How to Put Yourself in Your Customer’s Shoes

December 5, 2016

By Dan Ayers-Price

Shopability—I don’t even think it is a real word. Webster’s doesn’t know what to make of it. But, I dare say that we, as MSA retailers, fully understand what shopability is and the importance it plays in our lives (even if it is a made-up word).

The term “shopability” has been around a long time, and numerous articles have tried to define it. One of the best was authored by Dr. Raymond Burke, where he defined 10 principles of retail shopability. His top four priorities—showing the product, providing visual aids, simplifying presentation and minimizing clutter—all resonated with me for my own stores.

Shopability is probably one of the most important aspects when it comes to merchandising our stores. We want our guests to have an enjoyable shopping experience. We want our displays to tell a story, hoping that we will catch the eyes of our guests and turn those looks into purchases. We want to offer that “wow” factor not found in regular retail. We want to honor our exhibits and, most importantly, our mission.

The big question is: What is a workable version of a shopable store?

Several years ago, I read a home advice article that parallels my present-day job of keeping up with three very distinct museum stores. In the article, it was suggested that the homeowner should pack a bag and go away for the weekend—to his or her own guest bedroom. By checking into their guest bedroom, it would give perspective as to the comfort level, the amenity needs and the general livability factor. If the homeowner was comfortable using the space, then it was ready to offer to guests. If not, then adjustments needed to be made to ensure that guests truly were comfortable. This experiment is the epitome, I suppose, of being a “hostess with the mostess.”

For our museum stores, we, too, want to be the one with the “mostess,” hopefully transforming our guests’ shopping experiences into money in the till. Achieving that perfectly designed, shopable store is a continuous challenge for everyone.

When I took over my current stores, they had not been touched in nearly 15 years. After a whirlwind six months of rebuilding, redecorating and merchandising, we began to see our efforts pay off, and I’ve honestly been amazed at how well the stores have done.

Contrary to my own belief, more is not always better, and clutter is our enemy! My “design on a dime” remodeling approach truly amazed the staff, management and Board of Directors, and blew away longstanding members who were thrilled to have such upgraded stores to shop.

Once we were settled into our normal daily routine, I mentioned to the staff that we’d be doing a reset of each store roughly every three months. When the shock and grumbling subsided, I tried to explain how we needed to keep the stores shopable, a concept that some just didn’t understand.

Knowing how to shop our own stores is one of the hardest things to do. We, as buyers and merchandisers, are naturally biased and tend to see things through a whole different vision than our guests.

It’s imperative that we look at our own spaces through the eyes of the guest in order to have a better understanding of the shopability factor.

I immediately learned to put any visiting friends or family to work by asking them to “secret shop” my stores and report back. Of course, I wanted honest feedback on all aspects of the stores—from the staff to the merchandise to the overall shopability factor. Teaching myself to listen to their feedback, without feeling defensive, was probably the hardest part of the exercise. Much like spending the weekend in our own guest bedroom, it really does give perspective and valuable insight on the overall package.

Over time, I have gained confidence in my creative ability, and I now don’t hesitate to tear the stores apart, try new layouts, be bold in my statement piece displays and generally shake things up. I think the entire process—my pattern for shopability—not only revitalizes me, but also brings a whole sense of freshness is felt by our guests who have never visited our stores before. It continues to amaze me that simply moving a product from location A to location B could suddenly cause it to start selling.

Dan Ayers-Price, Key West Art & Historical Society Director of Retail

Do you follow a shopability pattern for your store? Have you ever used a secret shopper, even if it is a friend, and do you feel that regular resets are vital to your guest’s shopping experience? I would love to hear your stories.

Dan Ayers-Price is the Director of Retail Operations for the Key West Art & Historical Society. The Society oversees three separate and distinct historic properties on the island, each having its own store. Dan also serves as the MSA Florida Chapter Vice President.

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