Consumer Behavior - March 2017

More than Meets the Buy

Retail operations can benefit from understanding how guests think about making purchases

by Prasana William

It’s called shopping therapy for a reason. The practice of completing a purchase starts and ends with a thought. But what influences that thought? And how can attractions create an atmosphere that encourages guests to say “yes” to the souvenir sunglasses or extra value meal? Funworld explores how buying is all in the eye of the beholder.

Risky Business

When it comes to a potential consumer’s mindset, “the major thing that’s going on is tradeoffs—will I get back the time and money I put into [this],” says consumer psychologist and retail consultant Bruce Sanders, Ph.D., author of “Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers.” Tradeoffs are exactly what they sound like: the risks we weigh in making any decision. Financial and time risks are typically connected to the buying process, but Sanders highlights two other tradeoffs: social and psychological. “They’re like two sides of the same coin,” he says. “The social risk is that the people who I am with admire me. They’re going through this experience with me—what will they think of me? The psychological risk is what will I think of myself if I purchase this experience or go through this experience? It has to be worthwhile for me.”

Guest perspective of these risks can stem from their values. “They’re probably looking for value, but maybe they’re also looking for values. To what degree does the experience I give them fit with what they value in themselves—how they want to look to themselves, how they want to look to others,” says Sanders.

Another way to counter risk is to provide familiarity. Younger consumers are drawn to variety, whether that’s a variety of experiences or products. However, with multi-generational families increasingly visiting attractions together, it’s often the older consumers driving purchasing decisions, and they prefer familiarity. Sanders suggests providing familiarity with a bit of variety mixed in—perhaps organizing retail shelves with multiple different types of product so guests scan for their items, but not too much.

Appeal to the Senses

Walibi Holland in Biddinghuizen, Netherlands, taps into the subconscious level to encourage spending. “In the shops, we try to engage all five senses of our guest,” says Ellen Verburg, retail and games manager of Walibi Holland. Sanders concurs: “Fragrances are especially influential when purchasing because [smell] is the only sense that goes directly to the brain. It goes to the part of the brain called the amygdala, and that happens almost simultaneously.” The two amygdalae control decision making and emotions, among other things. “Seventy-five percent of our emotions are determined by what we smell,” says Verburg. “A scent creates a strong memory. Be aware what emotion you’d like guests to recall in your shop.”

Engaging the sense of touch can also lead to purchases. “The power of touch, the most powerful part of it, is not fully conscious,” says Sanders. “When we touch something, we start to feel like it’s ours. If it’s pleasant to touch, that also encourages the need to have it. It’s like we’re sampling it, so even if we’re indecisive about if we want to spend the money on that, once we touch it, we have more information. It’s not something that’s at a distance.” Don’t underestimate the impact of subtle cues, like a simple change in flooring. Going from a hard surface to the comfort of carpet can provide enough variety in touch (and sight) that Sanders says can influence a purchase. In addition to design elements that tickle the sense of sight, Verburg suggests creating clear zones with focus points and putting target retail at eye level.

She also encourages taking a holistic approach and engaging all senses at once with a consistent atmosphere: “Think about the material and colors you are using. Create mood boards—this will help you to find the right direction. If everything is matching with each other (area, material, color, product, flow), your guest will understand your concept. When their senses are triggered in the right way, you will achieve a stronger customer experience.”

Set the Mood

Keep in mind the emotions your guests may already be feeling when they enter the retail space.

An area where high-thrill emotions are experienced, like the exit shop at the end of a roller coaster, can trigger an impulse buy. “Offer the right product at the right time,” says Verburg. “Let them be a part of the experience they just had.”

Simple happiness also encourages purchasing. “When a person is feeling happy, their thinking gets more flexible. They’re more receptive to new ideas, and that means they’re more receptive to considering experiences they haven’t tried before,” says Sanders. “If you want to change preferences or introduce the shopper to an innovative experience you’re offering, begin by developing a positive mood.

“As a rule, happy shoppers make decisions more quickly than do less-happy shoppers,” he continues. “Joyful customers don’t thoroughly evaluate all purchase alternatives. They tend to select either the first alternative or the last alternative suggested to them or that they come across.”

On the flip side, attractions should also have a healthy awareness of disappointment. Weather, the perennial foe of outdoor attractions, can create a sour mood quickly. Verburg suggests having ponchos and umbrellas at the ready all over your property, so guests can access them at a moment’s notice. A guest may purchase that rain gear if it means spending more time at the facility.

Use rainy downtime to further engage guests in the product offering. “Another facilitative effect of happiness on shopping behavior is that the person is willing to persevere when not making a decision promptly,” says Sanders. “They’ll stay with you for a more extended selling pitch—as long as they feel you’re bringing them closer to satisfying their needs and wants.”

Bring Them In (and Send Them Out) Ready to Spend

“We think about the mindset of our guests during the whole journey in the park,” says Verburg. “The journey already begins before they buy their ticket, by triggering them on the website. Show food and retail, and, when they buy their ticket, use an upsell moment to offer [those items] for a discount price. [Encourage them to] buy it online and collect your purchase in the park/shop. It’s money already spent, and they enter the park with a full wallet.”

Sometimes it’s just impossible for guests to do everything at your attraction, and the exit is the last chance to encourage return rather than disappointment. “You shouldn’t just be concerned with what it looks like as a person walks in; we’re also really interested in what it looks like when they walk out,” says Sanders. “As they leave, there should be something that’s really uplifting so the memories they’re left with are nice. The more important thing is that they’ve had a good time while they’re there.” A favorable last impression can lead to one more lucrative result: repeat visits.