As it appeared in the daily nation of August 18th 2015
by Lucy Kiruthu
Have you ever entered a new retail store and felt like you were in a jungle and could hardly find what you needed? This is not how it was initially meant to be. Retail stores were modelled after libraries and were meant to make it as easy as possible for the customer to find what they needed. Today much thought goes to the layout of retail stores sometimes at the expense of the customers’ convenience. Have you for example ever wondered why some essentials such as milk and bread are almost always stored at the back end in most retail stores? This is a gimmick by retailers to entice us to pick non-essentials products as we go to and fro the milk back aisle. You may also have noticed the racks of chocolates near the cashier area meant to tempt bored children waiting with their parents on the queue and this does work.
Majority of retailers go to a great extent of using studies on human behaviour to design their store layout and use many tactics in an effort to increase sales. Other tactics include actively handing a shopper a basket in the hope that the shopper who may have only been in need of one item may pick a few more. Others use the price tag of Ksh2,999 instead of 3,000 because consumer studies reveal that shoppers are likely to see the 2,000 rather than round off figure of 3,000. It does not even matter that the store may keep the one shilling due to the rampant shortage of coins. In other countries it is common to see retail stores that have had a closing down sale for years. This is in an effort to create a sense of urgency and try entice shoppers to buy clearance merchandise that are often perceived as low priced.
If you have been to a modern library, it is as easy as 123 to find a book. With a digitalized catalogue, well marked shelves and books stocked in their rightful spaces it is unlikely that the help of a librarian will be needed to find a book. On the contrary though, many retail stores are not as friendly as they were initially meant to be. Prices will be missing, slots for out of stock items will be quickly filled up and store layouts are not consistent across branches. I am yet to find a retail store locally that has digitalized its shelf location search for ease of the customer.
I wish too that the retails could use the studies on human behaviour to make the staff interactions less painless. Most retail store experiences are characterized by shop floor staff that would rather be on the phone or chit-chat with their colleagues than dust the shelves or ensure that every item is well-stocked and correctly priced. Many cashiers too are not left out of this; they seem to mechanically process the customers through the tills but not as swift as the customers would wish.
As the variety of retail stores grows, the industry is likely to be more and more competitive. It is possible that we will see a remarkable improvement in the overall store experience. Hopefully a revolutionary store will start storing the milk closer to the cashiers and hide the chocolates in the candy corner at the back end of the store.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy