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 life in general, people simply have a lot more on their plates these days. And sometimes, that can get in the way of shopping.

The problem is particularly prevalent with online shoppers. Research from Namogoo found that the majority of consumers are multitasking while shopping online.

57% of respondents shop online while at work, 51% shop while doing household chores, and 32% shop while cooking. Other tasks that consumers engage with while shopping includes dining out with family and friends, running errands, commuting to work, exercising, and more.  

Meanwhile, in the offline world, distractions may include smartphone alerts, pets or kids, and other merchants.

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 hand-holding 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.”

Offer relevant content — online and offline

The best way to grab someone’s attention is to present them with messages that are relevant to their needs. This holds true whether you’re trying to reach people online or offline.

On the ecommerce front, the websites that are able to rise above the distractions are the ones that offer content that speak directly to each customer. This can come in the form of an extremely relatable Instagram ad or an online assortment curated for the shopper.

An example of a retailer that understands this is Showpo, an Australian ecommerce company that sells women’s apparel. Showpo uses AI to personalize their web content, so that each individual user sees products that are relevant to their tastes and preferences.

“With this visual merchandising tool, [the website’s content] is based on what you looked at and what people like you have checked out,” explains Showpo founder Jane Lu, adding that since consumers’ attention spans are dwindling, they “don’t want to show content or products that don’t matter to the individual.”

You can also apply this same principle offline by making sure that you treat customers as individuals. Train yourself and your to read customers effectively, so you can tailor your approach to each one.

Need a cheat sheet on how to do this? Here are the most common types of customers and the best sales strategy for each.

And if you’re dealing with returning customers, have a look at their purchase history so you can recommend the right products.

That level of personalization gives customers a more compelling shopping experience, which in turn makes them less prone to distractions.  

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 displays

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.

You should also think about your displays. Are they directing shopper focus to the right things or are there too many things going on at once? A good rule of thumb when it comes to retail displays is to decide on a focal point to which to direct people’s attention.

Check out this example from Anthropologie. In the following window display, Anthropolgie chooses one outfit as the focal point and then uses complementary elements (i.e., the plants) to enhance the look and feel of the window.

Or how about this in-store display from accessories retailer Elevator? Here, they put the focal point principle to good use by choosing to highlight just one item (i.e., the scarf) and laying out the rest of the products around it.

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.

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

Go omnichannel

Whether you’re selling online, offline, or both, you can bet that your customers will be looking at multiple screens.

That’s why it’s important to establish an omnichannel presence. Recognize that whether you like it or not, your customers will be on various tech devices as they go through their shopping journeys. You need to adapt and ensure that they can easily engage with your brand if and when they switch to a different device.

Doing that starts with creating a responsive website that works great on various screens. If possible, allow your customers to create an account so that they can access their shopping cart on multiple retail channels.

And if you’re running a brick and mortar store, find ways to gather customer data in-store so you can connect with them via email or text. There are two easy ways to do this:

Collect customer details at checkout – Ask shoppers if they’d like to provide their email address or phone number so you can get in touch with updates. Consider leveraging your loyalty program to further incentivize customers to give you their info.

Offer free WiFi – If possible, set up a guest WiFi network to which shoppers can connect, so they can go online while in your location. Set up your WiFi system in such a way that shoppers would need to provide their contact info before connecting.

Your turn

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

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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