It’s a Comfort Thing

Retail anthropologist Paco Underhill is probably one of the few men on earth who doesn’t have to be dragged kicking and screaming into a mall. That’s because it’s his job to spend many days at many different malls. Underhill, a past keynote speaker at The JCK Show ~ Orlando and the author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, has just released a new book titled Call of the Mall. It provides some interesting food for thought, including this startling notion: That which seeks to be hospitable and encourage customers to linger—a mall—can, in fact, do just the opposite.

The largest mall east of the Rockies, King of Prussia, happens to be in JCK‘s backyard, so I did a little impromptu market research. The mall’s two sections, the Plaza and the Court, are separated by a large parking lot and boast 27 jewelry stores, most of which sell fine jewelry.

In the middle of the Court, a small sign at the information desk reads: “For your convenience, a coat and package check is located in the Plaza next to Lord & Taylor.”

Convenience? From the sign to the coat check is a good half-mile trek, much of it outdoors. Now, if a shopper needs to check a heavy winter coat, it’s a safe assumption that it’s too cold to go outside without one. Then she’s supposed to come back to the Court to finish shopping, drag her packages back to the Plaza to pick up her coat, and come back through the Court again to get to her car? Underhill would have a field day with this.

Jewelry stores, too, can be tough shopping territory. The very nature of what we sell makes it difficult to shop in a relaxing manner. First, the merchandise is under lock and key. Obviously, this is a necessary security measure, but it can be intimidating to the shopper, who must engage a salesperson’s help if they want to take a closer look or check a price tag. And many customers are wary of salespeople, afraid they’ll be pressured to buy.

Next, try looking at a showcase as a shopper does. Bend over and really look into it. Then go to the next case and bend over for a look. Then the next case. And the next.

Does your back hurt yet? In most jewelry stores—even Tiffany —shoppers spend a great deal of their shopping experience bent over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The next time you plan to remodel, ask your store designer about creating more eye-level displays. Seated cases also are a more back-friendly option, but a customer who’s still browsing might not want to sit with a salesperson before he or she is ready to buy.

Offering a seat away from a case, however, could provide a welcome break. Underhill refers to mall benches as “short-term or long-term husband parking,” but in a jewelry store a comfortable couch and a cup of coffee are a surprise treat for both spouses and shoppers.

Now go outside and approach your store the way a pedestrian would. Underhill observed that most merchants set up display windows to be viewed straight on … but most pedestrians don’t walk sideways. He suggests angling displays slightly so that a pedestrian walking normally can get a fuller view—an easy adjustment to make.

While it’s tougher to address the ergonomic issues of jewelry shopping, little extra touches like offering refreshments or checking coats can go a long way toward positioning your store as a pleasant oasis … and make her forget that sore back.

hschupak@reedbusiness.com