Consumer Behavior and the Science of Showrooms

Marketers tend to focus on understanding and influencing consumers before they begin shopping. But there's a whole other phase of consumer behavior that merits equal consideration. It involves understanding how people respond to your showroomhow they interact with the environment you've created.

This is the domain studied at length by Paco Underhill and reported in his book, Why We Buy, The Science of Shopping. He and his associates have spent years as "shopping anthropologists," studying in detail with videotaping and sharp-eyed human trackers how consumers act in retail spaces.

His findings are used primarily by mass merchandisers to scientifically adjust their retail spaces to increase sales. However, much of what he has discovered can help kitchen, bath and DPH showrooms become more productive.

Overall, Underhill concludes that the retail environment is becoming more important in influencing consumer behavior. "Many purchasing decisions are made or can be heavily influenced on the floor of the store itself," he writes.

His key conclusion is that the longer a prospect remains in a store, the more likely the person will buy. And, the amount of time a shopper spends in a showroom depends on how comfortable and enjoyable the experience is.

Learning the Basics
The first principal of the science of shopping, according to Underhill, is that there are certain physical and anatomical traits common to all people. However, most of the time, showrooms ignore the basics.

Take entries. Generally, Underhill's research shows that people are rushing when they approach an entrance. The faster they walk, the narrower their field of vision. By the time they get close enough to see the windows or read signs, they are in no mood to stop and look. Instead, they are intent on entering the showroom. So especially if your windows face a parking lot, the message in them should be limited to one or two words.

What's on your door? Information about your company? Association plaques or stickers? Vendor brand information? Awards? Taglines? Don't bother, says Underhill. His studies show that when shoppers approach the door, all they are looking for is the handle, and whether they should push or pull.

At the moment someone crosses the threshold into your showroom, they still have that momentum. They don't screech to a halt. They have to adjustto walking more slowly, to the change in light. So, even if they are physically in the showroom, they aren't mentally there yet. Underhill maintains that whatever is right inside the door signs, literature, displays is lost on prospects.

"Shoppers need a landing strip before they start absorbing your message. And, it's about 10 feet inside the door," he says.
Don't try to accomplish anything important in the transition zone. Don't put your killer display up there.
Even the first display after the transition zone doesn't have an advantage. It's better to be toward the middle.

"Allowing some space between the entrance of a store and the product gives it more time in the shopper's eye as he or she approaches it. It builds a little visual anticipation," Underhill explains.

By the way, he also says the first booth inside the trade show door doesn't have an advantage, either. "At trade shows, the booths just inside the door may seem most desirable, but they're pretty bad locations. Visitors zoom past them on their way into the hall, or even worse, they arrange to meet their friends by the entrance, thereby creating the (false) impression that there's a crowd at the first booth, thereby scaring off genuine clients," he observes. That's good advice for your next home show.

Showroom Attractions
There are other physical considerations to keep in mind, too. Involved shoppers are sensual shoppers. They want to touch and feel the product, run their hands over the finish, open doors and drawers, turn faucets.

But, do you make it easy for customers? Or are their hands full juggling coats, purses, briefcases, laptops, packages? Offer a coat/package check. Let people browse and touch unencumbered, says Underhill. They'll be more relaxed, stay longer and get more involved with your products.

If signs in a window or entrance should be confined to two or three words because they get less than two seconds attention, where can you communicate more? The deeper into the retail space, the more you can say.
A sign should interrupt the existing natural sight lines in an area. And Underhill reminds readers that the number one thing people look at is other people. So signs near people (i.e.: a receptionist) are good, or signs with people in them.
To get people all the way through the showroom, have a large graphic, or something visible and exciting at the back. And, don't forget to place signage so that people read it as they are moving from the back to the front.
Other pointers he offers on laying out a showroom include the following:

People turn to the right as they enter a space, so that is your most important real estate.

People slow down when they see a reflective surface. Mirrors, as long as there aren't too many, attract people.

People look straight ahead as they walk, making it hard to see displays that are parallel to an aisle. That's why end caps displays on the end of the aisle are so effective. We see them head on.

Displays in chevrons placed at an angle take up more space, but are more effective, especially for products that require a long browsing time.

And yes, there are differences in how men and women shop. Underhill has found that men move faster and spend less time looking. Women, he says, go into a reverie.

Men prefer to get their information in a retail environment via literature, videos or computer screens. Women seek information from people. (However, he says, new products a bidet seat, a convection range, a steam oven need information nearby so people don't have to ask what they feel might be dumb questions.)

Then there's the butt-brush factor. As Underhill explains, women will rapidly leave a shopping environment where they are repeatedly jostled from behind. Women prefer to shop within view of the main area of a showroom but in a sheltered cul-de-sac.

For all shoppers, research has shown, the amount of time spent in a given area is directly proportional to the amount of uninterrupted space surrounding them. So, if a display feels roomy, not boxed in, prospects will linger.

And lingering will lead to a buying decision.