Opinion: Smart changing rooms are changing the nature of impulse purchases says Nigel Collett of RPA: Group

Nigel Collett

Have you ever purchased anything on an impulse? If the answer is ‘yes’ you are in good company. In fact, you are part of a staggering 85% of British shoppers who leave home to buy a kettle and return with yet another pair of shoes. 

Buying stuff that you don’t need, or hyper consumerism, lies at the heart of impulse buying. And, as we become more affluent, the propensity to buy in this way increases. It throws up some interesting facts. For example, the average 35 year old woman in the UK owns 31 handbags and buys one every 12 weeks. Clearly, nobody needs that many bags. But impulse buying is not about need, it’s about desire that amounts to £6.2 billion in revenue every year for British retailers.

Making your store more impulse friendly can take a lot of hard work. You need to build in what one US retail specialist calls “speed bumps”: merchandise displays working in much the same way as speed bumps do in car parks, designed to slow customers as they journey through the store.

One of the best 'speed bumps' is of course the changing room area. Obviously, if the customer has made it this far, they intend to make a purchase and one might assume that by now all their spontaneity has been used up. But we are discovering that this is vital impulse territory.

'Smart' changing rooms, that suggest items to go along with the one selected by the customer, frequently unlock the shoppers impulsive side, bringing what retail anthropologist Rich Kizer calls  “merchandise outposts” back into the customer journey. Although, they may have passed the handbags five minutes earlier with no interest at all, having a compatible handbag suggested at this point can often promote the, “I need that!” response that goes on to secure a sale. 

This is all pulled off by RFID tags in clothes. In the changing room, the tag talks to a receiver and compatible items are suggested via an interactive screen. The same can also be achieved in-store by swing tickets that talk to your phone: “You like these trainers? We have some great jeans that look great with them and today they are on offer!” 

As always, start the dialogue and impulse will follow. But really the bottom line is that if you can get your customer to slow down and stay in-store just that bit longer, there will be an exponential rise in impulsive behaviour.

US company Path Intelligence recently published a report outlining a series of calculations showing the correlation between how long people are spending in a shop and how it affects sales. The report indicated that if you can extend your customers visit by 1%, you will see a 1.3% increase in sales

As a potential example, let’s say you own a clothing store. Your average customer spends about 20 minutes in your store and the average ticket price per transaction is £75. If you can extend this customer’s visit by an additional 6 minutes, the average ticket price - in theory - goes up to £104.25.

We have only just scratched the surface with customer dialogue in-store. It will soon be commonly factored into the overall interior design, with ‘dialogue points’ where you can relax, charge your phone, cruise the net and, most importantly, scan all the latest offers from your host.

Who knows just one of them might be your latest impulse buy?  

Nigel Collett is CEO of RPA:Group