Monday, April 5, 2010

The pleasant shopper

A casually dressed but stylish woman enters the store with her pre-teen daughter and stops to say hello to the associate who’s stationed near the entrance. She’s extremely friendly, and has a large shopping bag of items from a neighboring store. She tries on many things during her hour-long visit. This woman is quite a shopper! She leaves her daughter in the store to run out to the car because she had forgotten her checkbook. During her visit, she approaches a salesperson at the cash wrap several times with questions about various items, and asks about returns.

When we looked at the videotape, it was clear she had stolen five items during this visit, totaling about $350.

From the moment we saw her cross the lease line, she sold herself repeatedly and extremely convincingly to the store associates. Unlike most customers who are greeted at the entrance but keep walking to some real or imagined destination point within the store, she actually stopped to return the salutation and exchange pleasantries. She carried her shopping bag proudly – almost flaunting it to make sure it was in full view of everyone, as if to say you have nothing to worry about with me or my bag or my previous purchases or even my credentials as a spender. She sold herself by speaking with three different associates -– for her, there was no hiding or skulking around in the aisles like some common shoplifter.

With more than a dozen cameras positioned throughout the shopping environment, we caught her every move. We watched as she waited to see where the associates were positioned, biding her time to make sure two of them were occupied with other customers. We watched her use the empty boxes in her shopping bag to conceal each item she stole. We watched her leave the store with the now-full shopping bag to put the loot in her car before returning.

Who would suspect? She was nice, she looked associates in the eye, and even entrusted them with her daughter for the three minutes when she ran to her car. And what was suspicious about leaving with the same shopping bag she came in with? She was, after all, going to return to finish her shopping and get her daughter.

While our studies are typically designed to increase conversion, items per basket, or sales per square foot—we call them the "forces of good" -— we often encounter shopper behaviors like this one and work closely with our clients to diagnose the problems and prescribe solutions.

What do you think are the most immediate lessons to be learned from this woman’s caper?
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