CSP Magazine

Opinions: An Intriguing Counter Argument

In January’s CSP, we embarked on a quest for unconditional convenience. I truly believe that this is the future of our industry. In many ways, we have lost our way from our roots as the most convenient place to stop and shop. Unconditional convenience is the Holy Grail. It is the single greatest differentiator between us and the other industries that continue to invade our space. Fast feeders, drug stores, big boxes, supermarkets: All are becoming more convenient for the consumer to stop, shop and roll.

So what can we do? As with most things in life, we have to get back to basics. How can we be more like our industry namesake and be more convenient?

As a student of the industry and a retail designer, I try to be very observant about customer traffic patterns to see how effective our store layouts are and to gain insights. I have found these insights can happen at any time if you open your mind.

Ready to Grab?

My daughter recently sent me a picture of my 2-year-old grandson, Eli, kneeling on the kitchen counter, opening the cabinet and reaching for cookies. Eli wanted cookies, but they were in the top cabinet. His solution was to climb up and get them himself. Obviously, the cookies were not merchandised in the kitchen for Eli’s convenience. In fact, he wasn’t supposed to have access to the cookies at all. (Can you blame him for reaching?)

This little man got me thinking about convenient merchandising. How are we as an industry reaching out to all demographics—young or old, male or female, urban or rural—to be more convenient? Most important, where are the cookies?

As I look around our stores, I see examples of inconvenient merchandising all the time. One of the biggest examples of this is at the checkout. We seem to think that the purpose of the counter is to hold the register. That, in fact, is only one of the many functions of a well-designed checkout counter. The purpose of the checkout is to create a selling zone where people see products that encourage a purchase they didn’t know they needed or wanted until they saw them. Do your customers have this sense when they approach the checkout, or is it a sense of being surrounded by chaos?

This selling zone should be what all customers see as they approach the checkout. One of my mantras is, “If the customer can see it, it should be for sale.” The customer doesn’t need to see registers, cords, paperwork, purses, jackets or returns. They should see a smiling face and the latest and greatest in impulse merchandising.

In the Right Place

As I went through yet another airport this week, I noticed the checkout counters in a number of newer retail outlets. They were well organized, inviting and compact, and not one had a free vendor rack on them (one of my pet peeves). I singled out one counter in particular, hunkered down and watched customer patterns to see what was working and what was not working in merchandising.

There was an obvious intentionality to the design of the counter. Everything had a place, from the cascading display to the built-in countertop racks on an angle facing the customer, and it was placed for the customer’s convenience The customer did not feel crowded and had ample opportunity to see a variety of enticing products.

This retail store had obviously spent a great deal of time strategizing not only what to have at the checkout but also exactly where and how it was to be displayed. The other thing I noticed in this airport store was how well the display shelving behind the checkout was merchandised. Quality fixtures with the right accessories, such as product pushers and dividers, made it better looking and more convenient for the customers.

There were no free fixtures linked together, no unnecessary signage and no clutter. How much time do you spend designing your checkout counter? Most people in our industry spend little or no time at all.

Check It Out

Is there any reason counters are all one height? Does it make sense that we spend all this money on counters and then have to cover the top of the counter with cheap vendor displays, or worse? What should be in and around the checkout area? People are starting to embrace a whole new generation of merchandising opportunities. What are you doing differently today vs. last year?

I believe it is time to reimagine merchandising in our stores on an entirely new level in our quest for unconditional convenience. I like what Starbucks does, lining you up near a great assortment of delectable delights along with necessities such as breath mints, gift cards and CDs. Their sales per square foot must be awesome. Which retail stores have your favorite checkout? Why? What can we learn from them?

There are many new and innovative display opportunities out there. But do you continue to order and use the same shelving systems that you’ve always used? If you reimagine your stores—the checkout in particular—with unconditional convenience in mind, what would you change?

The quest continues.

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