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Amusing The Shopper: 5 Ways To Make Shopping Fun Again

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

One could see why the average person would prefer colleagues to mannequins. But when they enjoy desks more than deals, meetings more than merchandise — then we’ve got an inventory crisis of fun in the retail industry.

Yet the shortage is here, according to a new report by the Gensler Research Institute. Despite investments in robots, virtual reality, voice-assisted shopping and a slew of digital tools, retailers have been unable to instill fun as a reliable factor of the shopping trip. In fact, consumers are 1.4 times more likely to have fun on the job.

Specifically, of the 4,000 consumers surveyed, just 56% said they have fun shopping, while 77% have fun at work. Similarly, 62% said they do something exciting at work, compared with 44% while shopping.

Also then there’s this finding from Gensler’s Experience Index: 78% of shoppers who took the time to turn off their mobile devices while in the store reported having a great experience.

This would indicate investments in retail technology may work against the desire to get shoppers to stay longer and spend more. Yet most retailers, 60%, are increasing their technology budgets, and 53% are expected to invest more in artificial intelligence.

Widgets Don’t Bring Joy

Retailers may be throwing money at a solution to a slightly different need, however. Fun is the byproduct of feeling relaxed, inspired and entertained. Technology can enable it, but it won’t work unless the basic requirements of fun and happiness are recognized.

Sure enough, the Gensler research shows the factors that contribute to a great retail experience include novelty, beauty and authenticity. As for the latest technologies and value, shoppers rated them necessary for a mere good shopping experience.

Perhaps retailers, in their race to catch up with tech adoption, have bypassed the most important motivations that propel people onward. Shoppers often are on a mission — a different kind of job — but they seek happiness in the aisles as much as in the office. And as employers have learned, we are more likely to do a better job if we are having fun.

That means surrounding customers with appealing sounds, sights and smells. Here are five ways how.

  1. Help them live in the moment. Because shopping is often a chore, the customer would invite any effort to take her mind off the task at hand — and the tasks to follow. Place unexpected delights among the aisles, such as a plate of mini cupcakes or a string quartet from a nearby college, and even a trip for gym socks can be transformed into a “me” moment. Note the attraction needn’t align with whatever the shop sells; unpredictable surprises are often more effective. The Manhattan shop Story, recently acquired by Macy’s, takes this approach by completely changing its inventory and theme every four to eight weeks, transporting the shopper to a new place with each revival.
  2. Be a sanctuary. People are likely to spend more time in surroundings where they feel good about themselves. The home design store Nannie Inez, in Austin, Texas, caters to specified tastes with whimsical merchandise that brings joy and elevates everyday moments. Most of its items, from an original artist’s print of three monkeys (signed) to a ring that looks like a curved matchstick, were discovered by the founders in their world travels. Meanwhile, at Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship store in Manhattan, an entire floor called The Wellery has been dedicated to self-indulgent wellness services, including a salt therapy booth and body stretching.
  3. Surround them with beauty. There’s a reason people travel to oceans and mountains but not to landfills and blighted buildings. Yes, a bare-boned store means lower prices, but there are low-cost ways to infuse beauty into the format. Natural light, splashes of color and elegant music can elevate the mood and prepare the shopper for fun. Employees or community groups can paint murals on the walls or tend to interior gardens. A supermarket could hold sculpture contests using canned goods. The key is in knowing what matters to the shopper: Beauty is in the eye (and ears) of the beholder.
  4. Give them meaning. Many believe that it is human nature to be generous and altruistic. Being so certainly makes most of us feel better about ourselves. This is why brands such as Toms, which donates a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair it sells, are flourishing. Lots of supermarkets, including Whole Foods, accept grocery donations, but a grocery store can also deliver food to the local food bank and invite shoppers to volunteer. A clothing store can organize fashion shows, with shoppers and employees modeling, to benefit women’s shelters.
  5. Make it a game. An obvious way to bringing fun to shopping is through play, which has been widely sought through digital competitions and other forms of gamification. A retailer could bring physical adult play to the store as well. Sur la Table offers cooking classes, REI has its rock walls for climbing and the craft store Michaels provides a range of free classes including jewelry making and cupcake decorating. And for kids, there’s the Lego store, where young ones (and their adults) can spend hours building imaginary creations.

(LEGO®)

The goal is simply to get shoppers to smile.  A quick survey of stores, regardless of merchandise, shows too few people are. Yet what a difference it would make. Consider this finding from the Gensler research: 71% percent of retail visitors who do not intend to make a purchase often end up doing so, meaning seven in 10 make impulse purchases.

Imagine what that figure would be if they were having more fun.

 

This article originally appeared in Forbes. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience.

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