by Cammie Barden
Bridget K. Behe, PhD works in the Department of Horticulture for Michigan State University and she has done extensive research on consumers and their buying practices. At Cultivate’17, she shared what her team has found changing your retail process can greatly increase your sales.
“We are over-retailed in the U.S.,” said Behe. “Competition has never been stiffer. Reengineering the retail process can make it easier [for consumers] to buy and make [your business] more profitable.”
“The shopping experience needs to be pleasant, simple and as easy as possible,” said Behe. With the business doing more work, the work is taken off the customer and the shopping experience becomes more pleasant. And to keep the buying experience pleasant, even after the customer has returned home, “[the] customer needs to be successful at home.”
As many horticulturists know, their customers lack the type of experience and knowledge they have in the care of plants. Some customers have some experience, but many don’t know how to properly care for their purchase and they prefer the option for live support. “If possible, add a support network the customer can use,” said Behe. This network can be online, by phone as well as in person to help make your customer as successful as possible.
But the more important aspect is getting the consumer into your business and making that sale before the idea of support should really be looked at.
The first aspect is signage. “Make it clear at 55 miles per hour what your business does. It can be hard to identify that retail sells plants,” said Behe. Keep in mind for consumers it can be difficult to identify independent businesses as well. The key is to be as conspicuous as possible.
“Consumer entry needs to be visually appealing,” said Behe. “Chevron awnings are a subconscious indicator of where the entrance is.” If a customer is unsure of where the entrance is, they will be less likely to enter and will feel as if they are not welcome. By adding a chevron awning or even an inviting entry, the customer will know where to enter and will feel comfortable doing so.
Once the customer has entered the store, there should be 10 to 20 feet of landing space. “This is a point of decompression,” said Behe. This is a transition point for them to mentally prepare for their shopping experience. Resist placing a heavy sale near this area but instead place an interesting one, such as the use of a new product in a visually appealing way. Put this ahead of the landing space, still visible but not in the forefront.
Another item to consider in the front of the store is the cart the customer can use. These should be easily accessible to the customer but they should never be the traditional grocery cart found in stores. These carts were not designed for plants and it limits the number of products which can fit in it. Using carts such as utility carts and others with a low shelf and flat bottom will give plenty of space to load with plants.
With the use of carts, the walking surface should be the next investment. A smooth path should be invested in to make walking easier as well as navigating with a cart. “Keep in mind the populations with disabilities,” said Behe. As all sorts of people enjoy planting, the store should be easily accessible to all types.
“Test for the bump factor,” Behe said while discussing the carts and aisles. The bump factor is the difficulty for two passing carts to get around each other. If a customer comes across an aisle with key products on it but another customer is in the aisle, the first will not enter the aisle if they cannot pass easily. There should be enough room for carts to pass without causing a traffic jam.
Finding certain products can also be daunting to customers. Whatever organization you choose to use, keep your customers in mind. “Many organize their plants alphabetically which is easy for staff,” said Behe indicating the alphabetical system is usually focused on the scientific name of the plants which are not well-known to the general populace. Behe suggests displaying a common map to help orient customers to the layout and help them find the product they are looking for and using names they would be more familiar with.
The bench arrangement should also be considered. Instead of parallel rows which hide product and decreases visibility, the use of chevron rows set at a 45-degree angle should be used for key aisles. The average customer simply glances over bunched product and doesn’t take a good look. The angled rows increase the visibility of product. This can be further increased with the use of colors and flags to make the area more inviting.
When placing merchandise on end caps, painting the bench or table used will create a clean, bright appearance. “Painting the table in a contrasting color will help highlight the product,” said Behe.
The bench height should also be taken into account. A lower bench can allow the viewer to see the plant material. Behe said, “A height of 1.5 feet and a width of four feet was found to be the easiest and most visually appealing.” This is a strategic thinking and should be used with higher ticket items.
Integration and inspiring end caps are a great tool for consumers as well. “It’s hard for consumers to imagine that product at home,” said Behe. “Displaying can show that product at home.” A wall or piece of land can be set aside to showcase the products in a finished manner. These displays could have a door or window to act as a house to make the visual more appealing. But it is important that all pieces used in the display should be kept near it to make consumer acquisition much easier.
This location could also function as a selfie station. Encouraging customers to brag and share on social media will create more exposure for your business with little cost. Even presenting them a hashtag line will connect their peers to your business.
When using signs around your products “angle signs to the consumers’ eye,” said Behe. Keep the price in a smaller font if the item is not on sale. Included on the sign should be two or three key benefits of the plant. These benefits should be easily read at an arms’ length.
“People buy benefits, not features,” Behe said. For example, a feature would be the plant requiring full sun to grow. The benefit would be it can be planted anywhere for it to thrive. By explaining benefits, you can offer the item at a higher price.
Behe and her team have discovered that when the price is low, the price will sell the product. When the price is of a median range, the benefits and features will sell the product. However, benefits are the main factor for selling at a high price.
Another factor to selling is connecting to the consumer. “We see people who look like we see ourselves” with the product, says Behe. Using an image near the product can show increase a sale as the consumer could see themselves in place of the model. However, the communication should be ethnically diverse and younger. By thinking about your product and your consumer, you can create that connection.
Another visual is showing how the product functions. “Create new containers, sell mixed container and sell the parts in the mixed containers,” said Behe. “Remember consumers are not concerned about botanical genres,” when setting up a mixed pot. Put in edibles, annuals and perennials to show how they can thrive and live together. There are no lines for consumers.
The paradox of display comes into play with the amount of product you are using. When there are too many choices, less product is sold. “It only takes three to five seconds for an impression,” said Behe. The suggestion is to keep around six on display, as any more than that will reduce visibility and overload the consumer’s eye but any less than that makes the display look unappealing.
Over all, a successful business needs to think strategically to create a non-restrictive shopping experience that is inviting and customer oriented. Always remember the ease of your customer and you could see a rise in profits at the end of the season.