With the recent passing of our beloved Scottie, Murphy, we had an opportunity to change around the feeding station for our larger dogs. When Murphy was alive, he had to be fed separately as the greedy larger canines exerted their size advantage liberally, so most mornings we managed dual feed stations in the house and in the garage. The first day of moving the big dogs to a new location was chaos – to say they were disoriented is an understatement. We had to virtually drag the dogs to the food, they were so locked into their ways. After three days, we gave up and returned them to the comfort of eating in their previous location.
This sequence of events reminds me of how difficult it is to change the habits of not just dogs but people. As noted in an earlier post, shoppers can often display combinations of cognitive dissonance and status quo bias which in layman’s terms roughly translate into habit. We’ve seen with a number of retail clients over the years that experiments which alter store layouts invariably result in a decline in sales for the first few weeks post-refurb as bewildered consumers try to work out where things are in the new layout. As is often the case, the impulse purchases drop as shoppers focus more mental energy on finding their shopping list items. We’ve advised clients pursuing such shopping environment changes in test stores to be patient, and wait out what we might term a ‘habit adjustment phase’ for their shoppers.
The same can also be seen when popular websites change their layouts. We’ve all see how social postings blaze when companies like Facebook change the UI, even resulting in a Facebook page for those annoyed enough to post comments. Fortunately for Facebook, few could be bothered to ‘like’ this effort from a disgruntled consumer.
The challenge for marketers in these circumstances is not just ensuring any change solves a shopper marketing problem – and isn’t simply change for change’s sake – but also aligning internal management expectations about the new layout so that early sales returns don’t result in a barking problem! Often, the effort to sell in the need for a layout change leads to promises of exponential improvements in sales revenues: rarely have we seen a bricks and mortar or e-commerce retail marketer under-promise and over-deliver to get their idea bought by senior teams.
We’ve also found that there are actions which can mitigate the negative effect on sales from changing the shopping environment. These include some or all of the following:
1. Inform pre-launch: ensure you let your shoppers/visitors know that changes are coming, how this will improve their experience, and when the changes will occur.
2. Use navigation assistance: providing shoppers with the tools to understand where things are, or how to do certain common actions on a site, helps shorten the learning curve and build a new habit faster than leaving shoppers on their own.
3. Ensure customer service is ready: increasing staff presence up and down the aisles for the first weeks of a bricks and mortar change can help reduce frustrations of shoppers. This also means ensuring store staff are fully versed on where things are, and adopting the practice of walking customers to the aisle or item they’re searching for. For on-line sites, pop ups offering callbacks or chats or FAQ can fulfill a similar role.
4. Prepare to adjust the layout: it is a test, isn’t it? The best tests are those which recognize what isn’t working even after a few weeks and respond accordingly. This means building into the project plan then potential for changes or tweaks before any fixtures are installed or webpage layouts altered.
Do these actions, and over time you’ll find shoppers howling with delight, and begging for more!