Know your trolleyology

<p>Alison Clements</p><p>How much of what we encounter in our local supermarket is purely accidental? Very little, according to the laws of supermarket selling psychology--or what US academics term "trolleyology". It seems bakery smells are wafted with intent, higher margin pasta sauces are placed at eye level to make us spend more, and attractive impulse-buy products such as fresh flowers sit to the right of the entrance, as this is where we tend to drift on stepping through the door. Bogof deals (buy one, get one free) and three-for-twos are also located at prominent "hot spots", to maximise impulse sales.</p><p>The supermarkets spend millions each year observing shopper behaviour and testing store layouts and promotional deals, as they battle it out for market share. So if it works for the likes of Tesco and Asda, could bookshops benefit from a better understanding of consumer psychology?</p><p>Wide aisles and hot spots</p><p>Urban anthropologist Paco Underhill, who wrote the consumer culture bible, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (Texere US) gives advice that applies to bookshops as well as supermarkets. For instance, women avoid shops with narrow aisles because they hate the "butt brush" factor. Shopping baskets scattered through the store encourage browsing. Circulation patterns should be identified to ascertain which are the hot and cold selling spots of the store.</p><p>Impulse is key, and grocery superstores have the advantage of shoppers exploring most aisles as they gather a trolley-load of weekly essentials, observes Philip Downer, m.d. of Borders UK. "Our customers tend to be buying only one or two items at a time, which minimises length of visit and impulse opportunities," he says. "They are also split between planned visitors who know what they want, and unplanned visitors who need some convincing, which limits layout options."</p><p>If you are too directional, or too random, you risk turning off 50% of your customers, he explains. "We have to hit the right balance between tempting shoppers to linger and browse, and having clear paths and signage to different departments for those that don't want to be held up."</p><p>Roy Flowers, joint owner of Kendrake Children's Bookshop in Sutton, Surrey, has a similar view. "Although I'm aware that you can be scientific about store layout, we don't set out to trick customers into buying by using supermarket-style gimmicks. We organise our shop to make it as easy for customers to find what they want, so clear signage and easy navigation define our layout," he says. "However, I'm not averse to tried and tested selling techniques, such as putting impulse items near the cash desk."</p><p>Flowers notes that a bookshop's requirement to display authors alphabetically hampers the practice of shelving high-margin books, or the most popular authors, at eye level. "If you put everything notable or bestselling at the front of store, you don't encourage shoppers to explore further inside," he says. "There always seems to be a downside to these layout theories."</p><p>Siemon Scamell-Katz, chairman of ID Magasin, is shocked by the book sector's lack of sophistication when it comes to shopper psychology. His company specialises in filming shoppers as they browse, to understand how they interact with products, and reach the important conversion point.</p><p>"Booksellers could be cannier about layout and merchandising. Looking at sales figures gives you only half the picture when measuring a store's performance," Scamell-Katz says. "Retailers should also be observing the build-up to a sale, and crucially, why certain sales didn't happen. If you realise a promotion isn't converting browsers to buyers you can change or move it."</p><p>Supermarkets and big food brands often collaborate on research and development, and promotional planning, down to micro-level decisions about packaging design, price labelling and point-of-sale (p.o.s.) material. Companies such as ID Magasin research how shoppers look at individual products and p.o.s., using volunteers wearing Nasa-developed Eyemark recorders--mini cameras mounted on helmets that track sight lines.</p><p>"All this work is carried out to encourage buying in the grocery world. Meanwhile bookshops do little more than merchandise alphabetically and trot out bland three-for-&#163;10 promotions," Scamell-Katz says.</p><p>More could be done with "adjacencies", he suggests, where related products, based on buying patterns, are positioned together. End-caps--gondola ends which supermarkets festoon with promotions--are wasted in bookshops, he thinks.</p><p>But Julian Hunt, editor of the Grocer magazine, says that while supermarkets seize every possible opportunity to push price-led offers, book stores hold back for a reason. "The difference is that supermarkets can afford to commoditise non-food categories, such as books, because they are only expecting around a 15% margin, thanks to a very low cost base."</p><p>He continues: "Specialists, working to a completely different business model of broad ranges, high rents and costly staffing levels, need to communicate the premium nature of their offer as the margin required is far higher. Bookshops need to uphold respect for their product, to be able to charge premium prices, in order to survive."</p><p>Downer at Borders agrees there needs to be a limit to promotional activity. "I don't think a bookshop is the place for screaming promotions at every turn, but having said that, we can produce vigorous promotions that don't detract from the general offer. We try to give our offers some poignancy rather than just focus bluntly on price. For instance: 'did you know this new edition of Shakespeare's plays is now available?', not just 'all paperbacks &#163;3.99' as you see in supermarkets."