Despite all the merchandising bells and whistles used to lure consumers to the centre of store, it can still be like pulling teeth to make shoppers turn the carts down the aisles. “The centre of the store has been deteriorating for years in terms of sales,” says Herb Sorensen, a scientific advisor to TNS Global’s shopper practice.
Studies show that people treat the centre store like a dark alley in a big city. They don’t want to get caught in them. So shoppers will dart into the centre store quickly to pick at items, then scurry back to the bright safety of the store perimeter. Sorensen says that Procter & Gamble has even done studies that found female shoppers have a subliminal fear about the centre store. “They’re thinking, What if someone comes in behind me? or, What if I’m blocked?” he says.
Overcoming such doubts is not easy. But there are ways to attract shoppers back into the centre store.
Understand the shopper’s mindset
Sorensen refers to the aisles of the centre store as “steel canyons.” Shoppers use them mainly as shortcuts to get from one part of the store to another. “They go through the most convenient aisle for that purpose. It has little to do with the merchandise on either side of it,” he says. You can’t force shoppers to walk down each aisle. The best you can do is sell more to those who do traipse in, by building attention-grabbing merchandising that gets shoppers to linger a bit longer.
Simplify with signage
When consumers enter an aisle, they are hit with around 2,500 packaging messages. It’s information overload, especially since most people only buy about 300 items per year in a store. Retailers need to use strong signs to break through the clutter and help shoppers navigate, says Marc Inkol, president of Explorer Group, a shopper research consultancy. “Use signage to identify new products and promotions throughout the store, not just in one aisle,” he says.
Create centre-aisle excitement
In other words, make the centre store a go-to place instead of one to avoid. Inkol suggest creating “destination zones” in aisles to change shopper traffic patters. “Store perimeter shoppers tend to be open to new ideas while centre store shoppers are very task-driven,” he says. By employing clever merchandising (think end caps and bump outs) you can start to train shoppers to head down the middle aisles. And, suddenly, those steel canyons won’t be empty anymore.