Shopping in the 21st Century: Envirosell on Making a Successful Toy and Hobby Store
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August 2003 | Vol. II - No. 8

August 2003 | Vol. II - No. 8 TDmonthly SEARCH

Retailing Tips

Shopping in the 21st Century: Envirosell on Making a Successful Toy and Hobby Store

Paco Underhill's
Why We Buy
Do you know what the “butt-brush factor” is? This, and other pertinent information for retailers, is covered in Envirosell Managing Director Paco Underhill’s book Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (Simon and Schuster). The book has made the Wall Street Journal’s best-seller list, and the San Francisco Chronicle calls it “invaluable reading for retailers.”

For over twenty years, Underhill’s company has led the way in analyzing the interaction between people and the places they shop. Companies such as McDonalds, Starbucks, Citibank, Levi Strauss and even the U.S. Post Office have all benefited from Envirosell’s expertise. Using methodology that includes small video cameras, mapping programs and “attitudinal interviews,” this New York-based company has made understanding the retail experience into a social science.

TDmonthly™ caught up with Craig Childress, director of prototype research for Envirosell, for a few pointers on how toy and hobby retailers can maximize their store’s customer appeal.

TDmonthly: Can you describe what constitutes an effective “transition zone?”

Craig Childress: The most important transition zone is the store entry. This is where customers are coming in from the outside and having to adjust their speed and visual orientation. They will rarely look at or read anything in this 10-foot decompression zone. Putting small items or signs with more than one or two words of text [in this area] is a bad idea.

Transition zones in the rest of the store also need to be kept simple. Customers need to know where they are headed. Products that are too highly stacked, or too much signage clutter will make the transition zones more difficult by giving the customer the feeling they are not in control over their direction and time.

TDM: Envirosell’s research has found that women are now shopping more like men, i.e., grabbing what they came for and leaving rather than lingering. How can a toy retailer entice mothers, or even fathers, to stay and browse?

CC: The longer the child enjoys himself the longer the parents (shoppers) will stay in the store. This is true in any retail environment and it is true for toy stores as well. Toy store designers are, for the most part, still designing stores as if the customer is over five feet tall. Designers should be made to get down on their hands and knees (also sitting on a skateboard works quite well) and tour the store from a child’s point of view.

What can [kids] see, touch, play with? A kids’ clothing store recently added many fun “eye/hand” physical coordination games to the one-foot level of their stores, just so the kids would have something to play with while mom or dad shopped. Activities kids can do and still stay within sightlines of the parents are the most successful devices to increasing store shopping time.

TDM: Envirosell’s founder, Paco Underhill, mentioned that children are “a presence, if not a force, in commercial and retail environments.” Is it safe to assume that in the case of toy stores children are both a presence and a force? If so, how can a toy store appeal to both the whims of a child and the parent who’s holding the wallet?

CC: We have an expression for our fast food restaurant clients: “Kids may not be your target market, but the people they bring with them are.” This would hold true with the retail toy stores as well. We are so busy worrying about the person with the wallet; we forget about the experience of being in the retail store.

Store designers who design for children will get more repeat business. The in-store experience is what will drive most kids (and their parents) back into the store. Designers who show the kids and their parents that the store is about more than just selling toys will benefit in the long term. Child activity areas and even learning center areas all help to increase cycle of visitation and number of products purchased.

TDM: Your research finds that, from the customer's perspective, the cash wrap is the most important fixture in the store. What goes into making a customer-friendly and efficient cash wrap?

CC: The cash wrap is pretty much the last image the customer has of the store, yet there is so little design effort put into this area (especially when compared to the store entry). Walt Disney knew what he was doing when he put as much energy into the exit of Disneyland as he did the entrance.

Some of the most common mistakes in cash wrap design are quite simple. First, make sure the customer can easily tell which register is open and which one is closed. Nothing increases perceived wait time more than not being sure you are waiting in the right line. Second, if possible, have a separate cash wrap just for returns, exchanges, and gift certificates.

Line waits are unavoidable. You can spend years just shaving off a few seconds on the transaction times. Sometimes it is best to think of attacking the problem from the other end. Is there enough visual or auditory stimuli at the cash wrap line to make the wait seem shorter? Stores will often put add-on items or merchandising at the cash wrap itself, which is good for line position one and two, but what about positions three through ten? What signs or displays can the person in the middle or rear of the line see? Cash wrap signage is one of the most overlooked tools in the store’s toolbox.

TDM: Given the increasing buying power of seniors, what are some steps a toy store can take to become more appealing to grandparents?

CC: Stores with a high proportion of customers over fifty need to rethink displays and informational merchandising. Older customers are coming to the store with much less product information than parents. It is unlikely that a grandparent has even seen a tenth of the products in the store (either advertised or in action).

Most grandparents shop by age and age only. Displays for older customers, or any gifting customer, should be a combination of products [suitable] for a narrow age range. The display should have blatant signage: i.e., “Great toys for kids 4-6.” All identifying signage should be large (able to be read from 10 yards away, with few words).

Other than finding the right age range, older shoppers often have a hard time simply reading the small print on the boxes and reading the prices. Again, these selective displays should take some of the info off the boxes and enlarge it (a simple 8-inch X 8-inch sign would work). Older customers are not information hungry; however, they do want to read a couple lines of product information before making a purchase. Don’t make an older customer strain to see the price. If the price tag is too small to read, put it on a sign.




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