</p><p>But Hunt believes offers could be smarter, perhaps tapping into the "link save" style of deals that the supermarkets and convenience stores use increasingly today--meal deals of sandwich, drink and crisps for &#163;2.99, for example. "Why not do a 'Buy Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and get Angels and Demons for half price' deal?" he asks. "Amazon is proving itself very savvy at recommending similar reads, and linking authors, but book stores don't seem to pursue it."</p><p>Dr David Lewis, a leading consumer psychologist, author and broadcaster, thinks booksellers treat books as a sacred product, resulting in specialist book shops having "a slightly old-fashioned feel about them" compared to the rest of the retail world.</p><p>Far from trolleys</p><p>He says: "Borders has broken the mould quite well by introducing the 'Starbucks approach' to bookselling--offering a place to sit down and a buzzy atmosphere around the product." But he accepts that by the nature of bookselling, a balance must be struck between commercial and literary values. "Generally booksellers are caught because they are appealing to bibliophiles who would balk at the hard sell."</p><p>Independent bookshops are far removed from the fast-paced, price-cutting supermarkets that tend to stock the top 50 bestsellers, and very little else. While the likes of W H Smith, Borders and Waterstone's have the buying power to carry some price promotions, independents do not. Instead they strive to create store environments that emphasise their difference from grocers.</p><p>"We're not interested in taking a supermarket approach at all," says Robert Topping, owner of the Topping&amp;Company bookshop in Ely, Cambridgeshire. "We're about the exact opposite: knowledgeable staff, excellent customer service, bookish surroundings, and a relaxed atmosphere. While the supermarkets push price as their main selling point, we can't afford to do that, so we play to our strengths of offering a high-quality service."</p><p>He feels that lowering the price of some books increases the perception that full-price books are expensive, so over time, turnover takes a hit. "No one has yet managed to both discount books and offer a quality service," Topping says. "It's not viable."</p><p>Would loyalty card schemes be viable in a bookselling environment? While they have not been successful for all the supermarkets, Tesco's Clubcard is credited with giving the supermarket an enviable edge over its competitors. Valuable data gathered through the scheme enables Tesco to tailor marketing offers to its customers, so that dog owners will receive promotions for pet food, for example. The more relevant the promotion, the more likely that shoppers will be drawn back into stores, goes the theory.</p><p>Downer says loyalty schemes are discussed by the Borders UK board as "an interesting concept", although no activity in that area is planned. "We see the value in building up a database of customer information, as a means of generating customer loyalty in the future," he says. "It would be a useful tool for making purchase recommendations, and targeting special deals to valued customers."</p><p>Own label is vitally important to supermarkets who want to offer a "hierarchy of value" to customers--the choice between premium, mid-range and cheap. While launching into publishing may be distracting for book retailers, there might be scope to offer a "basics" range of, for example, travel guides or health books, to appeal to shoppers on a budget.</p><p>Could supermarkets learn any selling tricks from the book trade? "I've always been a believer in store ambience as a driver in retail success," says Feargal Quinn, founder of Irish supermarket chain Superquinn, and author of Crowning the Customer: How to Become Customer-Driven.</p><p>"We supermarket operators have a lot to learn from the book trade about creating a relaxed atmosphere, and a sense of occasion through book readings and launch events. Anything that helps to present the shop to its customers as something over and beyond a conventional store is useful in creating loyal customers who will come back to you again and again--what we call 'the boomerang effect'." Supermarkets also envy booksellers' close links with their community, and knowledgeable staff.</p><p>Flowers considers imaginative window displays a selling tool that booksellers exploit well. He also points out that while the bulk of supermarket product is quite mundane and unattractive, showing off the artwork on book covers can be aesthetically easy on the eye, and can sometimes be enough to persuade browsers to buy.</p><p>Flowers feels that his customers want help with individual needs, so that "hand selling" is the way to increase spending and generate loyalty. This simple selling technique is one that supermarkets do not have the resources to provide. "How many supermarkets can spend 20 minutes with a customer looking for children's fiction that tackles the issue of bullying, as I did yesterday?" he asks.</p><p>Top 10 tips to turn browsers into buyers</p><p>1 Position high-value impulse buys or attractive seasonal promotions to the right of the entrance where shoppers drift naturally</p><p>2 Identify customer traffic routes around your store and pinpoint "hot spots"</p><p>3 Keep aisles wide enough for customer comfort so that they linger longer</p><p>4 Make more use of eye-level shelves for p.o.s. material and high-margin product display</p><p>5 Use gondola ends for tastefully execut-ed promotions or recommendations</p><p>6 Tailor Bogofs or three-for-twos to particular genres to encourage customers to try new authors</p><p>7 Highlight staff suggestions or manager's recommendations on shelf-edge labels</p><p>8 Offer "link saves"--deals on products that logically go together such as a half-price holiday read with each travel guide purchased</p><p>9 Start a mailing list for valued customers, and encourage them to visit more often with tailored offers</p><p>10 Tap into reader interests through imaginative window displays</p>