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This chapter is from the book

Spending Faster

The mismatch between store design and shopper segments, particularly the hiding of big head items in the long tail areas, leads to a great deal of wasted time. How much time is only apparent through careful observation of shoppers. We have found through our research that shoppers spend only 20 percent of their time in-store actually selecting merchandise for purchasing. Because pretty much the sole reason a shopper is in the store is to acquire merchandise, and that pretty well aligns with the retailer’s reason-for-being, too, this represents a tremendous failure. This means that 80 percent of the shopper’s time is economically nonproductive—largely wasted! This single fact has huge implications, because time is money, and we are obviously wasting a lot of it. (This fact lies at the root of my own focus on seconds per dollar as the single most important productivity measure for shopping.) Simply making that nonproductive time productive might give retailers five times the sales.

One of the things that gives me confidence in these recommendations is that there are actually multiple streams of evidence coming together that all support the observation that an awful lot of sales are left in the aisles. For example, consider the average walking speed of shoppers on different kinds of trips. Counter-intuitively, quick trippers’ average walking speed through the store is much slower than the stock-up shoppers. This is a direct consequence of the fact that all the shopper’s time in the store can be divided into two buckets:

  1. Now I am standing at the shelf, selecting merchandise for purchase, and walking very slowly, if at all (<1 ft/sec.).
  2. Then I am looking for the next merchandise that I might be interested in buying, and hurrying along trying to find it, walking quite quickly (1–4 ft/sec.).

So quick trippers have a lot less wasted time than the stock-up shopper, and as a consequence spend their money a lot faster. Remember that shopper seconds per dollar is one of the key measures of retailing success, so shoppers spending money more quickly ultimately leads to greater overall store sales. As shown in Figure 1.3, the data show that shoppers spend faster on the shorter trip, as a direct consequence of them doing less walking about and more actual acquiring of merchandise. In contrast, a Wharton School study called “The ‘Traveling Salesman’ Goes Shopping’” highlights the tremendous inefficiency of the typical long shopping trip.11

As noted in the Introduction, in addition to focusing on the large head, the other massive angst reduction at Stew Leonard’s comes from having only one, single aisle, that wends its way through the entire store. This is a wide, serpentine aisle that essentially transports every shopper through the store, introducing them in the same order to all of the merchandise there. This virtually eliminates navigational angst. Whereas the typical store is worried about how to get the shopper to the right merchandise—with sales flyers, specials, and flashing lights—Leonard already knows where his shoppers are going and can put the right products in their paths.

For a wide variety of good and valid reasons, everyone is not going to run out and build a “Stew Leonard” kind of store. There are many possible models. The point is not for retailers to copy a simple formula—if everyone is doing it, it becomes less competitive—but to understand the principles that drive extraordinary sales, and leverage those principles in their own operations. In addition to the serpentine design used by Leonard, other effective store designs include the enhanced perimeter, the inverted perimeter, the compound store, and the big head store, as we will explore further in Chapter 3.

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