Visual Clutter can greatly interfere with a shopping experience. Tara Prabhakar Development Director, R&S, Asia Pacific, shares her views on how clutter impacts the shopper and how product placements can be done at retail in the most effective and least confusing manner.
In my recent conversations with marketers and shoppers one issue dominates – clutter at the store. The benefit of clutter-breakthrough to marketers is clear enough but interestingly shoppers (across income segments) too want to manage clutter on their shopping trip so as to shop efficiently and effectively. An analysis of what motivates shoppers to seek clutter management reveals that
Clutter is debilitating and plays a significant role in making you feel tired at the end of a shopping trip. The tiredness from navigating clutter (shoppers complain of tired eyes and headaches) is different from the tiredness of a long shopping trip (shoppers complain of body / joint aches). This is because navigating clutter is a visual activity requiring concentration and use of mental faculties. Some scientists have even compared it to doing a Sudoku but unlike a Sudoku it does not offer the same sense of achievement. Why?
Because navigating clutter is usually done via a process of ‘de-selection’ and the brain is not programmed to experience achievement for avoiding bad choices; achievement comes from making the right / great / ideal choices. So while navigating clutter, shoppers are investing a great deal of visual attention and mental processing to go: ‘not this, not that, not here, not there’. You can see how that could be tiring!
Clutter can impact judgment by presenting partial choices. Here are a few live examples from my conversations – a great deal is hidden behind a pillar so I missed buying the category on sale (Amul ice-cream), the category is stocked in multiple places so I bought a secondchoice brand (branded chips), the expiry dates of the pieces in the front were too short so I didn’t buy the category (pack of 10 Yakult), the shampoo and conditioners were mixed up on the shelf so I ended up buying the conditioner instead of the shampoo (L’Oreal) and so on... So, as a shopper the onus is on me to navigate this clutter so that I don’t miss out or make a poor choice.
Managing clutter impacts a shopper’s time, budget and wellbeing and ultimately, the desire to patronize a particular retail brand.
So what does clutter mean? It’s important to distinguish between good and bad clutter (yes, there’s “good” clutter). A simple way to explain the difference is via a situation that many of us have faced as parent or child – a determined mom trying to “clean up” her teenage child’s room only to be told that the “pre-cleaned” version was perfect because it “says who I am” or because “I knew where to find what exactly”. Good clutter is not about sanitized or organized shop floors. Good clutter allows us to be who we are and thrive on past experience and instincts whereas bad clutter confuses our instincts and does not allow us to relax.
In the retail context this means organizing layout, aisles, shelves, FSUs and cash wraps in accordance with shopper instincts (or heuristics) rather than marketing agendas.
What do I mean by marketing agendas versus shopper instincts?
Because we think shampoos and conditioners are combinational products let us not make them look uncannily similar to each other and then put them next to each other with no separating signage at the shelf. Sales figures tell us that conditioners are still niche which means that fewer shoppers buy conditioners and the purchase frequency of conditioners is lower than that of shampoos. So this kind of stocking is designed to confuse more shoppers (than provide convenience).
Because we want to effect a quick turnover of products approaching expiry let’s not place the fresh products at the absolute back of the shelves. For perishable categories that they are still getting to know (and those that are not necessities), shoppers don’t spend too much time perusing what’s available on the shelf; a cursory stock-taking of the front rows is enough to engage or abandon. They may make the effort to look thoroughly for a regular purchase like packaged yoghurt but not for tofu or probiotic supplements.
Because we think that gourmet foods need shopper education let’s not plaster the aisles with demo staff or sales associates eager to explain why a specific type of cheese is a great buy. It only crowds the shopper and makes them feel scrutinized and loathe to explore a category unless they are keen on buying.
A simple way to create good clutter is to give it purpose – for example, one of the Landmark stores dumped an assortment of “niche” movies in one large bin (with a signboard saying “odd picks”) in the middle of a few aisles. I see this as leaving the choice of engaging or abandoning to the shopper (as opposed to cluttering up existing aisles and forcing shoppers to navigate through irrelevant products to get to their favourites). Some see it as cluttering the pathway with a bin that shoppers will have to walk around. All my conversations with shoppers tell me that the physical effort involved in walking around the bin is lower than the convenience of not having to engage with products they are not interested in, in the regular aisles or the joy of possibly discovering something new via rummaging through a finite set of new products in one place. Marketing agenda would dictate an alphabetical arrangement of these odd picks. This would either result in the odd pick getting lost or adding to the clutter when someone is shopping for the popular picks. By putting it all in one bin they’ve worked with shopper instinct. Now the clutter has a purpose – the shopper knows what to expect in a collection titled “odd picks” and only engages with the bin if they want to. Furthermore, in a smaller set of similarly “odd” movies, these odd picks stand a better chance of being picked.
If we use the filter of good and bad clutter who knows? We may achieve the happy situation of fewer shopper headaches and more liberated shopping. That could be profitable, couldn’t it?
Tara Prabhakar, Development Director, TNS Retail & Shopper