I always wondered why stores like Target and Wal-Mart added groceries to their already wide variety of products for sale. I figured these stores were attempting to be more of a one-stop-shop for all shopping needs, keeping customers in the store longer, and providing less of a reason to go to the supermarket, grocery store, or farmer’s market.
That may be partly true, but there is more to it. In general, shoppers visit box stores once every two to three weeks, but they visit grocery stores twice as often. Not only would shoppers stay in these stores longer, if Target and Wal-Mart provide a compelling reason to become a shopper’s primary stop for groceries, they’ll come back more often. This is one way that marketers, experts in what motivates consumers, are having a big impact on how companies design their businesses.
These marketers are incredibly in tune with the minds of shoppers. They’ve created thirteen to twenty “seasons” for shopping, to ensure the products they want shoppers to buy are those that they present at any time during the year. Seasons vary, but at any point of time, there’s some prevailing zeitgeist that is perfect for marketers to take advantage of. Here are a few examples.
- December Holiday or Christmas season
- Thanksgiving season
- Back-to-school season
- Valentine’s Day season
- Start-of-the-summer season
The true art of the seasonal display is to trick out products that don’t seem like obvious impulse buys — like vacuum cleaners or tissue boxes — in a way that makes shoppers grab first and think later. People are usually willing to spend more during special seasons, retailers and manufacturers say, especially if they are spending on their children.
One example of the power marketers have is given in the Wall Street Journal article quoted above. To sell more vacuum cleaners to college students, they requested the manufacturers design them in specific colors that college students like to see around their dorm: pink, blue, and black. The Dirt Devil vacuum cleaners are typically red, coinciding with the “devil” theme, but to sell these products to college students in a back-to-school display, they developed versions of the items with the specified colors.
Stores are continually tweaking their tactics. During back-to-school shopping season, more and more products are being included in these sales, even if their connection to school is tenuous. Stores are packaging other items together to make shopping easier. The goal, of course, with all the different seasonal displays that the directly to the mood of the season, is to get shoppers to spend more on impulse purchases. With related products in the line of view, the more likely a shopper will pick it up and spend more money.
There’s nothing wrong with spending money on items you need, but the impulse buy bypasses advance planning, shopping around, and saving money in advance if necessary. While experienced shoppers might be able to tell whether an offer is a good deal, it’s not always immediately apparent to everyone.
Marketers know how the human mind works, and it’s virtually impossible to beat them at this game. The best smart shoppers can do is to be aware of how every tiny detail of your experience in a store is designed to get you to part with your money. This awareness helps you stop and think — sometimes.
Published or updated August 17, 2011.