customers to have to manipulate large and heavy trolleys through the maze of pallets, boxes and other customers’ trolleys, and to experience delays that take them away from their focus.
  1. It leads to lost sales, which seems to be just stupid: The moment I saw that I would have to work my way around forklifts and pallets to find what I was looking for behind the narrow space, I just abandoned it as being too much trouble. In that one shopping experience, this must have occurred at least a dozen times.
  1. It hides all of the marketing, promotional material and attractive packaging: Boxes piled high hide all of the expensive promotional material that may entice customers to buy something that isn’t on their list. Manufacturers and suppliers of grocery goods put a lot of effort into making the packaging of their products look attractive and appealing so that customers will want to buy them, and the same is true for your business. You have to make sure that the environment in which your customers shop is attractive and appealing too. Some generic products are not affected by the packaging – paperclips for example – so customers base their buying on things like how much they cost. But when it comes to high prestige products which are differentiated, like designer clothes, for example, these purchases can be highly affected by the look and feel of the place where they are sold.
  1. Finally, customers come to irrational or odd conclusions about your business: I came to the infuriating assumption that in this store they were using the customer space as a warehouse for storage – so that they could save money on the rent. After all, why would they have so many pallets and boxes lying around?

Perhaps all of my reasons listed for avoiding this don’t apply to the “big box” stores, and perhaps it is not the only thing that should be singled out in terms of the look-and-feel of your business.

But the answer, to me, seems simple. If you do have a proper warehouse that stores products that arrive from suppliers, make sure that you bring out the pallet for off-loading only when you need it. Based on the amazing IT systems in place, it isn’t complicated to almost immediately know what items are running out on the shelves, and it shouldn’t be too hard to bring them out from the (real) warehouse just in time for re-stocking product that is running out in the store.

The physical environment of your business has both a functional and a social dimension and it is an important driver of customer experiences in all businesses. Customers interact with these drivers individually and create their own meanings and value expressed as feelings, thoughts, imagination and behaviour. But the effect of the environment on customers is even stronger for service interactions, and your customers will look for clues on the quality of the products and service offered to decide whether they are going to buy more and come back again.

There are three main ways in which the environment can affect your customers. First, it can attract attention, and make them look forward to coming into your stores. You can be distinctive through the design, colour, lighting, movement and even the sound. Second, the environment can become a message-creating medium, conveying subtle (or not so subtle) signals about the product or service offered. For example, low light and candlesticks will prepare the customer for an up-market romantic fine-dining experience – but will be completely wrong for a pharmacy. Finally, the environment can even act as an emotional place, where any stimulus to the five senses evokes emotional reactions that will influence customers’ purchasing behaviour.

The physical environment is not just window-dressing. Customers that have not tried a given product, service or store before will behave like detectives and look for information, consciously or unconsciously building their expectations about that which they cannot see, on the basis of that which they can see, with nicer environments usually associated with more credible providers. For instance, on seeing untidy or unsafe floors and equipment in a store, a customer may suspect that the kitchen or preparation area is similarly untidy, even if they cannot see it.

The appearance of your area and your store also affects employees. Researchers have found that employee motivation and production levels are affected by the emotional and physical comfort in the workplace too. A good workplace environment makes for happier workers, higher profitability and happier customers.

It is true that I am too sensitive towards customers’ experiences because that’s the way I make my living, and I am, after all, a typical grumpy 59-year old male looking to make his life as easy as possible. Is it asking too much to give me a bit of space in your store?

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