Dealing with Distracted Shoppers? Here’s How to Gain and Keep Customers’ Undivided Attention


It’s no secret that shoppers these days are more distracted. Between social media updates, smartphone notifications, and offers from competing stores, many merchants are finding it difficult to gain–and keep–their customers’ attention.

And while some interruptions are hard to avoid (ex: a customer gets an unexpected call or their baby starts crying), other distractions (such as people consciously checking their phones or tuning out associates) can be overcome or even prevented altogether. Here are some ways to do just that:


Mind your store’s decompression zone

The decompression zone is the first few feet of your shop. It’s your store’s entry area that customers use to “decompress” or adjust to the new environment. Think of it as the first impression zone of your store.

Shoppers who are in this part of your shop are prone to distractions, which is why most experts agree that retailers should keep the decompression zone simple and uncluttered. Avoid placing too many products or fixtures in this area, as people will likely just walk right by them.

Like what Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, told Entrepreneur, “By the time the person is starting to engage with the physical environment, some of the stuff you’ve put by the door is blown past.”

That’s why Underhill advises merchants to display just a small number of key items in this area and use “lighting and flooring that contrast with the outside environment.” Doing so will allow customers to slow down and take note of what’s around them.

In addition, retail experts Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender recommend that shopping carts, baskets, and floor signs be placed at the end of the decompression zone to ensure that customers actually see and use them.


Make sure your associates know how to keep shoppers interested

Instruct your associates to read and treat every customer (distracted or otherwise) differently. Bear in mind that each shopper requires a different approach, depending on their mood and personal preferences. For instance, while some customers may feel distracted by salespeople hanging around, others may need a bit of handholding while they’re in your store.

Generally speaking though, it’s a good idea to at least greet shoppers and acknowledge their presence when they walk into your shop. Aside from deterring potential shoplifters, having greeters in your store makes people more aware of their surroundings and helps them focus.

Greeting customers also gives you an opportunity to direct them to the right aisle or to remind them of any deals or hot items that they may have missed when they were in the decompression zone.

You can also have your associates offer shopping carts or baskets. As Kizer and Bender noted, doing so not only delights shoppers, it could also increase sales. “Studies show that customers with shopping carts spend 25% more in the store, and up to 15 minutes longer browsing.”


Use technology to your advantage

Worried that customers are too distracted by their smartphones while shopping? Don’t be. Instead of being frustrated with technology, find ways to use it to your advantage.


For instance, T-We Tea, one of our excellent Venders in San Francisco, embraces technology through mobile payments. Rather than discouraging smartphone use, they invite shoppers to bring their phones and pay using their devices. Customers are encouraged to download the PayPal app so they can complete purchases without having to whip out their wallet.

This not only gives people a faster checkout experience, it also allows T-We Tea to add that cool factor into their stores. As owner Christopher Coccagna said, “It’s a very sexy sales experience” and it helps the business make a big impression on customers.

Other stores are using smartphones and social media to spread the word about their business. DK’s Donuts & Bakery in Santa Monica for example, offers freebie deals to customers who make a purchase and check-in via Yelp. Doing so encourages sales while putting the business in front of their customers’ friends at the same time.


Meanwhile, Team Manila, an apparel store in the Philippines, found a way to leverage selfies to market their business. The retailer has special hashtag stickers on its fitting room mirrors to encourage shoppers to snap selfies while trying on clothes.

These are just a few examples of retailers utilizing technology to be more awesome. Instead of seeing smartphones as shopper distractions, they see them as tools that can help forward their business. Adopt the same mindset and find ways put your customers’ gadgets to good use.


Spruce up your store

Make use of updated and attractive store fixtures. Don’t skimp on your shelves, counters and equipment, as these all contribute to the shopper experience.

For instance, you may want to spruce up your checkout counter by replacing your clunky cash register with a sleek iPad-based POS system. Doing so frees up more space and reduces visual noise for your customers, thus helping them focus on the products that you’re selling.


Use foot traffic analytics

Your shop’s design can either grab customer attention or scatter it. And one of the most effective ways to ensure that your store is doing the former is by using in-store analytics to track shopper movement.

Are your visual merchandising efforts distracting people of converting them? Need to find out which parts of your shop are confusing your customers? Beacons, people counters, and other foot traffic tools can help you answer these questions.

Solutions such as Swarm for example, let you monitor the in-store behavior of your customers through their mobile devices so you can get insights into which parts of your store are getting the most and least traffic, which displays are connecting with shoppers, and more.

You can then use that data to make smarter marketing, design, and merchandising decisions and hopefully improve your store’s traffic and conversion.


Your turn

How do you deal with distracted shoppers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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